The commercial real estate data company Co-Star was founded in 1987 by its president and CEO, Andy Florance. It started in his father’s basement in Washington D.C., when he was just 23 years old. Since then, Florance has acquired a host of businesses in both the residential and commercial real estate industry, including rentals and sales platforms, under the Co-Star brand. But recently, Andy Florance has had a starring role in some ugly headlines questioning his leadership and his character.
I’ve sometimes found that stories like these are all about context. It’s unusual to see an outrageous story suddenly appear out of nowhere about a business or a CEO that’s been operating without making any headlines for over 35 years, as having substantial merit. After doing quite a bit of research, I’m leaning in this direction with this company and its CEO. However, you can never discount stories that corroborate each other from multiple different sources. According to an impressively comprehensive exposé in Insider in February, over 29 current and former employees at Co-Star reported on Florance’s leadership qualities – or lack thereof, in these cases.
The accusations range from bullying and humiliation to overbearing surveillance of employees during remote work situations. If that wasn’t damaging enough, another piece by the same outlet came out at the end of March, detailing 50 employees, past and present, and their claims. But this time, the allegations are more sensational, claiming the CEO brandished a gun on a Zoom call, and bred a so-called “culture of fear”. Is there any truth to these dozens of claims? Probably. Does any of it constitute a crime? No. Was it ethical? No, probably not, but remember – context. Also, who hasn’t had an eccentric or domineering boss? Ok so here’s the story.
A “Culture of Fear”
The first article says the 29+ employees described working at Co-Star as a job with high expectations, but during the pandemic when they were forced to allow remote work, things changed. And “while CoStar’s culture had for years been demanding, the conduct of the company’s upper management grew more intrusive and abrasive.” This resulted in extensive surveillance of remote workers and unscheduled video calls, according to the employees. Others report being fired for miniscule infractions, or of being made fun of in front of others. Additionally, approximately 1,546 of their 4,200 employees left in 2021, 75% on their own volition. Co-Star’s turnover rate was slightly higher than the industry average for the year.
Keep in mind, Co-Star is a company with a reputation for being aggressive – even ruthless, especially when it comes to a company they either want to acquire or sue. They take their dominance in the commercial real estate game seriously, and if you can’t keep up with their pace, there’s the door. (Of course, I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the picture.) Companies like these typically have dedicated, high-energy management that often has zero-tolerance or patience for a lack of performance – as they see it. And in fact, in this case the company is indeed unapologetic, for what they see as them having higher standards and expectations than other employers. They say it’s expected their turnover rate is higher, because of this. We’ll go over their response in more detail after the next story.
The Gun Story
The gun story is simple; there was a video meeting Florance was leading, and he “suddenly brandished a black semiautomatic pistol and pointed it at the screen.” A former director, also on the call, said, “Florance was working from a home he owns in rural Virginia. He put the pistol down and explained that he had seen bears roaming outside his rural property.” A couple of the employees were shocked.
Should Florance have pointed a gun at the camera on a business video call? Of course not! Was it unprofessional? Absolutely! Was it taken out of context? Quite possibly. I mean, after all, it was a Zoom call – so even if he had pulled the trigger, the only casualty would have been his computer equipment.
On the other hand, someone in attendance could have been a victim of gun violence. Especially if that person suffered PTSD from the incident, the mere sight of someone with a gun pointed at them could have a devastating and traumatic impact. And I can certainly understand anyone’s initial knee-jerk reaction of alarm, and even the anti-climactic drain of adrenaline afterward. Some people react with anger, some with laughter, but most people will have some reaction.
Granted, the man sounds difficult to work for – demanding, overbearing, with high standards and expectations. But he also has spent decades building his business from nothing and considering the nature of the proprietary and sensitive information business he’s in, it would be easy to become obsessive. “Analysts, peers, and current and former employees credit Florance’s drive and ambition for the company’s astonishing growth. It ballooned from a 145-person upstart that earned less than $14 million in revenue when it went public in 1998 to a 4,700-employee data behemoth with almost $2 billion in annual revenue in 2021. Those who know him say his rise is even more remarkable given the rigors of the data business and Florance’s personal struggles from his childhood.”
In any case, according to these pieces, Co-Star had a lengthy written response that addressed every single accusation – in detail. It partially read, “We will not apologize for these standards, nor will we compromise them to accommodate a vocal few who decide that this level of expectation is not for them.” In the response, the company remains indignant and strong in its defense. The company says the main person who started all the bad P.R. is a disgruntled employee with an unhealthy obsession with Co-Star. The employee admits within the article this is true but says he’s not the only one, which is indeed witnessed by Insider’s dozens of other accounts.
Only time will tell if the business is negatively impacted, but no other issues came up concerning the business, its ethics or its CEO.
Rochelle Harris is a passionate writer originally from Phoenix, AZ. who credits her success to integrity and determination. She has a great sense of humor, loves music and her family, and writes fiction and poetry in her spare time. She is excited about the New York experience and lifestyle! Follow Rochelle on Twitter at @LinguisticAnRky or get in touch at [email protected]