Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Altus Group CEO Robert Courteau
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
When Robert Courteau is not busy overseeing the growth strategies of Altus Group, a publicly traded global commercial real estate software, advisory and data solutions firm based in Toronto, he spends his days skiing the slopes or spending some much-needed time with his wife of 34 years, Flora, and their four children on a cottage overlooking a lake.
Courteau, 62, is a strong advocate of technological advancements and feels tech is key to streamlining business operations and making day-to-day tasks more efficient for clients. He brings a background in tech to his role as CEO, where he oversees more than 2,500 employees across 75 offices worldwide.
Prior to joining Altus Group in 2012, Courteau was an executive at global enterprise application software firm SAP AG, where he held the titles president of North America and global chief operating officer.
Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?
Courteau: Altus Group is a leading provider of independent advisory services, software and data solutions to the global commercial real estate industry. We are at the convergence of data, technology and services, which is a really exciting place to be in the industry right now. My job as CEO is to position the company for growth. To achieve that, it’s all about listening. You find ways to hear from your employees, clients, partners and the industry that solve problems and create value.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Courteau: My background is actually in the technology industry, so I’ve had a bit of an untraditional path in getting into commercial real estate. I’m passionate about anything focusing on how technology can deliver greater efficiency to businesses, so I’d be continuing along this path in another sector.
But — if I was not in technology or commercial real estate I would definitely be in the ski business!
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Courteau: During my university days I worked at the Banff Springs Hotel doing night shifts cleaning the kitchen, getting the laundry room ready, etc. While these weren’t my ideal jobs, I was happy to take on anything that allowed me to spend my days skiing.
Bisnow: What was your first big deal?
Courteau: My first global role was a real turning point in my career. Once you do a global job, it changes everything. There are certain differences between Canada and the U.S., but when you work in Europe, Asia and other markets, you have to take your game up to a whole new level and this helps you be a better executive — lots of day-to-day learning.
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
Courteau: I’ve been quite lucky so far considering the risks I’ve taken. We had to sell a company too early that I had thought had great potential — really a disappointment.
Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?
Courteau: While not isolated to the commercial real estate industry, I’d have to say its resistance to change can be frustrating at times. The industry is now playing catch-up and we’re seeing more innovation along with technology adoption, which is really exciting to be part of.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Courteau: Wasted potential. I hate it when I see a young, smart person that finds ways to complain, not work hard, not be open-minded and has already stopped learning.
Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?
Courteau: My dad. I watched how hard he worked in his career while still being a strong role model as a parent. My other greatest mentor is Diane McGarry, who was my manager when I first became an executive. I learned from her that what makes a great manager is range, and she embodied that — tough and compassionate all in one package.
Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?
Courteau: Best professional advice was to take feedback at face value and never waste opportunities to get better. And worst advice — to deny accountability.
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
Courteau: We have a cottage on a beautiful lake in Canada and I love spending weekends there with my family in the summer. So amazing.
Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
Courteau: Currently “Da Umberto” in New York — love that place.
Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?
Courteau: To invest in Twitter — he has personally increased the value of that company many fold.
Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Courteau: Leaving a great steady corporate job to lead a technology startup. This paid off and reaffirmed that if you’re not putting yourself into new situations that are uncomfortable, you’re not learning and growing in your career.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?
Courteau: My hometown is Montreal, Canada, and my favorite place there has to be old Montreal — great restaurants and bars.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
Courteau: Every night I go to bed thinking about what I could have done better in the day. There is always room for improvement. I sleep well knowing that I will be better the next day.
Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Courteau: Spending time with my wife and four kids, playing sports (skiing and hockey are two of my favorites) and, of course, watching my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs — thinking 2019 might just be the year that we win it all!