My Take on Tom Barrack’s 15 Rules for Success

Aug 8, 2015 | Career, Entrepreneurship

The real estate community is filled with successful investors and developers who are viewed as celebrities such as Howard Marks, Sam Zell, Mort Zuckerman, and Stephen Ross. They’re known for their big investment successes, pontificating, and the wisdom they pass along to the real estate community.

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Sam Zell has the Zell’s Fundamentals, a list of 13 statements which serve as the basis for his investment decisions. Tom Barrack, CEO and Chairmen of Colony Capital, has his own set of 15 rules for success. Although they’re not real estate-specific, many resonate with me and apply to my day-to-day as a real estate professional. In this post, I break down his 15 rules and put them into a real estate perspective.

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Tom Barrack’s 15 Rules for Success

1. Punctuality is the courtesy of kings

It’s amazing how many meetings I go to or calls I’m on where the attendees are routinely 5 minutes late. If I’m 1 minute early, I’m usually waiting around for other’s to join. Don’t keep others waiting.

2. Do it now

Don’t just talk about your ideas, take action. Test things. Fail. Drive through the punches and do it, do it now.

3. Don’t confuse efforts with results

This is an unsettling concept, but it’s reality. Why should anyone care how hard you worked?  At the end of the day you can be the best person and work your ass off, but if you’re not producing results, you’re history.

4. Always give the bad news first

Don’t sugarcoat things. Tell it like it is and let’s move on the finding solutions. Real estate is a business and requires a level of professionalism to be successful.

5. The jungle is a safer place with professionals than a paved road with amateurs

Pertaining to real estate investing, deals with hair on them and markets going through disruptions are a great way to achieve outsized returns. Don’t shy away from these deals. As a best-in-class investor, take them head on.

6. Develop a cultural sixth sense

The U.S. is a melting pot so it’s important to have an understanding and appreciation of all different backgrounds. Investors, lenders, and tenants will consist of all different cultures so develop a cultural sixth sense.

7. When you are going through hell just keep on going

Deals will go bad and things won’t always go as planned. When things are bad just keep your head down and keep moving forward.

8. Write thank you notes

In today’s world where inboxes are flooded with emails, an old-fashioned hand-written thank you note really stands out. It’s a lost art. If someone has taken the time to talk with you on the phone or meet for coffee to share their experience, write them a thank you.

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9. Always be nice to the “little” people

Real estate is a unique field, one day you can be meeting with a billion dollar private equity fund the next you could be presenting in front of a local community board, and the day after that you could be meeting with the onsite construction team. It’s important to be able to connect with all of these people, and be nice and courteous. After all, it’s the on-the-ground team, the property manager, leasing agents, and construction teams that dictate the success of a project.

10. No one ever remembers the lessons learned

Tom Barrack referred to this as The Most Important Rule in a recent article he was featured in for Private Equity Real Estate (PERE). You know what they say, real estate goes through 10-year cycles, yet real estate professionals have 5-year memories. It’s ok to make mistakes, but it’s important to understand what caused things to go wrong and learn from it.

11. Befriend the bewildered

This rule is one of my personal favorites. Success in real estate is grounded in the ability to think differently, view challenges in a unique way, and come up with creative solutions. The way you develop a different way of thinking is through experiences and spending time with people different than yourself. Don’t just hang out with people who are comfortable, befriend the bewildered.

12. Don’t screen phone calls

This one’s tough for me. I have to admit, I don’t answer calls unless I know who’s calling. Perhaps it’s indicative of the type of person I am, but for the next month I’m challenging myself to not screen calls. Let’s see where it takes me.

13. Work and stretch body, mind and soul

Every successful business person I know stresses the importance of eating healthy, working out, and meditating. If you don’t feel your best, how can you perform your best.

14. Be here now

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, live in that moment. Give your undivided attention. It’s tough when cell phones provide unlimited alternatives, but it’s important that you be here now.


The real estate business is not about inventing the next iPad or launching the largest leverage buyout. It is about showing up, doing a good job, harvesting reasonable returns for our investors (which will look strong in hindsight against other asset classes), and waiting for the repricing moment.

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