Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Altus Group Global Head Of Business Development Ross Litkenhous
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
Ross Litkenhous was nervous about the impact a $500M transit-centric, mixed-use development would have on his small town outside of the nation's capital. So he ran for, and was elected to, a city council seat in Falls Church, Virginia, in 2017. He said he wanted to use his expertise in real estate and local and state tax matters to ensure the development would benefit the tight-knit community.
While running for office was the best opportunity to serve his community, Litkenhous said the position may not have come along at the best time in his personal life. He said he has a young family with his wife and three daughters and a demanding job as the global head of business development at Altus Group, a global commercial real estate software, advisory and data solutions firm based in Toronto. But he felt compelled to do his part to ensure the large development didn't change Falls Church.
"This is my opportunity to serve my community," Litkenhous said.
Earlier this year, Falls Church City Council approved a plan to construct a $120M high school. Construction started in June and will take two years to complete. Phase 1 of the mixed-use development is slated to start May 2021.
Litkenhous has worked for several real estate tax and consulting firms and managed portfolios for many of the industry’s largest investors and developers over the last 15 years. At Altus Group, he has spent a decade working globally within the CRE community to deliver an array of technology-enabled services. He has also led the company's strategic growth. He spoke with Bisnow about his efforts at Altus and what he is passionate about.
Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?
Litkenhous: I lead high-performing teams, develop strategies and facilitate best practices to help my company grow top-line revenue and build market share globally.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Litkenhous: Motivational speaker. Helping others build confidence in themselves and finding their passion in work and life is rewarding for me personally on so many levels.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Litkenhous: One summer while I was in high school living in Alabama, I worked in a car wash tunnel. It was like working manual labor inside of a steam sauna.
Bisnow: What was your first big deal?
Litkenhous: Finding, bidding on and winning the company’s first federal government contract.
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
Litkenhous: Earlier in my career when I was scaling my first team and business in a new market, I made a few hiring mistakes. I was under pressure to add resources and hired too hastily, focusing on pedigree and résumés as opposed to focusing on the personalities and cultural fit. Those mistakes damaged the momentum I had already built with my existing team. I had to swallow my pride, admit where I had screwed up and then fix the problem by terminating those hires. The outcome resulted in several valuable lessons learned that ultimately made me a better leader.
Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?
Litkenhous: Diversity. When people think of commercial real estate there seems to be this fairly narrow view of what it is, the types of people that work in the industry and what the jobs entail. CRE is more than just leasing and buying buildings. For example, the industry is currently undergoing a technological evolutionary leap. There are lucrative jobs and roles for people from all walks of life and the opportunities to build a product or service that can truly disrupt segments of the industry are more accessible than ever.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Litkenhous: People that shirk responsibility. Own your mistakes, do what you say you are going to do, and don’t pass the buck because you don’t want to make the tough calls.
Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?
Litkenhous: I read a lot, across a broad spectrum of topics, and I draw inspiration and learning from many of those authors and thought leaders. But early on in life, my biggest mentor was my dad. He instilled in me a strong work ethic and mental toughness that has given me the ability to succeed, in many cases, by simply outworking, outhustling and outlasting the competition.
Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?
Litkenhous: The best advice I ever received was that building networks is everything. Building a broad and diverse base of contacts that you can lean on for advice, opportunities and learning is second to none. The worst advice I ever received was that “there is no reason to change anything if what we’ve been doing is working.” If you refuse to critique your own practices and performance in an attempt to improve, and you don’t have the intellectual honesty to admit that you can do something better, then someone is going to come along and knock you off your pedestal.
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
Litkenhous: I don’t consider myself much of a connoisseur of anything, except raw oysters. My wife and I love them! Everything about them. And now that my three daughters have taken a liking to them, it can make for an expensive night out.
Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
Litkenhous: The Inn at Little Washington. Chef Patrick O’Connell has created something incredibly special there. The food, ambiance and service are the best you will find anywhere in the world, and it’s only 90 minutes from Washington, D.C.
Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?
Litkenhous: Be humble, and if you want to play the long game, deliver the infrastructure projects you promised during your campaign to invest in roads, rail, bridges and schools.
Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Litkenhous: Accepting my current global role inside the company. Making the decision to leave the team that I had grown organically for 10 years and who had been with me through thick and thin was tough to say the least. I was happy, comfortable, in the groove and knew my business. Moving within Altus Group into a new position that took me to the far reaches of the world while managing vastly different and more diverse teams, products and services was a risk. It also turned out to be the challenge that I didn’t know I truly needed.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?
Litkenhous: I grew up in Hoover, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. Most of my family still lives there. I love traveling down there with my wife and kids to spend time with everyone at our family lake house.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
Litkenhous: Geopolitics and international affairs. We are at the peak of the longest economic recovery in history and asset values have grown significantly over that time. Paraphrasing Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve, expansions don’t die of old age. We are walking a razor's edge from a policy standpoint both domestically and abroad. Our elected officials need to heed cautionary tales from the past so we don’t accelerate a downturn.
Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Litkenhous: I am passionate about community service and helping others. I feel that everyone who can find an opportunity, in some way, to give back to the communities where they work and live. I have the good fortune of living in Falls Church, Virginia, a small 2-square-mile city, just outside of Washington, D.C. I was elected to city council there a few years ago and it has given me the opportunity as a volunteer to use my professional skills and passion for service to truly make an impact on the lives of my family, friends, neighbors and community at large.