Cynthia Fusco: Looking Back with an Eye to the Future

Cynthia Fusco recently retired from her role as executive director for NAIOP SoCal, a position she held for 30 years. Over that time she has seen the chapter evolve, making its mark on the region’s and nation’s commercial real estate industry.

 

What inspired you to work with NAIOP?

My partner and I were in the association management field, and I was working for a number of real estate organizations so NAIOP was a good fit. They were looking for some pretty simple management responsibilities because they were volunteer-driven. George Spragins, bless his heart, loved taking credit as the one who found us.  It was NAIOP Orange County then.  Real estate was booming here, and we were the number one chapter in the country.

 

What was the chapter like then?

Wow, where to start?  We were a lot of entrepreneurs, risk takers, loved thinking outside the box and more – never shied away from a new challenge.  We were the number one chapter for quite a few years. We had a small board, only about 12 or 14. NAIOP L.A. was in existence before Orange County and provided the start-up funds to get Orange County up and running in 1970. Twenty-one years later, we merged the two chapters to create an even stronger NAIOP SoCal.

 

What were some of your favorite moments?

When we were doing the bus tours, seeing all those buses going out at once and helping to pull that event together was an incredible experience. It really showcased what was going on in OC.  Some of my most favorite moments are things that we’ve been able to do for the community, for charity – I’ll never forget the charity fundraiser we did for CSP (Community Service Programs) that featured a night with the Harlem Globetrotters – I got to meet some VERY tall guys who made me feel short, and the kids loved the event!  Also, rehabbing a home in Long Beach to make it accessible for a wheelchair, working with Working Wardrobes to collect used business clothing and doing career workshops; the list goes on.  But probably the most memorable moment – many don’t remember that Night at the Fights was born to raise funds for our legislative advocacy efforts; thus, the “Fights” theme meant much more than a fun event.

 

What are you most proud of?

Without a doubt, development of the Young Professionals Group (YPG). Talk about being ahead of your time. This was before NAIOP’s Developing Leaders program even became a reality at the national level.  I’m very proud to say that we blazed the trail. We went to NAIOP National saying we have an idea and we need your help. We convinced that national board that its start-up investment would result in building up the strength of the organization overall. Remember, when the recession hit in the ‘90s there was a dearth of talent in young professionals, resulting in almost a five to 10-year gap of young people who weren’t interested in going into real estate. When you look at how the alumni have grown over the years, it makes me extremely proud of what we accomplished. The San Francisco and Southern Nevada chapters are now doing a YPG program, but it started with us.

 

Now that you’ve seen the chapter evolve what do you think is most exciting about the chapter?

I think that they’ve done the best thing right now by taking NAIOP to the next level of leadership with the appointment of a CEO. We’ve always been innovators, thought leaders, even renegades. I don’t see any change to that. But with the challenges we’re facing right now, it’s more important than ever that we speak with one voice of authority and leadership, not only in the world of commercial real estate but in the public eye as well. It isn’t that our presidents haven’t done wonderful jobs over the years, they have. But having a CEO who is known and visible on a consistent basis is perfect. I think the challenges facing not only NAIOP, but commercial real estate overall, are among the most we’ve ever had to face, especially considering important legislative issues and the current pandemic. I have no doubt that NAIOP is not only going to survive, but thrive. One of the messages I really hope gets out there front and center is that we don’t just build buildings; we build communities and enhance the quality of life in Southern California.  It’s in our mission statement, but the public has to see that as well.