Dustin Whistler is a Denver-based entrepreneur with a unique combination of business talent, leadership skills, community engagement, and activism that make him an asset to his clients, boards, and committees he serves. He is the founder and principal at Forte Commercial Real Estate, a corporate –, community–, and sector–serving firm that does work along Colorado’s front range and nationally.
Dustin’s unique value to his clients is synthesizing the goals and strategy of boards/leadership teams with operational realities to achieve best-in-class real estate solutions.
Forte has a deep client roster and following in practice areas including the Nonprofit/Creative Sector, Life Science, Manufacturing, Architecture/Engineering/Construction, and Outdoor & Apparel. Dustin serves as Chair of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, is on the board of Colorado BioScience Association, and serves on the Building Up Committee for Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.
Dustin makes Denver his home with his wife Tamra Ward, three children, and one rescue daughter. In his free time, he’s a patron and likes to travel, run, and spend time with his family.
Connect with Dustin on LinkedIn and follow Commercial Real Estate on Facebook and Twitter.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About Forte CRE
- Forte CRE being set apart from other commercial real estate firms
- Examples of their unique work
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix.
Intro: [00:00:00] We’re broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:20] Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Dustin Whistler with Forte Commercial Real Estate. Welcome.
Dustin Whistler: [00:00:32] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:34] Well, tell us about your firm. How are you serving folks?
Dustin Whistler: [00:00:37] So we’re forte Commercial real estate is an occupier driven and sector focused commercial real estate firm based in Denver. We represent businesses that occupy real estate, and usually that’s office space or industrial space or both. Simply put, we’re a rep firm, but we focus deeply in certain sectors in which we have a unique story or more to offer a passion, I guess. And those sectors are manufacturing, outdoor and apparel, advanced industries like bioscience or clean tech, community real estate, which we think of as nonprofit sector, creative sector, social enterprise. And then we recently launched the architecture and engineering and construction practice, and then we do a lot of work with private equity as well. And then the service offering is really lease acquisition or renewal or sublease, or we do a bunch of project management and then our community real estate practice, we do capital campaigns and non profit center services.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:41] So what’s your backstory? How how’d you get involved in this line of work?
Dustin Whistler: [00:01:45] I originally I guess I started working this in 96, I guess late 95, 95, I was working in cell site acquisitions and those are small micro transactions and I was getting permits to do to install these antennas when it was first when we first started having cell site coverage like we do today. And by the end of the year, I realized I just really like the transaction site a little bit better and decided to move into commercial real estate. Now, in 2008, we launched the firm with the idea that we would just start a firm focus on the user.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:28] And did you have a niche then, or was that something that just evolved over time?
Dustin Whistler: [00:02:34] Yeah, for I guess our niche. I guess what makes us unique is our original niche was manufacturing, lifestyle, life sciences and outdoor and apparel. And so the theme there is those are all companies that have typically hard to do transactions. So what we do is then those companies need more than most brokers can or will provide. And so what I guess our niche is, is we’ve built a we’ve built solutions to specifically support them. And that’s particularly true in one of our newer that that new I guess now it’s nine years or eight years. Our committed real estate practice really true that can be can be really hard to do.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:22] So when you were building out the firm, you had this vision and you were handling transactions that were more complex or required more. Was it difficult for you to build a team that was kind of on the same page from a value standpoint?
