Barbi Reuter: “I was pretty driven to find financial security for myself because we grew up without a whole lot.”

In January, Barbi Reuter was named the new CEO of Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR, Southern Arizona’s leading commercial real estate firm. She will succeed long-time head and founder of the company, Mike Hammond.

In Southern Arizona, many of the offices we work in, the retail stores we shop at, and the apartments or townhomes we live in have been marketed or managed by C&W | PICOR. Over the past 35 years, the company has grown its reach in sales and property management to a point where they also offer consulting and insights on the commercial real estate market to other companies.

Reuter has been there from the humble beginnings. In 1985, Hammond created PICOR with four brokers and two part-time administrative staff. Reuter was one of those two administrators, and she got the job early in her first year of college at the University of Arizona.

At that time, PICOR was only dealing in sales of industrial buildings. Not long after, Reuter told Hammond she needed to quit her job to look for full-time work. But he said he would pay her full-time and pay for her to earn a real estate license.

“I don’t consciously remember at the time thinking, ‘Here’s some special person I want to keep forever,’ I just remember telling her that I’d pay her full-time because I didn’t want to lose her,” Hammond said.

After she got her license, Reuter was figuring out where her niche was within the company. This revealed itself when PICOR had an opportunity to manage their first property for a Southern California developer.

“We didn’t have any management services at the time, and they asked if I wanted to manage the property, so it was kind of an opportunity for trying to expand the business,” Reuter said.

She became the sole person running management services within the company, which then evolved into a full team as PICOR grew in size. Reuter turned the division over to a company partner in 2006, and she says they now lead the market in commercial property management.

“You’re there as a resource and a problem-solver for other people,” Reuter says of the management gig. “But you’re also in the value creation business, you’re there to really protect the value of these companies and help them grow. Sometimes that might be somebody’s whole retirement is in an investment property, and so it’s really important to them that you shepherd that well.

“It’s a good reminder that we do make a difference for people, even in a business that at face value might look like you’re taking care of the property and it’s not as life-changing as some professions might be.”

Hammond recalls that milestone in the company as the first time Reuter really proved her worth.

“She built that division, and that’s probably when I first learned the most about her inability to do a poor job at anything,” he said, with a laugh. “She truly surprises you with her capabilities because she can learn on the fly on things that she doesn’t really have the background to know. She can see the way to get it done and usually get it done better than most, so she’s been my right arm pretty much ever since then.” 

Reuter was born in upstate New York and lived in Colorado Springs before she moved to Tucson with her mother and two sisters at age 12 following her parents’ divorce. 

“My grandparents had retired in Amado, south of Tucson, and so after my parents split up we came here to be close to them as a support system,” she said. “I was pretty driven to find financial security for myself because we grew up without a whole lot.”

Throughout high school, Reuter worked part-time at O’Rielly Chevrolet. When she started college and began working for Hammond, her world view changed.

“He held up a check one day that was a commission check for a major deal he had been working on for a long time,” she recalls. “This was in the mid ’80s, and the check was worth over $40,000. And he said ‘This is what you can do in this business.’ And I said to myself, that’s more than double what my mother makes in a year.”

Reuter decided to use the opportunity to “pave her own way,” and she’s thankful to Hammond for helping her get started. When  she began working in the business full-time, she put college on hold, but graduated several years later with a bachelor’s degree in business management.

“It’s not about materialism and having things and making money and being financially successful, for me, it was really driven by not being in poverty,” she said.

Reuter is also responsible for taking PICOR into the social media era. Hammond said he had no desire to get involved in Facebook and the like, but he now recognizes that many people search for properties on the internet. When she started blogging about real estate market trends, it elevated PICOR’s name on Google searches across the nation.

Reuter has held various roles at PICOR, from sales to director of property management to chief operations officer to president, and now chief executive officer, chair of the board and the company’s designated broker. Since she was able to climb the corporate ladder without leaving the company, Reuter says PICOR’s structure is very much geared toward upward mobility.

But it wasn’t a smooth ascent. Hammond recalls a time where Reuter was shifting into company leadership, and the other shareholders questioned her role in the company. The resistance mounted, and she considered leaving PICOR.

