by Catherine Carlock David Begelfer, the longtime — and indeed, the first full-time — CEO of commercial real estate industry group NAIOP Massachusetts, announced his retirement earlier this year. During his tenure, Begelfer has guided NAIOP from 135 members to close to 1,700, and from a budget of $100,000 to $2.2 million. Begelfer was honored at NAIOP’s annual gala Thursday evening with the Edward H. Linde Public Service Award. He recently spoke with Business Journal Real Estate Editor Catherine Carlock to reflect on 27 years at the helm of the powerful industry group. How did you get started at NAIOP? I was a developer prior to being an advocate, working for an affordable housing developer in Boston and then doing office development in Colorado and Massachusetts. Then I started my own company around 1983-1984, and developed office and R&D property along Route 128 and 495. When I had started working at my own company I was looking to see what organizations are around here. I got involved as a member around 1984, and then was a committee member, and committee chair, and then president. How has the organization changed? We had under 200 members when I was president in 1988, and then chairman of the board. Then by 1991, because of the terrible crash, I shifted over to being an advocate and the first full-time CEO for NAIOP. We had about 135 members then, and a budget of a little over $100,000 a year. How did they manage to pay your salary with a $100,000 budget to run the whole organization? When I went to the board to say, ‘What do you think about having a full-time person working?' they said, ‘That’s a great idea, but we don’t have any money to pay for it.’ And I said, ‘What if you hired someone to raise the money, and if they don’t, they don’t get paid?’ And they said, ‘Who would be foolish enough to do that?’ And I said, ‘I would be.’ My initial days working would be if I didn’t raise the money I didn’t get paid. We now have close to 1,700 members and a budget of $2.2 million. That’s a big leap from the days of $100,000 budgets. We have probably one of the finest real estate advocacy and networking organizations, I think, in the area. I’m very proud of that. The growth was incremental. When I started, 500 members sounded like a big goal. It’s just grown. We’ve expanded so much. At the time we started we had maybe six programs a year. Now we have 45 events a year, culminating in the awards dinner, which has 1,200 people come. Our golf tournament has raised close to $3 million for Heading Home. I started the golf tournament not knowing how to play golf in 1988, and 30 years later my team won the championship game. Reesa Fischer will become NAIOP’s executive director, and Tamara Small will become CEO. How long had you been thinking about those next steps? We started a strategic planning process about five years ago. Not that I said, ‘I want to retire in five years,’ but you want to have a process in place, at least on an emergency level. We’re very fortunate to have two senior people who are exceptional, two of the finest individuals, to take over the organization. We don’t even have to skip a beat. I’m very proud of having that talent in-house. What would you say has been your greatest success? We’ve created a volunteer-supported organization that has some of the finest talent, be it in government affairs, or be it in committees and programming. We have people who volunteer their time who, if we had to pay on an hourly basis, we’d be bankrupt in two months. That’s the secret sauce for NAIOP, the fact that we have such a deep bench of talent on the volunteer side that enables us both to handle so much in the advocacy policy area, the regulatory policy area. It enables us to really be leaders in those areas, because we have such expertise behind us and with us. It isn’t one person who is NAIOP. It’s taken an industry to make our organization work. That’s what I’m most proud of. It gives us longevity. Biggest challenge? One legislative thing that was a moment of crisis. Through the 2008 depression, all projects virtually came to a halt, and permits were about expired. There was no way those projects could move forward within at least another year or two. For us to come out of this depression, we had to keep those projects alive, and working with the Legislature, we created the Permit Extension Act. That basically extended the permits and gave us the springboard to come back and see what is now the biggest building boom in Greater Boston and Massachusetts. If we had stalled for three or four years having to re-process all of those projects, I’m not sure that we’d be here today in the same fashion. What’s next? I have a lot of things I’m looking at. I know the industry well, and I enjoy working. I look forward to attending NAIOP meetings because it’s a great way to stay in touch. One thing I’m not lacking in is options.