June 8, 2021
True leaders make way for their people and companies to grow — a CBC story
In 2011 I took a job as the marketing manager of an office building under construction called Cluj Business Center. The CEOwner of the building was a visionary brave enough to build large-scale office buildings in a city that did not yet know they were needed. He has taught me almost everything I know about business and that is something you need to look for in your first boss. One of the most impressive things I’ve learned from him is to embrace change. This short story will be one day developed into a series of longer articles, the history of CBC.
At that time, we were one of the few major office projects being developed at the same time, competing for an incipient demand. Out of these projects, we were the underdogs, locals competing with investment funds, like artists refusing to sign with big labels.
I remember preparing the visuals, website, and sales strategy of the building and presenting it in front of the CEO. Yes, branding was not a thing back then in commercial real estate.
A year later, with a building occupied and the 2nd one under construction I presented the marketing strategy that was going to later define my professional life. I made sure my boss was in a good mood and asked him to be patient during my presentation. I relied on our great trust relationship to not get laughed at, or worse, fired. I remember my pitch intro almost perfectly:
“If we execute on this plan, not only will we be a first choice on the market, but tenants will compete to be part of this.” Then I went on explaining to a 60-year-old real estate investor that my plan was to turn his buildings into a brand and switch his business from B2B to B2C.
(Snippet from our old website. CBC speaks to companies who know that helping people grow is the way to grow companies. Funny, that’s exactly what happened to CBC)
I opened the marketing budget and my boss was shocked to see most of it assigned to creating events and experiences for current tenants under the title CBC COMMUNITY with hardly any budget left for B2B promotion and bringing in new tenants. It had a freaking CBC festival in there. I didn’t wait for him to ask and explained:
“My plan is to turn every person who walks into our buildings into a brand ambassador. Our customers are not the companies that pay rent, our customers are their employees and customers. If we offer them the best experience possible, we will win. People working here will tell people working elsewhere about their experiences. And people working elsewhere will tell their bosses. “
This plan at that time seemed like a total bonzo especially for a generation x business OG. Yet his reaction was another sign of greatness:
“Do your thing. Good luck. “
He was actually betting a fortune on my untested vision. We were not aware at the time of Wework’s validation of a similar approach. My ideas seemed like child play to the rest of the industry, but not to him.
What happened next? Within the next few years, Cluj Business Center turned into Cluj Business Campus and I created the experiences workplace in Romania. CBC became a brand that tenants love and competitors study. Needles to say, as a result, business went well. So well, in fact, that one day my boss sat me down and said:
“The time has come for me to step down and for you to become CEO. If you’re up for the challenge, you have my full support and 1 year to prepare for the role. If you will be ready, then you can build your own team and continue this vision of yours backed by my investments. If not, we can always hire a top executive.”
I was 27 at the time. Here’s another example of greatness. Recognising someone else’s good idea, much younger in this case, not fully grasping it, yet betting on it. Giving young guns a shot, letting their voice be heard, and being open to the value of new ideas that sometimes beat experience or simply bring that fresh POV; knowing when the game is changing and when to step back — those are some other signs of amazing leadership. I pray that when I reach the top I keep the wisdom to spot and encourage the next Vlad.
Years passed and Covid came to shake the world up. During a board meeting in June 2020, one of our board members asked me:
“What are we going to do now with your vision to build a community around workplace experiences? There is no community around. “ I remember the silence and all eyes on me. Of course, this question haunted my sleep for the past months, but now again I had the answer in my mind and heart:
“We’re going to double down on what we stand for. Keep investing in this brand we’ve built. The brand is nothing more than a symbol for our customer’s experiences. And CBC without the experiences we offer to our community is just buildings. They won’t be eager to return to buildings. But they will be eager to return to CBC. That is my plan”
My fellow board member looked at the owner — my boss — and they both looked at me and said:
“Do your thing. Good luck.”
CBC and I would not be what we are today had it not been for a great leader.