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Weekend Interview: Thirty Capital CEO Rob Finlay

This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.

By his own admission, Rob Finlay wasn't a great employee. But he's found his niche as CEO of a suite of commercial real estate companies. He has built a portfolio of CRE assets and a financial advisory and services firm, and in 2019, he founded Thirty Capital, a proptech incubator and accelerator overseeing 10 technology platforms.

Over 20 years in the industry, Finlay has learned you can't be everything to everybody as a CEO, and he's shifted his leadership style from college football coach to professional football coach, relying more on delegation to keep his businesses running smoothly.  

The following has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Rob Finlay, CEO and founder of Thirty Capital

Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.

Finlay: My leadership philosophy is about compassion — driving and demanding hard work from people, but also demonstrating that hard work myself. I think my leadership philosophy has changed quite a bit as I've gotten older and the people who I've worked with have gotten older.

 “Be true to yourself.” — my grandfather’s advice. He was something of a mentor.

Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now?

Finlay: When I started one of my early companies, I thought of myself more as a college football coach than a CEO. I focused on leading by example and emphasizing detail. But as I've gotten older and my businesses have matured, my leadership philosophy has become more of that of a professional football coach who’s hiring experienced professionals and expecting them to take the initiative in their role.

There are many different leadership styles and one of the challenges is trying to be too much to everybody. You just have to move forward in the manner you feel is most appropriate — you'll figure it out as you go. 

Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?

Finlay: The role of a CEO is ever-evolving. The dynamics, the responsibility have become so much greater than just building and operating a company. You're basically a role model for the business and the public face of the organization. It's a much different role than just focusing on business operations and development.

Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?

Finlay: It wasn't that leading a company was always a goal for me — I just made a horrible employee. It was only by necessity that I ended up starting my own business and building it. Now, I couldn't imagine anything else!

Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Finlay: I once demoted a senior leader and was not as sensitive as I could have been. I was more focused on driving the business and success than how they felt about the situation.

Thirty Capital founder and CEO Rob Finlay

Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?

Finlay: We have had probably one of the biggest dynamic shifts in workplace location that I've ever experienced. Prior to 2019, I felt like if you weren't in your chair and at your desk, you weren't doing your job. Today, I’m much more accepting of the remote work model.

Because of the type of business that we’re in, software partially, you really need to have people who are working remotely to get the best work from them. In-person collaboration is important for many roles and positions in our work, but I think our office strategy moving forward will likely be that of a flexible work schedule. It’s empowering for staff to be able to come in for in-person collaboration but be able to work remotely as well. 

Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?

Finlay: This conversation is long overdue. We're working to lift up the voice of the underrepresented and promote a more inclusive, welcoming culture. We want people to feel safe bringing their full selves to work each and every day.

Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning?

Finlay: The recent focus on sustainability and climate change is critical to our survival. It’s a necessary and relevant conversation given where we're headed as a society. It's certainly not overblown — we need to address our impact both individually and collectively.

We're tackling climate change by actively talking about it and figuring out ways we can reduce our impact. We encourage everybody in our organization to talk about it and be involved. It shouldn’t be kept at just the senior leadership level. As part of our short- and long-term initiatives, we strive to go above and beyond just a reduction of our carbon footprint and work to offset it.

Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?

Finlay: Something CRE gets wrong is change. It’s in how the industry embraces new ways of doing business and emerging technologies. It takes CRE a long time to innovate and be creative. There's a huge disparity between the larger firms and the smaller operators as to when and how this happens. 

Rob Finlay, CEO and founder of Thirty Capital

Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?

Finlay: Last-mile distribution is probably the best asset class to invest in. With the rise of remote work and online commerce and the shift away from central business districts, there's going to be a huge ongoing demand for last-mile/infill warehouse distribution facilities. 

Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?

Finlay: My favorite book is Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. It’s about strategies to cope with and harness change in our work and personal lives. Everything in our business, everything in our industry, and everything that we’re involved with — it's all about to change. It's about innovation, being open to change and adapting. 

Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Finlay: Family Guy is at the top of the list. Why? It doesn't hold back.
Sports also get a lot of airtime at home. 

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Finlay: I spend most Saturdays with my family. Taming the trail, working on the farm and getting out on the water are among our favorite weekend activities.