Dustin Whistler: [00:03:37] Um, I don’t think originally we were really focused on values, but as we. As we grew. So the early days, it was very. So there would be external partners that we would engage and we were working with companies we enjoyed and or that were profitable. And I think where that changed is in 2000, I guess that’s 15. We started thinking about what was working well, what was working well, and what was working well was Boardwalk and Orca and our bioscience practice. And I realize is that’s a very. Both of those are very mission driven organizations and our mission driven deals. So the. So your board work you’re trying to achieve a mission and bioscience their focus is on saving lives and improving lives. And so we realized that we just wanted more of that in our sort of company DNA. And so started asking people what we do in the community, whether we should start a nonprofit practice. And that was in January. By June, we had to hire someone, just work in that practice area. And so. So back to culture, where that starts to shift is right at that moment and evolved to a point where we kind of think of ourselves as a very mission driven firm. So whether you’re manufacturing 5G towers or you’re trying to build a nonprofit center to serve the well-being of the people of Colorado, our clients mission is our mission shapes that that sort of mission driven idea really shapes how we serve our clients, their success and how we serve in our community.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:27] So when you kind of flip that switch, did you was that something that you were like, Wow, now that we’ve kind of made that mental shift, I mean, it probably didn’t change many behaviors, but now mentally, you’re saying this out loud and you’re talking about it. Did that impact anything or did you notice anything like, Hey, we’re getting better people or people seem more engaged? Or did you was there any kind of clues that you were on to something here?
Dustin Whistler: [00:05:53] Um, yes, several. One is that that business that we pursue and that we want to do in the nonprofit community or in a community real estate practice that comes in so readily. And what we find is that we, we do a bunch of work in those other sectors, but it’s it is not nearly as easy as in the nonprofit practice. And so I think part of it is that we understand the nonprofit community because we’re members of those boards and committees and we understand how nonprofits work and what they need. And it’s shifted. Who is attracted to our firm? I think the people that we get here are coming here because of that mission focus. And and then I think we’ve just become known for a bunch of that work we do now.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:47] How does it work Kind of practically now and now that you have employees going out in the world, is that something when you’re onboarding an employee, there’s you tell them there’s like a level of expectations that you’re expecting them to kind of lean into their community and give back and get immersed in the nonprofits and the business associations and really, you know, kind of walk the walk and not just join, you know, pay money and be a member and just say, look, I’m a member and then I’m done.
Dustin Whistler: [00:07:18] Yeah, Yeah, that’s right. So my answer is set a couple of ways. So one one thing is that a lot of our peers and this isn’t true, uniformly true, but a lot of our peers might think it’s good enough to serve, raise money once a year and ask clients for money and then give it to a cause and that gather together as a community sometimes. But is that as deep of a commitment to the community? And so we view that as part of our culture and part of our expectations. So when we’re interviewing people, usually they’ve come to us Because of that, we’re a little different than the rest of the commercial real estate world and our mission focus. But then, yeah, we really expect we were pretty declarative than we expect Our everybody that’s in our firm that they’re tangibly engaged in the community. I’m chair of the Board of Color of Business Committee for the Arts. And so we put I think we put through six or seven different folks in our firm through the Leadership Arts program, which is basically for training. And so, yeah, it’s shifted. I think what the other piece that I would say is that.
Dustin Whistler: [00:08:33] Well, we have I guess to follow on to that one is we think an organization’s value should show up in the way it does business, that what it says. And part of that is investing your time, treasure, talents and connections for the work you do. And and that that really shows up when you’re especially if you have a community real estate practice that where you know what’s going on in the broader community. So you’re really a value to those boards that are associations you’re on the board of. And then the other one is just that that expectation, what it what it does in my mind is when you are serving on a board, being responsible for the health of that organization, it changes your posture and your business and your life. I think it’s really about stewardship, right? You’re the you’re the steward of the board you serve on or the cause of the committee you’re serving on or the association. And that shifts how you treat your clients in more of a stewardship model. And it just feels good ultimately.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:43] Now, when you’re talking to a young person about this, is this something that they’re like, wow, you know, I didn’t think of business in this manner. You know, I thought I was getting a job and I just show up and do my work and I go home. But this is asking them to really, you know, think of the community, not just the business or their job.
Dustin Whistler: [00:10:04] Yeah, I think the younger folks like it. So I think they prefer to work for a company that has a broader purpose and they’re just making money. And we don’t we like we like making money and we think that’s valuable. We also believe in sort of this virtuous cycle about giving back to the communities you’re working in.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:33] Now, is there a story you can share about maybe one of your employees that kind of got involved in one of these groups and helped take them to a new level or because of the connections or the resources that they had?
