Development: What attracted you to a career in association management?
Marc Selvitelli: I didn’t go to Penn State to major in association management; I initially went to study meteorology. I have always been passionate about two things — the weather and politics. Politics won out in the end. In one of my first jobs in association management, I became involved in advocacy. Focusing on my passion for politics and being an advocate was a natural fit for me. Beyond politics and advocacy, however, my association work allowed me to be a resource for people to help them grow. I love this work, and I have never looked back.
Development: Prior to joining NAIOP, you worked for other real estate-related associations. What draws you to this industry?
Selvitelli: The built environment has always fascinated me. When I was a child, my father created an elaborate train setup down in the basement for me and my siblings. The trains were wonderful, but what really fascinated me even then were the buildings. My brothers and sisters wanted to play with the trains; I wanted to build more buildings. Additionally, I grew up outside of Boston, and when we as a family traveled down the expressway to visit relatives, I was always captivated by the Boston skyline, the buildings and everything else that a city environment represents.
Earlier in my career, when I took a job with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), I experienced firsthand how entrepreneurial, dynamic, exciting and variable the real estate industry is.
Development: What drew you to NAIOP in particular?
Selvitelli: When I worked at NAHB, I was in government affairs. We joined with other real estate-related associations to form a coalition to work on pressing issues, so I became familiar with NAIOP. I was hired at NAHB by Jim Rizzo and we became great friends. Jim was later hired by NAIOP as vice president of membership and chapter relations. We continued to keep in touch, and Jim frequently talked about how much he loved his work at NAIOP. He was particularly impressed with the leadership of Tom Bisacquino [former president and CEO of NAIOP]. I took a job at NAIOP as well. Although I admired the leadership of NAIOP, its staff and the quality of its membership, after working for several years at NAIOP, I regretfully had to leave to pursue an opportunity where I would lead another association. It was a job I had to take for the career path I was on. When I returned to NAIOP after three years, I was delighted to see that most of the great staff that I had come to know during my previous tenure were still here. That is a great credit to NAIOP and to Tom.
Development: President and CEO of NAIOP requires you to wear many hats. You work with an extraordinarily talented group of entrepreneurial volunteer board members; 52 chapters; 20,000-and-growing NAIOP members; and a highly talented headquarters staff. Could you talk about this very challenging leadership role?
Selvitelli: There are many constituencies here at NAIOP, not the least of which is our growing membership, which I am happy to say will likely surpass 21,000 this year. We are an entrepreneurial organization at every level, and no one is shy about sharing their ideas. My challenge is to synthesize all these ideas into common goals and then move forward as an organization.
Development: How do you define leadership?
Selvitelli: The most important thing I have learned about the definition of leadership is that the leader has been invited to lead. What I mean is that you must earn your position as leader, which is willingly given to you by others. But if you as leader do not earn their trust, if you do not inspire and lead people toward a common goal, that leadership can be easily taken away. Every leader must be extremely conscious of this fact. Your position as a leader is not a given. To be an effective leader requires being committed to lifelong learning and having the willingness to evolve and adapt. That is how I define leadership. I am in my role at NAIOP because I have been invited to be leader. I must continually earn that. And if I don’t, I am not doing my job.
Development: What qualities do you look for when hiring senior leadership?
Selvitelli: The key thing I look for when hiring senior staff is a willingness to teach, mentor and grow with the association. Senior leaders are not simply leading their own staff; they are, to some degree, supporting and leading our volunteers as well. They are working with people who are generously giving their time and their expertise.
At NAIOP, we are a very lean organization regarding staff. I need people who will do their best every day and people who are also adaptable. If you have a big ego, you need to check it at the door. When we are at a NAIOP conference, for example, and see that the registration lines are beginning to back up, all of us, me included, need to pitch in and be of service.
For senior leadership, it is about taking an entrepreneurial approach to leading. Our members are entrepreneurial, and the association must be the same way. NAIOP must continually evolve, just like any commercial real estate business needs to evolve. Complacency is a big danger for associations.
Development: What has been your greatest leadership challenge at NAIOP to date?
Selvitelli: The biggest challenge for me is navigating the transition from Tom Bisacquino to me. Tom was a great CEO who led the organization for 31 years. I have to demonstrate to members, volunteers and staff that while I may have a different approach to leadership than Tom, NAIOP will continue to be a strong and vibrant association in the real estate industry.
Development: In your role, what have you found are the best ways to resolve internal conflicts or outright mistakes?
Selvitelli: It is really about a willingness to have difficult conversations. It is critical to resolving internal conflict. I’ve observed that strife makes the world go round. That is, it is OK to disagree and to have frank conversations, because ultimately it helps resolve the issues and gets to a place where we can identify solutions. But you must be willing to have honest dialogues.
Development: You plan to visit all 52 NAIOP chapters in person over the next year. Why is that face-to-face presence so important?
Selvitelli: It is my goal to visit all 52 chapters by June 30, 2023. Commercial real estate is built on personal relationships and through face-to-face meetings. This is extremely important as we come out of the pandemic, because for years we could not have those face-to-face meetings. By making these in-person visits, it lets me hear directly from members and chapter leadership about where we should go in the coming years. While you can have meetings on Zoom, it is not the same.
Development: You have mentioned that in your role as president and CEO of NAIOP, you have three primary goals. Could you talk about them and tell us why they are important for the association?
Selvitelli: First, reconnecting the NAIOP chapter network. The pandemic was hard on all of us. It did not allow us to do business in person — and I am not just talking about conferences, I am talking about having that connection from NAIOP corporate to our chapters and vice versa. In speaking person-to-person with the chapter leadership over the past few months, it has become apparent to me that corporate needs a better understanding of what is important to our chapters and our members. The second goal is to increase members’ awareness of the benefits that are offered both on the chapter level and at corporate. The final goal is to expand our educational opportunities. In 2023, we are going to release a new podcast series. We will also debut a new conference around cold storage, and we will launch new microlearning opportunities. These microlearning courses will take a different approach. They focus on a single subject, a specific topic, and educate our members in eight to 10 minutes on that topic. These are my goals, and they are leading up to the development of our strategic plan, which we will be working on throughout 2023.
Development: What’s been the best advice you have been given over the course of your career regarding leadership?
Selvitelli: The CEO of a former employer, SmithBucklin, was a real student of leadership, and he deeply influenced my views on it. He said that leadership at its core is profoundly uncomplicated, and it involves three critical areas. It is imagining a better future, getting others to join in that journey and then getting them there. There is no playbook, no simple formulas and certainly no prescription on how you are going to get there. But there are principles and guidelines that the leader can learn and apply. I have this quote sitting on my desk. I see it every day.
Development: Finally, how do you like to relax during your time off from NAIOP?
Selvitelli: I am a sports junkie and I have wanderlust, so I like to combine the two. I am on a quest to achieve what is known in certain circles as the 124 Club. What’s the 124 Club? There are 124 professional major league North American sports franchises in hockey, baseball, basketball and football. It is my goal to see every one of these teams play a home game in their arenas. I have work to do on football and basketball, but I love being in those environments. It combines the best of both worlds of sports and travel for me. That is my ultimate relaxation.
Ron Derven is a contributing editor to Development magazine.
Introducing NAIOP’s New Podcast, Inside CRE
Inside CRE is hosted by NAIOP President and CEO Marc Selvitelli and features candid interviews with commercial real estate leaders who share their industry and career insights.
Hear perspectives and personal stories, and get to know the people and personalities behind the projects and companies making an impact in the industry.
Subscribe now on Spotify or Apple Podcasts to stay in the loop and catch the newest episodes when they drop.