Bob Stewart, a commercial real estate broker with 24 years of experience, went to work last month for Knapp Properties Inc. He had worked for CBRE/Hubbell Commercial since 2005, and before that, he was chief legal counsel for Iowa Realty Co. Inc. A resident of Johnston, Stewart is president of that city’s economic development corporation. Stewart might be known as much for his work in the community as for his professional role as a broker. Representative of his skills as a broker and engaging conversationalist, Stewart was awarded the “Deal of the Year” in 2011 by the Iowa Commercial Real Estate Association and this year received the Community Service Award for Connecting from the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. He has created a variety of professional networks that help young professionals and “gray hairs” such as himself enlarge their business orbits. To top it off, a verb has formed around his name. More on that below.

How would we know when we have been “Bobbed”?

First and foremost, I really like people, and I take great pleasure out of seeing them reach their full potential. Fortunately, I was born without the “embarrassment” gene, so I’m able to talk to people about a wide range of subjects, usually looking for something either we have in common, or if I would know someone else in their field. I find that people are basically shy, and I like to think I have a way of drawing conversation from them without being intrusive. The origination of “Bobbing”: My son Paul founded a church in downtown Des Moines, The Gateway Church, about four years ago. He asked Karen and me to join in, both because they needed some “gray hair,” but also that he didn’t have anyone with my skill set of conversation. The music minister at the time picked up on this quickly, and thence began the verb “Bob.”  Usually in a positive sense, such as “you’ve just been Bobbed,” but also occasionally from my wife: “Stop Bobbing me!”

How did you become a “connector?”

When the recession started in late 2008, I knew that I had to do something to network more, as the phone was not ringing as it had been during the good times. So, I came up with the idea of calling a dozen of my friends in various fields of real estate (the appraiser, the commercial lender, etc.) and bounced the idea off them. They all thought it was a good idea, and that group has now been meeting on a monthly basis, moving each month from business to business. We share leads, market information and collegiality. It’s been great. The average age is about 55.

Describe the various levels of connections you have created. 

Since there is nothing proprietary about having a group, I shared the idea with a number of people, in particular, three younger people, and encouraged them to start their own group. They agreed, but asked that since I had done this before that I stay involved and lead it as well. This group is great as well; we’ve been meeting for about three years. The average age is 35. About a year and half ago, I decided to take it one step further. I had no way of meeting many of the young professionals here in Des Moines.  However, LinkedIn provided this entrée. I went through my contacts and sent notes to six younger people who were in sales or business development and asked if they were interested in starting a group. This group, called Junto, has been meeting for the past year or so, and it is great as well. Average age in this group is probably 29. So, I have approximately 55 people in three business groups that are my “eyes and ears” in the market. In addition, many long-term friendships have been formed.  

You have moved into a new office. What was the first thing you placed on your desk or hung on your wall?

I’ve been tremendously fortunate to be involved in raising funds for Bible schools, orphanages, elementary schools, etc., around the world over the past 20 years, and have been able to travel to many of the projects for either the groundbreaking or dedication. So, my office is full of these pictures.

If you weren’t in the commercial real estate business, what would you be doing to earn a living?

If I were not in the commercial real estate business, I would enjoy being a development director for many of the overseas ministries I’ve been involved in over the years.

What inspires you?

I would have to say foremost the Bible. I have a daily discipline of reading a passage each day ... My wife is an inspiration as well; a pillar of strength and a helpmate in a true sense. I could never have made it through life without her.