As Reuter put it, during her acceptance speech for the Greater Tucson Leadership 2019 Woman of the Year Award: “I down-ramped during the recession to spend more time with our family. And then eight or nine years ago, I got complacent and was called to the carpet by my partners. I redoubled my efforts, focused on turning around naysayers and proving my value.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of what she’s been able to do as far as carving her niche in very much a man’s world,” Hammond said.

After having doors opened for her by people like Hammond, Reuter felt a responsibility to create opportunities for others, both inside her company and out. 

Amber Smith, the President and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber of  Commerce, credits Reuter with helping other women move into business leadership, as well as herself.

“She was one of the few women chairs of the Tucson Metro Chamber and then she was instrumental in choosing me for that position as well,” Smith said. “So she’s been really working hard in that role of selecting the right person and really making sure that it’s an even playing field for women.”

Smith also said the entire PICOR team has helped bring several new companies to relocate in the Tucson area, with Reuter embodying a balanced leadership style that raises people up alongside her.

“I’ve never given her a job that she hasn’t done well, I don’t know what her limits are,” Hammond said. “So she’s going through another learning curve now. With the fate of 52 employees and another 100 spouses and kids as your responsibility, you don’t realize how the buck stops here, until you are here.”

The transition of leadership from Hammond to Reuter was the product of a succession plan that has been in the works for a few years. 

“We lost Peter Douglas, the first of our shareholders to pass away, in 2014,” Reuter said, gesturing to a plaque with his photo mounted on the wall of PICOR’s conference room. Douglas was a long-time broker with PICOR, starting at the company in 1987.

Reuter said his passing was an eye-opener to the company leadership. They began steering efforts toward mentoring and training the next generation of brokers and leaders at PICOR.

“We want to diversify that sales team in age, in gender, in ethnicity, we want our team that is representing the company and interacting with the public to reflect the community,” Reuter said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re making strides, and it’s got to be intentional.”

PICOR joined forces with Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world, in 2008. Reuter describes the relationship as shared branding and access to resources across the globe, but PICOR maintains local ownership and autonomy of their business. It’s “the best of both worlds,” she says.

Today, PICOR sees major demand for healthcare-related property, multi-family investments and industrial uses. Reuter believes the rise of e-commerce—with global companies like Amazon changing the way we buy products—caused economists to predict the downfall of retail real estate.

She says retail isn’t dying, it’s changing. Now, companies need warehousing, distribution and logistics, which has been a boon to industrial real estate as brick and mortar sales have slowed down.

Reuter sees automation and autonomous vehicles as the biggest shift ahead, saying it will change the nature of development and jobs. It won’t eliminate jobs, but rather change them to focus more on technology.

“We’re using this time to be introspective about our systems and our processes and how can we better serve our clients, what can we be doing differently, and it’s a very engaged group and a good time for us to look at it that way,” she said. “I could not be prouder to be a part of this company and to lead this group. It’s an environment where talent rules, and we have such a talented group of people and they are so dedicated and focused on doing the best for their clients.”

Hammond says the PICOR leadership has given good people an opportunity to get better, and even he is surprised that Reuter has  been with the company for 35 years.

“That’s just remarkable,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s because she’s afraid to go out and find a job, I think it’s because she feels her needs have been filled here both emotionally and financially.”

Reuter seems to agree.

“I would have never predicted being in one place for over 30 years, but it’s the culture that we’ve created here,” she said. “It’s very entrepreneurial, it’s very growth-oriented, it’s like a family. It’s very values-based, so it’s never the same thing month in and month out. Your opportunities continue to grow.”

Hammond calls her the “cultural soul” of PICOR, placing an emphasis on the stress-free work environment they’ve created together. He said he’s learned not to micromanage the team, and allow them to focus on producing their best results.

“I’m very excited to see where she’s going to take this company,” Hammond said. “I don’t know that I’ve got any new tricks up my sleeve. If PICOR is going to go on into the future, it’s not going to be led by somebody like me, I’m 73. It’s going to be led by somebody like Barbi.”  

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