ADVANTAGE BUILDER: GARY FAZZIO
At age 12, Gary Fazzio got a job as a caddy at Gross Ile Golf and Country Club, an emerald oasis on the edge of the Detroit River. Up at dawn in his hometown of Trenton, he would ride his bike south along the highway, past the steel mills, and over the bridge, where graceful Victorians and mid-century contemporary homes stood on wide, wooded lots.
“It opened my eyes to a whole new world,” he said. “It fed my drive and motivation. I knew I had aspirations that were different from the people I grew up with. A lot of kids I went to school with made bad decisions. From a very young age I was driven to change my circumstances.”
His nascent drive met with considerable success. Today Fazzio is a Vice Chairman with CBRE in Oak Brook, Illinois, specializing in tenant representation. Since joining the company in 1983, he has participated in more than 3,000 sale and lease transactions with considerations in excess of $3 billion.
“A lot of kids I went to school with made bad decisions. From a very young age I was driven to change my circumstances.”
His first big deal was a building sale for a large hospital system in the Chicago suburbs; 34 years later, he sold it again. “I represented the buyer on the way in and seller on the way out,” he said. “You know you’ve been in the business a long time when you work on same building twice in 34 years.”
Fazzio grew up in Trenton, Michigan, a blue-collar town south of Detroit, with an older brother and younger sister. Most of the city’s residents worked in auto manufacturing or related industries. “It was a one-street town with a refinery in the community next door, and there was a rough aspect to it,” he said. “But it was on the Detroit River with access to Lake Erie and water sports and the outdoors.”
Fazzio’s dad was raised in a large family of Italian immigrants. “He contracted tetanus when he was in seventh grade and that was the end of his formal education,” Fazzio recalled. “He joined the Air Force and earned his GED.” Out of the service, Fazzio’s dad went to work in a steel mill; his mom was a homemaker who later worked for a department store.
Summers were spent traveling in the family’s camper to Northern Michigan, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park and Canada, hiking and fishing. “That left a big impression on me,” said Fazzio, who is still passionate about outdoor pursuits.
With a November birthday, Fazzio was one of the youngest in his class. “I made the cut-off by 12 days and went to kindergarten when I was four,” he said. “That probably contributed to my drive, because I was always trying to keep up with kids who were a solid year older than me in academics and sports.”
Fazzio applied to Michigan State and was accepted, the first in his family to go to college. He studied finance and worked at the steel mill with his dad during breaks to pay for his education. “I could make enough for the school year by working through the summer,” he said. “The older guys told me stay in college, keep focused and get my degree. I guess I heard regret from some of them -- maybe they felt like they were trapped.”
His junior year of college, the steel mill declared bankruptcy. His father was laid off after 35 years and lost most of his pension. “It was a stressful time, and an influential experience,” he said. “I look at the struggles my dad had, trying to make his way after losing his job, having health issues. I learned a lot from his journey.”
“I had some good mentors along the way that I tried to emulate, whether it was their presentation and communication skills or client management.”
Fazzio borrowed money to finish school and moved to Chicago a few days after graduation. He quickly landed at CBRE through a fraternity member connected with the firm. “I started at $9,700 a year and 8 cents a mile for my travel,” Fazzio recalled. “There were a lot of young, aggressive, talented people who took me under their wing. I had some good mentors along the way that I tried to emulate, whether it was their presentation and communication skills or client management.”
SUCCESS FROM VALUE
Early on, Fazzio knew the key to his success was volume. “I had no safety net, so I focused on building a book of business versus doing a few big deals,” he said. “To be successful you need to do four things well: find the business, convert the business, execute the business and maintain the business. Doing volume gives you more at-bats, which gives you more confidence at execution, which gives you more confidence in finding and converting the business – and the cycle continues. I developed my brand as an analytical consultant and problem solver, and never chased the fees. I helped people, and the fees chased me.”
“I think success is cumulative – success begets success. But the moment you are not adding value to clients is the moment the cycle will break.”
With more than three decades of experience in a 40-million-square-foot market, Fazzio offers clients a unique depth of market intelligence, and vast experience with complex strategies. From 1989 to 2016, he was a Top 5 Producer in the Oak Brook office and a Top 10 office broker in CBRE's Central Region. For over 20 years, he has been named to the Colbert Coldwell Circle, representing the top 3% of the national salesforce. Fazzio is also a recipient of the McCarthy Award, given to a CBRE employee who best demonstrates loyalty, professionalism and ethics in dealing with clients and other professionals.
“I think success is cumulative – success begets success. But the moment you are not adding value to clients is the moment the cycle will break,” he said. “You can’t just have your toe in the water; you have to be neck-deep in the business and always adding value. When we don’t win a piece of business it still keeps me up at night, thinking about what we could have done better.”
PLANNING MAKES PERFECT
Married 30 years, Fazzio has three daughters. One is a pediatric transplant nurse in Washington D.C.; one followed him into the real estate business; and the youngest is a junior in high school. His wife is a former speech therapist who now runs an interior design firm. “None of my success would have been possible without a partner who was on board and supported my goals,” he said.
“If you believe your goals, you become your goals.”
Meanwhile, Fazzio is as driven in his recreational goals as his professional ones. “I have a goal of 30-30-30 a year – 30 ski days, 30 fish days and 30 golf days,” he said. “It gets me away from the work environment because they require a lot of concentration. You can’t cast to a rising fish or take an aggressive ski line and think about a deal at the same time.”
Looking back, does Fazzio think the young caddy at Gross Ile Golf and Country Club would be surprised by what he ultimately achieved?
“Maybe by the longevity of the run,” he said. “But in many respects, I planned my success. If you believe your goals, you become your goals. I thought a lot about it since I was 12.”