A Conversation with Owen Rouse

Content presented by NAIOP Maryland

Owen Rouse, Senior Vice President, MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, LLC, recently reflected on the journey taken over his more than 40-year commercial real estate career, a path in which he has functioned in disciplines including investment, acquisition and disposition, development, and capital markets.

The 2024 NAIOP-MD Lifetime Achievement Award winner expressed, in a wide-ranging interview, the importance of creating and nurturing relationships, establishing integrity and a solid reputation, and demonstrating reliability and accountability.

Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishments?
“I have been involved in numerous noteworthy and impactful transactions and development over four decades, but it would be difficult if not a bit unfair, to single out any one transaction as my most notable accomplishment. So, in general terms, I would say my biggest victories were surviving several economic and business downturns, coupled with my knack of evolving with the times and, even reinventing myself in several instances. Integrity and reputation are everything in the commercial real estate industry and I am extremely cognizant of that fact. Through good periods and especially bad times, it is vital to recognize what is happening in the industry and your company and adjust accordingly. The commercial real estate industry is cyclical, and it is important to take advantage of this nature of our business and react to opportunities when they are presented.”

Q: What would you have done differently in your career?
“A common refrain heard among veteran business people is the regret to have taken more risks and I agree with that – especially earlier in my career. Several years out of college, you have less at stake and, also, the opportunity to rebound if you make a bad move while, later, you might lose that luxury. Having less expenses and responsibilities causes people to make different decisions, and that changes over time.”

Q: Describe your biggest business regrets.
“There is a danger when you become too comfortable in a certain environment and I have always found that I perform better when I am constantly challenged and feeling a bit uncomfortable. So, maybe I stayed at certain companies, or in certain situations too long – which is human nature – and I would been better off if I had left for a different position and with a new company sooner. It is extremely easy to get stagnant and put things in neutral, but that typically does not produce the results in the long run. People get set in their ways and don’t challenge themselves.”

Q: What is the best advice you have given to young professionals?
“Try to figure out what you are good at, rather than chase your passion. Hopefully these two aspects in your life and career will align, but many times they don’t. Also, be more interested in gaining experience and learning, rather than making money, early in your career.”

Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Don’t be afraid of the unknown. If things are going to happen, they are going to happen, so just keep moving. Bad situations or events are never as harmful as you fear, and they will not take you down. Quality people will always rise to the top, so have extreme confidence in yourself.”

Q: If not for real estate, what career path would you have chosen?
“If not for commercial real estate, I most likely would have become a landscape architect in an alternative career, but that is probably too closely aligned with the industry and not the answer you might be looking for. Instead, I see myself functioning in the finance business in some manner or working as a venture capitalist.”

Q: What person would you most like to meet?
“The answer to the person I would most like to meet most likely varies based on the stage in a person’s life, as the different qualities of individuals come into focus as experiences are stacked up over time. At this point I would say Warren Buffet because I consider him humble, rigorous, friendly, loyal, and very successful.”

Q: What do you like best about the commercial real estate industry?
“I relish the fact that commercial real is never the same. There is always the combination of issues that, in one combination they take you in one direction. But, in another combination of ingredients, you are taken in an entirely different direction. Much of this depends on the market, but a lot also hinges on the people that are operating the real estate. It is not just a math game. Instead, there is a lot of puppeteering that needs to occur to make sure everything works right.”

Q: What is your secret weapon?
“My refined listening sets me apart. You should listen so intently to a customer or client that, at its conclusion, you should be literally fatigued from the exercise. If you have been actively listening for an extended period of time, you should actually feel tired.”

Q: What separates you from your peers?
“It might some trite, but client service is the true difference-maker in every business. I am constantly trying to figure out what I can do to service the client in the most helpful and effective manner. Also, what disciplines within our company – that I might not be directly involved with – can also assist the client to meet their goals.”

Q: What are some words to live by?
“Nothing is going to take you down. If you make a mistake just dust yourself off and keep moving. In fact, you will learn more from the mistakes you make then from your successes. Don’t let the fear of a mistake make you timid. That is actually worse than the mistake itself.”

Q: Name something that people don’t know about you.
“Many years ago, I was deeply involved in spelunking (cave exploring) and was also an avid whitewater rafter.”

Favorite band: Little Feat

Best concert attended: Steely Dan at Pier 5

Pet Peeve: Tardiness

Book recommendation: The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman

Best Movie: The Godfather

Favorite food: Short ribs

Mixed drink: Martini

Vacation hot spot: Outer Banks

Favorite restaurant: Petit Louie Bistro

Five words you would tell your 18-year-old self: Don’t be afraid to fail