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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Avison Young Managing Director Steve Dils


This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.   

The man who leads Avison Young and its stellar growth in the Southeast once sold club memberships and home lots at a golf club in San Juan Capistrano, California.

By the summer of that year, that man, Steve Dils, would lead the Atlanta Falcons on the gridiron, starting three games before sustaining a season-ending injury in his final career season in 1988.

Former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Steve Dils in action during a 1984 game against the Atlanta Falcons

There was a time that a professional NFL quarterback needed an offseason job to support a family, Dils said. In the 1980s, the average NFL salaries were in the $80K/year range. When Dils was drafted in 1979 with the Minnesota Vikings, he was pulling in $30K/year. After 10 years playing with such teams as the Los Angeles Rams, the Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons, Dils hung up his cleats for commercial real estate.

He started his full-time career in Atlanta leasing Piedmont Center with PC Associates and moved on to other notable brokerage firms, including PM Realty Group and Grubb & Ellis (now Newmark Knight Frank).

In 2010, Avison Young — which at the time was the largest commercial real estate firm in Canada — tapped Dils to start its first Atlanta office and use it as the spear's edge to expand throughout the southeastern United States, including overseeing offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, Charleston and Florida. In a short while, the office went from just himself to now more than 100 employees and 28 brokers. Dils also has grown its leasing and management portfolio to more than 20M SF in properties across the country, including Oregon, Oklahoma, Florida and Vermont.

Along the way, the Stanford University graduate has been president of NAIOP's Atlanta chapter and the Buckhead Business Association, and on the board of advisors for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. He is the current president of the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors.

Avison Young Managing Partner Steve Dils with his wife and Avison Young Director of Learning Char Fortune golfing in Ireland

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry? 

Dils: As the leader of our office I try and articulate our vision, get the right people on the team and provide the resources for them to be successful.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do? 

Dils: I’d either be a football coach or in the front office of an NFL team.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had? 

Dils: I was a dishwasher at a large seafood restaurant in high school. It might have been the hardest job I ever had, as well.

Bisnow: What was your first big deal? 

Dils: I’m going to go with my most impactful deal and that was acquiring Hodges Management and Leasing in July of 2010. This was shortly after I’d opened the Avison Young office and with this one transaction we brought on 34 great people, 15M SF of management and leasing assignments, and a great client in Clarion Partners. It gave us a solid platform from which to build our Atlanta office.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure? 

Dils: I’ve had a lot so it’s hard to pick one but probably not being able to acquire a multifamily company that I had pursued for years is at the top.

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be? 

Dils: Diversity. I’m encouraged by the number of young women in our industry and the initiatives the Atlanta Commercial Board has on diversity, but we still have a long way to go in gender and racial diversity.

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve? 

Dils: People who see problems rather than opportunities.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor? 

Dils: I’ve never had a true mentor but I have worked or played for some great leaders. [Former San Francisco 49ers Coach] Bill Walsh truly changed the trajectory of my life. Without him I would never have played pro football. I also learned a lot of lessons from him that I’ve used throughout my business career. On the business side, Mark Rose, Earl Webb and Keith Lipton (our CEO, president and COO) have taught me lessons that have made me a better businessman.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten? 

Dils: The best advice I got for both my personal and professional life came from my mom and dad and that was, “It’s not all about you." I’ve forgotten any bad advice I’ve been given.

Avison Young Managing Director Steve Dils with his grandson Jackson and son Jeff Dils, who is a vice president at Cousins Properties

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance? 

Dils: Golf trips with Char Fortune [his wife and Avison Young's director of professional development] 

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Dils: I’m not much of a world traveler but our favorite restaurant in Atlanta is Aria.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say? 

Dils: Not everything has to be a confrontation. I would say that to a lot of people in Washington these days.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken? 

Dils: I didn’t think it was at the time but, in retrospect, starting the Avison Young office in 2010. No one knew who or what Avison Young was, but I believed so strongly in the leadership and the strategy that I had to take the leap of faith, and I’m glad I did because it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in business by a wide margin.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown? 

Dils: Wauna Lake. It is forty minutes east of Vancouver, Washington, where I grew up. We have done our family vacation there for 35 straight years. It’s fun to have our kids and grandkids enjoy a place that was special to me growing up.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night? 

Dils: It varies, but it generally revolves around the feeling that I am letting someone down.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about? 

Dils: My family. I’m blessed to have a great wife, two children with wonderful spouses and four healthy grandchildren.