Tuesday, March 14, 2017

NAREIM Executive Officers Meeting / 3 Tips for Panel Moderators / 3 Tips for Real Estate Students / Ping Pong Anyone? / LIfe's too short...to hold a grudge

NAREIM Executive Officers Meeting

A couple of weeks ago I attended the National Association of Real Estate Investment Managers (NAREIM) semi-annual Executive Officers meeting in San Diego.  Thanks to NAREIM CEO Gunnar Branson for the invitation.  I want to share a few take aways from that meeting with you:

“Consolidation is not anything new.” (Both LP and GP)

“Manager consolidation is driven by the number of managers that investors want to manage.”

“We’re going to hit the proverbial again and things will fall apart.”

“We’ve added younger people to our investment committee for a different perspective.” 

“Succession planning is critical to the whole process.” More institutional LP’s are looking at an investment management firm’s succession planning as a key point in determining if they’ll invest (or continue to invest) with them.

“What clients want from you is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  During the last ‘downturn’ some investment managers did not come forth with the ‘bad news.’  Some of those firms are no longer around.  

“Niche investment strategies:  drivers more demographic than economically driven.”

I’ve written about these NAREIM Executive Officers meetings before.  What makes them special is the open dialogue amongst very senior people in the industry.  That’s partially due to the fact that, with the exception of an occasional ‘guest panelist’ in the form of an LP, the audience members are pretty much all on the same side of the tracks – everyone learns from each other.

3 tips for panel moderators 
1.  If there is someone on your panel who talks a lot and is monopolizing the conversation, don’t go back to that person again with a follow up question – they’ll just get more air time.
2.  Don’t refer to someone in the industry by their first name only.  Not everyone knows who you’re referring to and they likely won’t raise their hand and ask.  Use both first and last name – and company affiliation if appropriate.
3.  As a moderator, when an audience member rambles on too long, others in the audience get bored and tune out.  Moderators must manage both the panelists and the audience members.

3 tips for students seeking CRE internships and jobs

Over the years, I’ve talked with many university real estate students about careers in real estate and how it’s all about ‘connecting the dots.’  Statistics show that +/- 75% of jobs are landed through relationships (vs. submitting resume through a company’s website or a job posting site).  That statistic doesn’t surprise me one bit – except for one, all my jobs have been gotten through relationships.

Even though there’s some big snow falling today in parts of the U.S., the school year is winding down and students getting more and more focused on a summer internship or a full-time job.  Here are 3 tips that you may find useful:

1.  Think about your audience: When you reach out to an executive at a firm you’re interested in, think about how many emails / resumes that person receives every week.  Think about what can differentiate you from the others.  My recommendation:  be bold.  Don’t just say, “I’m Steve and I’d graduating from FDU’s MBS program in May and I’m looking for a job.”  That’s mundane.  How about something like this, “Hi Geof.  I’ve looked at your building (name the building) and I have some ideas about what I call ‘opportunity income’ lost.  Do you have some time next week for me to stop by and talk?”  Intriguing?  You bet.  You can also make believe you are a consultant to the company and get the other party interested with some thoughtful comment.  Bold?  Yes but may be worth considering.
2.  Use it before you lose it: When you graduate you’ve lost the opportunity to contact someone and say, “I’m in the BPC graduate real estate program and we’re working on a project.  Do you have some time next week for me to stop by and talk for about 15 minutes next week?” 
3.  Be the ball:  When you do get an audience, don’t simply ask if they have a position.  Talk about their business.  Do your homework on the company and on the individual you’ll be meeting with.  And, don’t forget to bring some good questions…everybody likes talking about themselves and, believe it or not, there are some egos out there in the industry.

Ping-Pong Anyone?

My good friend Karl Smith, now retired from years at Russell Investments and a serious world traveler, and I played our annual ping-pong match last week at the Wang Chen Table Tennis Club in Manhattan.  Okay, they and others may call it Table Tennis but I will always refer to it as Ping-Pong.  .  We had a lot of fun (I lost!) After the match, over dinner, an idea took shape.  How about holding a commercial real estate industry ping-pong tournament in NYC sometime in the Fall.  Would there be enough interest?  So, I thought I’d ask:  who of you would be interested?  Karl has a bunch of great ideas about how we could run it.  Let me know and if there’s enough excitement, we’ll do it!

Thinking about things

As you’ve read here and elsewhere, the industry has lost a bunch of influential people recently.  I’ve always enjoyed reading obituaries – not in a morbid way but I’ve found it’s a great way to get to know about someone’s life – to learn things about them that I didn’t know.

