The head of Canada’s largest automotive real estate investment trust didn’t even have a suit when he went looking for his first job at the height of the real estate boom. It was the start of a career in which he often put himself out of his element — and succeeded.
“It was post-university, around 1990, a time when commercial real estate was extremely attractive in grabbing a lot of talent,” Milton Lamb, president and chief executive of Automotive Properties REIT, told CoStar News. “I borrowed my friend’s suit and walked into the top three commercial broker houses.”
One of those offices would become CBRE in Toronto, and Lamb asked to speak to the managing director of the office, Steve Tiller. Tiller is now CEO of Sterling Global Financial.
“This guy beside me asks ‘Who’s asking,’ and it was Steve Tiller. I was somewhere in the pile of resumes, and there was a lot of them, but he pulled me aside, and we had a three-hour interview. I’m in my buddy’s suit and not fully prepared for it. That’s what opened the door, knocking on the first door.”
At the time, CBRE was called Coldwell Banker, and Lamb started as an entry-level research analyst. “I was running around helping out office leasing and investment agents so I could learn the business,” said Lamb. CBRE was called Coldwell Banker Commercial before buying Richard Ellis, which created CB Richard Ellis, a name eventually shortened to CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate brokerage by revenue.
In university, he ran his own business that essentially offered painting services with contracts, including for Western University, jails and shipping centres, all with a crew he hired.
“I always like the idea of building a business, but I liked the world of real estate,” said Lamb.
He later went to work at Jones Lange LaSalle in the mid-1990s on restructuring deals. That took him from leasing to understanding the financing of properties.
He moved to Colliers International from 2007 to 2015 and became chair of the global investment team. It was a job that had him on the road in exotic places globally, but he made a life decision to be around his two boys, who were 4 and 6 at the time.
“I think my career has been an evolution, and it’s often one step back and two steps forward,” said Lamb. “Sometimes it’s very good to get comfortable where you are, but the other side is taking a risk that might mean a step back but also allow you to build another skill set.”
He would move on to be president of Dilawri Group, the largest unitholder of Automotive Properties, and was integral in Automotive Properties’ initial public offering.
“If I stayed on my first track, I would have been successful sooner, I think, but I don’t know I would have been as successful,” said Lamb, whose REIT has grown to 76 income-producing properties located on more than 220 acres throughout metropolitan markets across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Québec. “I also don’t know if [my career] would have been as interesting.”
Lamb had worked with the Dilawri Group previously in some acquisitions and dispositions, advising the Toronto company.
With Dilawri Group, Canada’s biggest automotive group, he said that “as opposed to just advising them on doing a REIT, they kind of said cross the table and run it.”
The REIT has only six employees because it employs triple net leases, with tenants taking care of maintenance or managing the properties. So Lamb only presides over a few people, but his work experience has allowed him to understand the world of tenants and investors.
“I learned that you build long-term relationships by treating people well and vice-versa. It is a large industry, but it’s also a small world,” said Lamb. “People who have been in business 20 or 30 years, there is a reason for it. They tend to treat people well.”
Everyone in commercial real estate had to start somewhere. CoStar’s First Job column explores where careers began.