Kai Tai Li - Fresh Perspectives: CBRE's Emerging Leaders

February 10, 2022 2 Minute Read

Kai Tai Li - Fresh Perspectives: CBRE's Emerging Leaders

This profile is part of a series highlighting CBRE’s Emerging Leaders. The company’s best and brightest young talents share insights and perspectives on the challenges and opportunities that come with building a career in commercial real estate.

Kai Tai Li takes comfort in being uncomfortable. As a Vice President on CBRE’s National Investment Team, Li is constantly searching for his next challenge – it’s what keeps life interesting, he says.

Just six years into his time at CBRE, the University of Pennsylvania grad is an expert in every asset class across multiple markets. Confident yet humble, Li takes the time to answer cold calls from students and offer advice to other young professionals seeking guidance.

We spoke to him about the challenges facing young people in commercial real estate, what excites him about the industry, and the advice he has for anyone beginning their career.

What inspires you about commercial real estate in Toronto?

It’s the camaraderie. Everybody is supportive of each other in this business. We’re all young, hungry, and want to succeed. This business can be perceived as hyper cutthroat, but I’ve found that there’s less competitiveness and more enablement of each other. Your success is my success.

What piece of advice has been most influential on your career?

One of my baseball coaches used to say, “You want to practice the way you play.” That is, if you don’t put in the work now, come game time it’s already too late.

When your clients are thinking of choosing a broker, that’s game time. If that’s when you reach out to them for the first time in years, then your business is already going to someone else. If you foster those relationships, provide them with intel, make them feel comfortable, when they say go, you’re already top of mind.

Everybody is supportive of each in this business. We're all young, hungry and a want to succeed.

Can you talk about a mentor you’ve had and how they’ve helped you?

I count all the senior people on my team as mentors. They provide me with support, positive feedback, strategy, and constructive criticism. I’ve had a lot of success in recent years thanks to them.

I like to emulate the people who inspire me. Because I sit around them all day, I’ve been able to pick up on the positive things that they do, and they do a lot of things extremely well. They radiate confidence, they’re focused, they listen well. Business aside, these are good attributes to have.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned early on in your career?

I was surprised by how much soft skill is required in this industry – the things that you don’t learn in a classroom. I majored in economics and I have a background in finance. Those are certainly fundamental skills that are required for the job, but to take your career to the next level you’ve got to have communication skills, you’ve got to be accountable, and you need to be cool under pressure. Your clients are human, and you need to care for them.

How is your perspective unique and helpful to clients?

I bring a unique perspective because I cover all asset classes, all sizes, and all markets. I cover so much of Canada at the same time so I’m able to deliver commentary for a broader range of clients. Having a hand in all aspects of commercial real estate capital markets helps me deliver extra value to clients and helps me cover their blind spots.

What are you watching for in Canadian commercial real estate investment trends?

There’s a bit of a changing of the guard right now when it comes to ownership. We’re going from institutionally owned assets to the private market. The most active money in Canada right now is private wealth, and those investors are seizing opportunities that institutions aren’t chasing right now. It will be interesting to see how we navigate through this environment in the next couple of years.

What are the biggest challenges facing young people looking to get started in commercial real estate?

Finding a balance between confidence and humility can be a challenge. Real estate tends to draw people who are very confident. Everyone sees themselves as an expert in their respective field. That’s fantastic and that’s what clients want to see, but there’s a fine line between demonstrating your capabilities and being entitled. There’s always more to learn. You have to be patient. You have to earn certain things with time.

How do you support other young people in this business?

I volunteer in a number of ways, the primary one being the NAIOP Developing Leaders Committee. Last year I chaired the development challenge, which was very rewarding, and I’m doing that again this year.

I take a lot of coffees, a lot of calls, and a lot of cold calls from students. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in their position, so I appreciate what they’re doing. If someone takes the time and initiative to reach out to me, I’m happy to go and meet with them.

Do you have any tips for those who are just starting their career in commercial real estate?

Master the basics. Master those soft skills. Some people come into this industry with their head full of steam and try to plan their whole career. Take a step back and master the basics and the fundamentals. Don’t get too ahead of yourself.

Also, take care of yourself and your personal life. You can’t have long-term success if you don’t. Exercise, eat well, see your family, take a vacation. Life comes at you pretty quickly. You don’t get those years back.

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