Fighting for that Start-up Feel

As the culture head of Colliers International, Mindy Geisser is making the case that even a 100-year-old company can feel like the new kid on the block.

Mindy Geisser, vice president of global people services.

What do you like most about Colliers’ HR approach?

Katy Vitcovich
Director of People Services, US

“When I was being recruited to several organizations, what struck me about Colliers International was the entrepreneurial spirit that exists at all levels and the true feeling of being able to make a difference for the frontline business immediately.”

Keri Fraser
Director of People Services, Canada

“That HR is encouraged and constantly provided the opportunity to build and create. It’s a complex business and a ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t normally work here. I get to always look for and come up with creative solutions that suit the business.”

Patricia Ng
Director of Human Resources & Administration, Asia

“The enterprising approach in Colliers, the collaborative environment created across business lines and geographic locations, and the caring culture that holds the organization through good and bad times.”

Most century-old companies have images that are stodgy and static. Not Colliers International. The global commercial-real-estate firm prefers to embrace new opportunities to reinvent itself. “The company is deeply steeped in over 100 years of history, but we’ve had enormous amounts of change and transformation,” says Mindy Geisser, vice president of global people services.

Acquisitions around the world have been infusing Colliers with new blood, new attitudes, and new energy. “What we had previously was a number of loosely structured affiliate organizations,” Geisser explains. “We’ve now come together as one global brand.” It’s a building process that Geisser and the rest of the Colliers organization are eager to capitalize on. “We have 522 offices in 62 countries around the world, and a lot of building to do to create a unified brand out of that,” she says.

Much of the growth at Colliers has occurred over the past decade, and at a pace that would have left most companies feeling like a much different animal. How has Colliers avoided the bloated, too-big feeling and managed to protect its personality? First, Geisser says its strives to hire people who embody the unique and enterprising culture of the organization. Colliers also works hard to retain employees, and one way it does that is with its progressive training offerings. “We have our own in-house program called Colliers University, and it’s absolutely unique in the industry,” Geisser says, adding that her team invests more in training and development than any of their competitors.

Giving and volunteerism—at the corporate level and among individual employees—are also key to the culture at Colliers. In 2011, the team launched Everyone Gives, a program that aims to get people engaged in the act of giving around the world using social media. “We ended up raising close to $1 million, and we had about 13,000 givers from over 60 countries donate to it,” Geisser says. “It was really cool.” The program wasn’t about each person giving a lot of money, but instead revolved around donating as little as $5 and increasing people’s willingness to get involved. In Asia, another popular initiative, Out For Good, encouraged employees to get out of the office to “contribute and have a day of philanthropic activity in their communities,” Geisser says.

Many of the concepts that Colliers embodies makes it unique among large companies. One of the most notable may be its propensity to be enterprising at the individual level. The brand’s essence is “being innovative, being creative, and thinking differently,” Geisser says. By welcoming the entrepreneurial spirit with open arms, Geisser says that Colliers allows for “a truly decentralized model that encourages our employees to be empowered, and to make the right decisions that work for their clients in their regions and in their markets around the world.” The Colliers approach—that one person has the power to do what’s needed—is “an absolute, unique differentiator” for them as an organization within the commercial-real-estate sector.

Keeping up with the changing needs of such a fast-paced and far-reaching business is one of the challenges Geisser encounters every day. The company’s growth requires an infrastructure that’s not only able to meet today’s needs on a simultaneously global and decentralized scale, but can also anticipate what the firm will need tomorrow. “It’s a tough challenge, and I think we’ll always be working toward it,” Geisser says. “If we didn’t have some challenges, it wouldn’t be any fun, right?”

“If we didn’t have some challenges, it wouldn’t be any fun, right?” —Mindy Geisser

Fortunately, the list of things Geisser loves about her job is long, and it makes her excited about coming to work every day. Because Colliers is growing and constantly taking in new employees and new perspectives, Geisser says the team is always reinventing itself. She’s also invigorated by how much of the cultural direction of Colliers is forged and supported by the worldwide nature of the company. “I love that we’re a truly global entity, and that we really embrace how things are different around the world,” she says.