Taiwanese businessman Michael Tseng fully understands the value of a Certified Commercial Investment Member education. Lacking any real estate experience, he left IBM Taiwan to open an appraisal firm in 1995. He quickly recognized his career limitations and enrolled in the CCIM program in 1998.

It paid off a few months later when his new full-service property firm in Taipei, REPro International, beat out a Colliers International team for a factory listing that eventually generated a $160,000 commission. “With my CCIM designation, I have been able to differentiate myself when competing against the big names,” says Tseng, president of REPro International.

Tseng earned his CCIM in 2000 and now counts GE Capital, Morgan Stanley and Salomon Smith Barney among its clients. This year, he expects revenues to grow 40% to more than $1 million and to increase his staff from 16 employees to 25.

Education Enhances Marketability

Hundreds of Asians earning their CCIM designations may echo Tseng's experience. While over the last few years the number of international designees at Chicago's CCIM Institute has doubled to 340 — still a tiny fraction compared with the Institute's total roster of some 7,000 U.S. designees — 115 of the 140 international members earning the designation last year were Asian. Seventy-five were from China and 40 were from South Korea.

Interest in the program is increasing as property markets are liberalized, says Ronald Sears, director of international operations for the CCIM Institute. In China, property controls are crumbling under a wave of policies encouraging investment from private and foreign sources. In Taiwan, the government is allowing foreign investment after years of restricting investment to users only.

When Craig Blomquist, president of Morgan Stanley Properties Korea and a long-time CCIM, moved to South Korea from Atlanta three years ago, he noticed a glaring lack of understanding of investment basics. So, along with other designees in South Korea, Blomquist set up study groups to introduce students to established valuation concepts. “These standards will provide more opportunities for Asian CCIMs to win engagements and work effectively with international investors,” Blomquist explains.

Asian CCIMs should benefit from their enhanced marketability as more corporations want CCIMs in accounting, law and banking, says Cynthia Shelton, immediate past president of CCIM and vice president of acquisitions for Commercial Net Lease Realty Services in Orlando, Fla.

Cram Session

To earn the designation, CCIM students must complete four intensive courses that focus on finance basics, market analysis, leasing issues and acquisition strategies. Before they're eligible to take a comprehensive final exam, candidates must satisfy a vetting of their role in real estate transactions.

In South Korea, candidates typically complete the curriculum in less than a year while their American counterparts average about two years, says Sears. On the other hand, Asian candidates pay about eight times more to complete the program than U.S. students, who pay an average of $6,000.

But to Tseng, the CCIM designation is worth every penny. “When I first met an executive from GE Capital, I showed him my business card with the designation,” recalls Tseng. “He said, ‘You're the guy we're looking for.’”