Susan Bergdoll: Building Lasting Relationships Sets Duke Realty Apart

Susan Bergdoll, senior vice president of leasing and development

Susan Bergdoll will be the first one to tell you she fell into real estate by chance. It’s a surprising revelation from a leader of one of the largest developers of industrial properties in the country. Bergdoll was a young political science grad finishing a gig with the mayor’s office in Indianapolis, when she reached out to former Duke Realty CEO Tom Hefner and landed a job on Duke Realty’s marketing team. Though she only stayed in the role for a year, she said it was the perfect launching pad because it gave her insight into the entire operation.

25 years later, Bergdoll has learned a few things. She said it’s much easier for her to find a path to success now than in the early days of her career. And she’s more than happy to share her vision and experience with her fellow Duke Realty associates as a regional leader for the Chicago, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis markets. For Bergdoll, that starts with face-to-face interactions with her colleagues.

“I start my day by getting my cup of coffee, walking the halls, and checking in with every person here,” she said. “Sometimes they’re quick conversations. Sometimes they’re longer. But it’s important to check in and see how everyone is doing.”

Bergdoll believes communication is the most critical component to the lessor/broker relationship. “You’re talking to all sorts of different groups, and you’ve got to manage the expectations and needs of each stakeholder when you’re putting a deal together,” she said. “Having open communication brings everything you want—transparency, trust and accountability. If you don’t have clear communication, you don’t have any of that.”

These days Bergdoll’s role is more about helping her colleagues navigate a deal, and less about getting the deal across the finish line herself. “I’m giving my team guidance and giving them information that helps them make more informed decisions.”

Part of that involves helping her associates understand the processes at Duke Realty and teaching them to trust their colleagues. “Having been at Duke Realty as long as I have, I know how to navigate the systems to accomplish what my clients need,” she said. “Each member of the team is an expert in his or her field. I’m not a construction person. I’m not a lawyer. When those questions come up, I don’t try to answer them. I turn to those people because they’re the experts. Each person plays a significant role in the team approach.”

When asked what sets Duke Realty apart from the competition, Bergdoll’s answer is simple: “We care,” she said. “It’s not a transaction. It’s a relationship. When we negotiate a deal, we are thinking about the long-term relationship and the partnership with the client. There are very few companies that own buildings for the long term, so it’s a different mindset for us. We’re putting in the extra dollars and we’re doing it the right way from the beginning to ensure that 30 years from now, it’s still a great asset.”

Building those relationships often happens naturally through the process of the complicated deals that Duke Realty manages with its clients. One of Bergdoll’s recent projects took nearly two years to get over the finish line. “When you’re in the midst of these deals, you’re talking to clients five times a day,” she said. “I love the partnership. I love being able to help them solve problems. I don’t have any interest in just pushing paper back and forth.”

Bergdoll admits she bought into the Duke Realty culture a long time ago, and she never looked back.  “Duke Realty’s reputation means something,” she said. “It’s credibility. It’s accountability. And the brokers who have been in this business for a long time know that when they work with Duke Realty they’re going to get treated fairly. They’re going to get a market deal, and we’re going to care about their clients’ who become our tenants for the entire time they’re in our building, like they’re one of our own team members.”

Having been in the industry for so long, Bergdoll said she is rarely surprised. “I’ve seen just about everything at this point,” she said. But she’s still as excited about her job today as she was as the unproven Poli-Sci grad who didn’t know anything about real estate in 1997.

“It’s the people,” she said. “Duke Realty associates are a different breed. I talk with people I haven’t worked with in years, and they still refer to Duke Realty as the collective, ‘we’, like they are still a part of the team,  To me, that says a lot about our culture, people and teamwork.”