Dustin Whistler: [00:10:47] Well, I don’t know that I have a specific story. I mean. I guess I could talk about a project we work done where I feel like our involvement was in our practice was community building.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:04] Yeah, that’d be great. Yeah. Just something where you can kind of draw a line to this effort into the kind of helping the greater good here.
Dustin Whistler: [00:11:13] Yep. So in some ways, we think of ourselves as a chief enablement officer. So if you have some crazy idea or that’s good for the community or you have desire to grow your footprint and grow your company, we’re we’re the ones that you have the vision, we have the infrastructure to make it happen. So one example of that work would be Colorado’s health capital. The CEO of Healthier Colorado had the vision to create a nonprofit center focused on the well-being of people of Colorado and our client, their client, Jake Williams, CEO and Healthier Colorado had that vision. And then we got to know each other through connections in the community. And what what the result is, is that we ended up building a 26,000 square foot nonprofit center with 40 nonprofits in the building. And what was true on the front end is that Jake said, hey, here’s 13 folks that we know that are interested. And we said, Well, we have a database of, I think, around 200 organizations that we think would have some appetite for this. And so, in fact, to sort of that, your mission is our mission at times, I think Jake would say, hey, we should just go grab this tenant because it would gobble up a lot of space. But when we think about are they on mission or not? The answer was no. Sometimes we would skip it and then we just worked hard enough that within I guess we’re now a year and a half in, it’s 97% leased. And so who we knew in the community via boards we served on or other work, we do really help that nonprofit center be successful.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:13] Right? Without you, it would have been impossible.
Dustin Whistler: [00:13:16] I just don’t think there was anybody else that does what we do. So yeah, it would have been a lot harder. And yeah, without without all that infrastructure, without the commitment and the community asset possible.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:30] So then you mentioned some of the industries you serve and some of the work that you do. Is there an ideal client or is it something that if they’re within those industries, then you know, they should talk to you? Or is it, you know, would you like them also? Obviously, I would imagine, to share similar values or if they have similar values and maybe aren’t in those niches that you serve, maybe they would work out as well, Like who is that kind of perfect fit client for you?
Dustin Whistler: [00:13:58] Yeah. You know what? We we do business across all sectors, to be honest. And. But the perfect client is someone that is doing good in the world, whether that’s innovating in the medical device world or they’re doing something in the community or we we love geeking out on manufacturing projects. So I feel like a lot of those what I’d say about those sectors that we’re focused on is we’re not entirely agnostic, but pretty close to the size and who they are. We love doing bigger deals, obviously, but if it’s if it’s a nonprofit in our community and it’s a small town probably in our community, we’re going to find a way to help them out.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:47] So if somebody wants to learn more, have a more substantive conversation with you or somebody on the team, What is the website? What’s the coordinates?
Dustin Whistler: [00:14:55] Our website is 40 c r e dot com.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:01] And that’s 40 CARICOM.
Dustin Whistler: [00:15:05] That’s right.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:07] And then they can go there, they can learn more mission, purpose and some of the work that you’ve done in the past and how to get a hold of you.
Dustin Whistler: [00:15:15] Yep. And they can find us on social media, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. We’re pretty easy to find.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:23] Now, is your work primarily in the metro Denver and Colorado area?
Dustin Whistler: [00:15:30] We were probably the the deepest along the front range in Colorado, but we work nationally as well. We’re part of a larger national network. And, you know, year to year, our business is probably 25 to 35% outside the state and the rest within Colorado.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:52] Well, congratulations on all the success. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Dustin Whistler: [00:15:57] Thank you. Thanks for what you’re doing. Hopefully you’re motivating a lot more people to get involved.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:02] Yeah, that is what we’re trying to do every day, is to teach people, you know, how to get the most out of, you know, this type of association work and leadership and getting involved in all aspects of it, not just running them, but also the you know, they couldn’t survive without people like you who are really encouraging their people to get involved and to lean into the work in their community.
Dustin Whistler: [00:16:25] Yep. Yep. Well, thanks for what you do, and thanks for having me on.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:28] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Association Leadership Radio.