Known as “The Great One” for his Heisman-winning success as quarterback for the UCLA Bruins, Gary Beban retired from CBRE after almost five decades with the firm.
We caught up with Gary to reflect on his two not-so-different careers, memorable moments and the legacy he hopes he leaves behind.
After playing at UCLA and winning the Heisman Trophy, you were drafted into the NFL in 1968. How did you decide to transition into a career in real estate?
After a couple years with the Washington Redskins, I got a call during the off-season from my former UCLA teammate, Don Manning. He had been an industrial professional in CBRE’s San Fernando Valley office for about a year.
CBRE was running an aggressive expansion program, and senior leadership was willing to take a chance on recruiting new brokers with limited corporate experience.
From the second I stepped through the door, I knew I was in the right place. I worked for CBRE as a databank researcher that off-season, learning the industry and forging a network. Turns out, I was about to begin my final season in the NFL, but I was lucky—when they handed me my pink slip, I was ready to dive into my next career.
Why was commercial real estate such a good fit?
A lot of the components that are so critical to football are also pivotal to brokerage—like discipline, hard work, camaraderie and collaboration. Even today, with every tool imaginable to help us work and communicate, these are core skills that are essential to success.
You’ve served CBRE in a variety of roles over the years. Which are most memorable for you?
Playing a leadership role in buying our company back from Sears in the late ’80s, that was a real business education. Working alongside our then CEO, Jim Didion, to figure out what kind of company we wanted to be, where we should go, buying ourselves back, going public. Not many people are fortunate enough to work through that kind of monumental change.
Also, launching Global Corporate Services in the early ’90s. Looking back, our leaders were truly adept at listening to clients and understanding their needs. They saw that clients wanted a different relationship with their brokers, one that was driven by process, not just transactions. We laid the groundwork for what’s become Global Workplace Solutions, a defining factor in CBRE’s success today.
The concept of teamwork comes up often when you describe your time here. It’s no surprise that the company named our annual Teamwork Award after you.
Teamwork was a natural aspect in both my careers. Real estate, with the vast variety of services we provide, requires many personalities and talents. Collaboration will always be key, and I’ve been very fortunate to work in this particular era of productivity and communication.
Something that impresses me to this day is how CBRE has managed to unite our workforce over the years despite many mergers and acquisitions. The underlying driver was always, “Are we dealing with good people?” And, we were—every time. We’ve done such a marvelous job integrating cultures, it takes my breath away when I think about it.
How does it feel to say farewell to your long and noteworthy career at CBRE?
[Laughing] It is such an exciting time for our industry, part of me wishes I could do it all over.
But, it’s time. I’ve got five grandkids, who all want to be my travel agent. They lovingly demand my time and presence, so Papa will be there.
It’s definitely bittersweet, but I feel good.
When you received CBRE’s Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year, you said CBRE “is a legacy of individuals, and everybody leaves a little bit behind.” What’s your legacy?
Establishing Global Corporate Services and making CBRE one of the first companies to offer that business line.
I’m also particularly proud of my work with CBRE University—the idea that our company would take responsibility for educating its salesforce. When we first started it, we brought in our longest-serving professionals, including some who were among the most successful brokers in the business.
It’s been an exciting time to be part of this industry, with so many ways to listen and so many tools available to support our clients. When it comes down to it, no matter what role I was playing—broker, manager, leader—I always tried to do the best I could. I wasn’t focused solely on the next step, or which rung I wanted to climb. I hope I’m remembered for that. I just wanted to do my best work, and it turned out to be a wonderful, 46-year long experience.