Competition throughout the commercial real estate industry can make it difficult for a professional to distinguish themselves from the countless others vying for deals, projects, clients and market share.  

That’s why veteran, mid-career and aspiring CRE professionals are turning to one of the largest, most well-connected CRE networks in the world to help them stand out from the competition, advance their understanding of the industry, and bring greater value to clients. 

The Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute was built on a foundation that has remained solid for 50 years: the best teachers of commercial real estate investment principles are experienced and successful commercial real estate practitioners. By combining the best minds to develop and teach the industry’s best practices on investment strategy, financial analysis and market analysis, CCIM has helped thousands of students propel their careers and grow their businesses.  

Today, almost 70 percent of designees hold the title of owner, partner, principal, or president, representing an exclusive worldwide referral network. In fact, people of similar age and experience in the industry with the CCIM Designation make between 25-30 percent more than a likened individual without the designation, according to studies conducted by the Institute. 

Central Arizona Chapter President Tracy Altemus, executive vice president of healthcare brokerage services at Ensemble Real Estate Solutions, received her CCIM Designation in 2005 and saw an immediate return on investment.  

In addition to new property listings and closing deals with other CCIMs, she says, “Because I work for a regional real estate office with a particular specialization, CCIM gives me a network of others to reach out to when needed, to help me best serve clients and evaluate other markets.” 

Since 1967, CCIM Institute has evolved into a global organization with more than 13,000 members and more than 50 chapters in 30 countries. There are also currently more than 8,600 designees, and over 9,800 candidates pursuing the designation, which has nearly doubled in the past five years and is expected to exceed 19,000 by year-end.  

Upon completion of the program, designees gain access to additional resources such as a leading-edge demographics and mapping program known as the Site to Do Business or “STDBonline.” Used by more than 1,500 industry professionals daily, it allows entrepreneurial and mid-sized businesses to better compete with the largest multi-national providers. 

Whether it’s for the education, networking or resources, Altemus wants more professionals to get involved and come try out the local CCIM Chapter. She adds, “Giving time and effort will be rewarded by increasing business opportunities and/or resources.” 

It’s often said, “You join CCIM for the education, and stay for the networking,” which is evident by the nearly 80 percent of designees that become CCIM partners to advantage of the many benefits from the Institute’s growing professional network. 

Since the Central Arizona CCIM Chapter formed in 1982, its membership has grown to 182 professionals including brokers, leasing professionals, investment counselors, asset managers, appraisers, corporate real estate executives, property managers, developers, institutional investors, commercial lenders, attorneys and bankers. 

Power of the pin 

Craig Coppola, founding principal of Lee & Associates Arizona, earned his pin in just 13 months as soon as he became a broker 34 years ago. Since then, he made a name for himself as the top producing office broker in Lee & Associates’ 39-year history, completing over 3,600 transactions that total over 13 million square feet and valued in excess of $3.5 billion.  

“Brokers with the CCIM Designation have a different skill set, vocabulary and understand the business from a professional perspective,” he explains. “The education and skill set, plus the experience, helps us give our clients a unique advantage in transaction analysis and negotiations.”  

As a result, Coppola has been recognized as the 23-time top producer for Lee & Associates Arizona, 23-time finalist for NAIOP Office Broker of the Year and 6-time winner.  

Described as the equivalency of a master’s degree in commercial real estate, the CCIM Designation is earned by completing an extensive curriculum of 200 classroom hours taught by other CCIMs, a comprehensive resume of qualifying experience and a six-hour exam. Upon completion, designees are given their CCIM pin and may use the CCIM accolade in their professional titles.  

Dave Tornell, vice president of commercial sales at Chicago Title Agency, is currently working towards his CCIM pin, which he describes as being valuable in many ways.  

In addition to learning the different perspectives of the users, investors, lenders and brokers and the decisions that need to be made during the acquisition, ownership and disposition stages, Tornell says, “The CCIM curriculum allows you to identify key players and key markets that are important when making real estate investment decisions.” 

The current NAIOP-Arizona Chapter President Andrew Cheney agrees, adding, “It’s a great calling card for brokers who want to get in front of decision makers.”  

Cheney, a principal at Lee & Associates Arizona, earned his CCIM pin in 2007 after starting classes three years earlier, and noted several occasions when he received referrals and new business from other brokers across the country after recognizing his CCIM Designation.   

As a result of the confidence, credibility and more sophisticated thought process attained from earning his designation, Cheney has completed more than 1,200 transactions in over 20 states and three continents at a value in excess of $1 billion. 

He explains the decision to join CCIM after realizing “the most successful person in the business had a CCIM Designation.” That person was Coppola who later invited Cheney to join what is known today as “The Coppola Cheney Group.”  

New class 

Earning the CCIM Designation is no small task, which is why no time frame is given for when candidates must complete the classes, resumé and final exam by to earn their designation. Instead, candidates can proceed as their schedules permit, which can be as quick as a year or long as several.  

At the moment, 78 candidates between Arizona’s two CCIM chapters — Southern Arizona and Central Arizona — are currently in pursuit of the CCIM Designation, but at various stages in the process. 

Among those is Laura Pogue, senior associate at Colliers International, who has already taken two of the four courses and plans to take “CI 103: User Decision Analysis” next. She’s also the Central Arizona CCIM Chapter’s recipient of this year’s David S. Miller Endowed Scholarship.  

Pogue decided to pursue the designation for many reasons, but says, “The primary one was to add value for my clients. This is an opportunity to differentiate myself.” 

So far, her favorite part has been “the fact that I can use what I’m learning,” she adds.  

Pogue finds herself constantly learning new things about business and different ways to look at CRE through the CCIM classes despite having already founded and built her own national online technology firm in 2001 on top of her multiple degrees, including a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from the University of Michigan as well as a Doctor of Management from the University of Phoenix.  

“It’s not just textbook knowledge,” she explains. “It’s information that you can use immediately for your clients to add value.” 

Pogue admits the program can be challenging to complete while doing deals and day-to-day work, but says, “it’s certainly complimentary.” In fact, Pogue has already capitalized on deals courtesy of the relationships formed with other CCIM candidates while currently taking her classes in Los Angeles.  

While it’s not uncommon for CCIM candidates to take their courses in a target market instead of their hometown market in order to form other relationships with or for prospective clients, Pogue strategically picked Los Angeles “because of how many industrial buyers and investors from California desire to enter the Greater Phoenix commercial real estate market.” 

“You get out, what you put in,” Pogue explains. “There’s a level of confidence, knowledge, professionalism and respect from peers that you earn when becoming a CCIM and that grows the longer you’re associated with other CCIMs.”