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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 12, 2019 4 months ago

Mike DiBlasi goes from closer to starter at CBRE

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He finished games as a pitcher at Florida State University, but at CBRE, he's only in the first inning of a new job.
by: Kevin McQuaid Commercial Real Estate Editor

Mike DiBlasi was Florida State University’s closer out of the bullpen when the team went to a trio of College World Series match-ups in the late 1990s.

He was also the team’s captain on a squad that included Tampa Bay Rays Manager Kevin Cash and Major Leaguer Matt Diaz. Even today, DiBlasi holds the team record for fewest earned runs by an FSU reliever in a season, with an ERA of 1.14.

 When “the show” didn’t come calling, though, DiBlasi swapped baseball for a CPA and worked in accounting for a few years before gravitating to commercial real estate. He called all the big Tampa brokerages looking for a job and got … nowhere.

Eventually, though, something did hit, which would lead to a career spanning more than a decade — a path that would, unknowingly, provide him with diverse experience in various kinds of property types.

But all the while, harkening back to his baseball days, DiBlasi wanted to coach.

In early March, he got the chance, when commercial real estate brokerage firm CBRE Inc. named him managing director of its Tampa office, which generates a reported $25 million a year in revenue and houses 125 brokers and support personnel.

“It’s a little like being a general manager and a coach and having the best brand in the business at the same time,” says DiBlasi, 41.

A large part of that job will involve recruiting new talent to an office that has some of the region’s top brokers.

That goal is already playing out. Late last month, the firm announced that KC Tenukas and Ryan Reynolds, both of rival Cushman & Wakefield in Tampa, had joined CBRE.

Together, the new senior vice presidents are expected to bolster the firm’s office tenant representation, landlord representation and advisory services.

“We have some great talent on board, and there are some areas that could use some more horsepower,” DiBlasi says. “We’re fortunate that all signs seem to be good for Tampa going forward.

“I guess I do view it a little like a sports team. There are veterans and there are rookies, and one of my jobs here is going to be developing young talent.”

DiBlasi admits that he doesn’t take himself too seriously — a trait that was on display in February 2018 when he donned a shiny gold jumpsuit, roller skates, a wig, medals and an American flag cape to present honors to National Association of Industrial and Office Parks recipients at an Olympics-themed awards show — but these days, he’s also become more reflective.

“I think what’s my legacy going to be?” he says.

He reads obituaries to remind himself that life is fleeting, and tries to live by what he calls the rocking chair test: “Looking back, will I be proud of what I did?”

At CBRE, he hopes to be.

“I’m looking to make an impact,” he says. “I’m at the point in my career where I take pleasure in seeing others succeed.”

His own success wasn’t without struggle, however.

DiBlasi’s first commercial real estate job post accounting was with a property and asset management firm. From there, he moved into brokerage at Cushman & Wakefield and ended up working with Vice Chairman Mike Davis’ industrial team in 2006.

The job taught him about distribution and manufacturing space, and the importance of prospecting. When the economic recession hit, however, not even solid prospecting skills counted for much.

As the downturn lingered and deepened, DiBlasi’s earnings plummeted.

“I was beyond broke,” he says. “I literally had a negative net worth.”

To show what he could do, DiBlasi spent hundreds of his remaining dollars to catalog the market with detailed information on a variety of projects, their competition, their advantages.

In 2009, Liberty Property Trust’s Jody Johnston, today the Pennsylvania company’s Florida vice president of leasing, hired DiBlasi to help manage its four million-square-foot office and industrial portfolio.

“That experience taught me that I’m no quitter, and that I don’t take no for an answer,” he says. “And Jody, he was the best mentor I could ever have asked for. He’s a guy who spends every one of his vacations in Haiti, or Africa, helping others. He really showed me that there’s more to life than just working.”

DiBlasi was at publicly traded Liberty for seven years and would have stayed considerably longer, had the company not decided to shed its suburban office portfolio in response to Wall Street pressure.

“He’s a rare combination of someone with extremely good analytical and inter-personal skills,” Johnston says of DiBlasi. “He’s someone people like and want to follow. He’s ethical, he’s hard working and he’s fun. Together, that combination has made him successful and it makes him fit to run a multifaceted real estate operation like CBRE.”

While DiBlasi was contemplating a future with buyer Workspace Property Trust, in 2016, he met up with Feldman Equities Ltd.’s CEO Larry Feldman. DiBlasi had admired the way Feldman had purchased undervalued office assets in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg and turned them around through capital improvements and brokerage relationships.

Feldman didn’t have anything to offer — until the company acquired the 36-story, 475,000-square-foot Park Tower office building, at 400 N. Tampa St. in Tampa’s downtown.

Feldman was also itching to begin work on a 52-story, mixed-use tower called Riverwalk Place, which would contain 200,000 square feet of office space.

DiBlasi leapt, gaining exposure both to the downtown office sector and to the inner workings of a privately held development firm.

Like with Liberty, DiBlasi expected in late 2016 that he would work at Feldman Equities for years to come, and all the signs pointed in that direction: Feldman’s portfolio was Class A, its development plans solidly in line with the market.

Last November, though, Feldman and partner Two Roads Development announced they were scrapping Riverwalk Place’s planned office space in favor of additional residential condos.

Through DiBlasi was told he could remain at Feldman, he knew there would be no gleaming skyscraper to lease up.

As 2018 was about to come to a close, CBRE Managing Director William “Tripp” Gulliford reached out. Tampa Market Leader Chase Pattillo had decided to go in another direction at the start of the new year.

The more DiBlasi thought about the role, the more it appealed to him.

“I think I’m at the right point in my career to be a coach, because now I have some good experience,” he says. “And I thought, too, how awesome would it be to help others, the way people helped me?

CBRE isn’t DiBlasi’s only venue for coaching these days, either. He’s recently begun helping out his son’s T-ball team.

 

 

 

 

 

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