What’s the key to success in today’s marketplace? According to a recent Forbes article, it’s about cultivating a missional mindset—weaving a “culture of purpose” into the fabric of an organization and its employees.
This philosophy has guided George Kohl ’76—senior managing director at the largest global commercial real estate firm, CBRE, Inc.—throughout his more than 30-year career. But for George, who went from being an aspiring bass guitarist to assuming a high profile management position at a Fortune 500 company, there’s much more to it than that. It’s about using his position of influence to be a bold witness for Jesus, even in a capricious and potentially antagonistic business climate.
George’s heart for evangelism prompted him to unite with a handful of Christian colleagues to launch the Commercial Real Estate Fellowship (CREF) nearly a decade ago. He describes CREF as a “gathering together of isolated embers to create a roaring fire for God.” In addition to hosting four monthly Bible studies in and around Chicago for professionals involved in all aspects of real estate (from CEOs to contractors), CREF has facilitated six “Alpha in the Workplace” discussion groups designed to address challenging faith questions in an open environment for those new to biblical Christianity. Deeply invested, George has led three of the six Alpha groups.
“Everyone knows that faith is important to George Kohl,” says CBRE colleague Jeff Mann, who leads the CREF Bible study in Oak Brook, Ill. “He’s one of those guys that has a unique ability to carry Jesus right into the workplace. I consider him a mentor both professionally and spiritually.”
Each year CREF sponsors an annual Christmas breakfast showcasing the organization’s work with partner ministries that serve a cross-section of vulnerable and under-resourced populations. The impact has been profound. For example, several years ago one of the ministries, Fellowship Housing, was running out of funding to provide services to single mothers and their children, until a CREF member stepped in to help host a fundraiser that raised more than $100,000.
In addition to his work at CBRE and CREF, George and his wife, Judy Gration Kohl ’79, host a vibrant house church that meets biweekly on Friday evenings.
“My wife has the gift of hospitality,” says George, noting that most of their ongoing friendships are due to her gregariousness. A Conservatory graduate, Judy maintains a busy schedule of musical engagements, playing piano and organ. She also owns The Mustard Seed, a nonprofit fair trade store in downtown Lake Forest with a volunteer staff of 45. The shop offers handcrafted goods made by artisans from around the world. Judy herself grew up on the mission field in the Congo and Kenya; her father was the College’s beloved Intercultural Studies Professor Dr. John Gration M.A. ’52; her mother, Dorothy, was on staff at the College for 20 years.
George and Judy have four children, including Alexandra ’08 and Jessica ’13. Judy says, “We just live life, and God has allowed ministry to flow from that.” George adds, “Our goal is just to keep going and have a positive Kingdom impact along the way.”