There’s an exercise in the book, “Type-A Behavior and Your Heart” that suggests you write your own obituary.  See how it sounds; How do you see yourself?  How would you like people to remember you?  It’s part of author Dr. Meyer Friedman’s philosophy of Things Worth Having vs. Things Worth Being

When I read this book, over the summer in 1986, during a time I was recovering from what ended up being a misdiagnosis of a mild heart attack, it changed my life.  As a Type-A person, that doesn’t mean I adhere to all the ‘rules’ all the time – I have to catch myself but, at least I am aware. 

Dr. Friedman’s ground-breaking book connects Type-A behavior with heart attacks.  In the spirit of those of our friends who have recently (or at any time) left us due to a heart attack, I offer these

3 questions to ask yourself in an honest self-assessment (there are a lot more in the book):
  • Do you suffer from 'Hurry Sickness' - living your life by a stopwatch, not a calendar?
  • Do you desperately strives to accomplish more and more things in less and less time?
  • Do you hurry the speech of others, not being able to inject what you have to say – or finish the sentences of other people?

Unless you establish new habits meant to supersede and replace my old ones, you will not free yourself from the Type-A illness.

And, remember: life is an unfinishedness – there’s most always tomorrow to get something done.

If you recognize yourself at all, read the book!
Life's too short to hold a grudge

Some of you who have been reading this column for a while know that from 1998 – 2008 I worked for Institutional Real Estate, Inc. (IREI).  During those years, Founder/CEO Geof Dohrmann and I were a great team – the company flourished and expanded.  In the summer of '08, as sometimes happens when two strong-willed people work closely together, we parted ways.  It was not under the most pleasant of circumstances and for a number of years we didn’t speak.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen each other at one industry event or another and have been cordial with each other.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Geof was a speaker at an conference I was attending.  I decided in advance that I was going to greet him as if it was just like the old days, that nothing had happened.  There must have been something in the air that morning because we reconnected, just like the good ol’ days - it was just time - and we both recognized it.

We admitted to each other that back in 2008, both of made mistakes – hey, these things happen.  And we also agreed that we really were a great team.  Working with Geof gave me a special opportunity, among other things, to launch this column.  It also gave me the change to learn from him and expand my horizons. For those opportunities I have always been grateful.  I don’t know if our interaction was necessarily ‘burying the hatchet’ but it was a monumental moment for us both.  Life’s too short to hold grudges…

On the Road…

April 10:  Career coaching workshop for students at A-B Tech, Asheville, NC

April 17 – 25:  New York City

May 1: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of my father, Manney Felix who died in 2009 at age 92 (probably eating a healthy portion of bananas and sour cream - one of his favorites)

June 25-27:  IMN Real Estate Opportunity and Private FundInvesting Forum, Newport, RI (I’ll be moderating my signature panel – “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head – A Day in the Life of an LP” (thanks to Steve Glener of IMN for the enhanced panel title!)

First 4-Grandkid Sleepover at Grandpa's (Note construction project on table)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

More sad news...Alice Connell / Steve Bronner

A band, with the improbable name of Thunderclap Newman had one hit:  Something in the Air.  While it was about the revolution we were planning in the late sixties, I thought of the title before sitting down to write this.

There is too much of the following news happening.  Could there be ‘Something in the Air?’

Alice Connell
Alice Connell died early Friday morning. 

Following are from an email string I became part of earlier today.

She had brain cancer, and unfortunately, after treatment, she had seizures that could not be controlled.  
From a friend and co-member of a ULI council:

Alice Connell passed away on Friday.  She was a wonderful member of our ULI council, a leader in the industry and an inspiration to so many of us.  Over the years, Alice wrote me a number of handwritten notes and I saved so many of them, because they embodied her; each note was a gift in itself since she was so elegant with the spoken and written word.  I will miss her terribly.  May our memories of her wit, intelligence and humor be a comfort in this time of loss.

Hug the ones you love
Here are some postings from Legacy.com

My deepest sympathy to the family of Alice Connell Giancola. She was a great leader and friend at TIAA-Mortgage and Real Estate who will be missed. May she rest in peace.
I worked with Alice at TIAA. She was a wonderful woman, kind, funny and smart. She set a great example for women in the workplace. She will be greatly missed. Rest in peace Alice.
Loved and admired by everyone who knew her or worked with her, Alice set an example for us all – not only for what she did or her insights and intelligence but for how she walked through the world with energy, integrity, wisdom, kindness, a zestful smile, compelling warmth and respect for all. A beautiful person – to be missed by all and forever remembered by so many.
And a few words from me…
I met Alice many years ago and she became a good industry friend.  When Liz and I started our business, we spent several hours with Alice and her partner Kathleen Nelson  - talking about what they were doing, talking about what we were doing and how we might help each other.  Alice was the real deal; a straight-shooter – to me, that’s all you can ask for in a person.  I had written to her over the past few months but didn’t hear back…not like Alice.  Now I know why.  I was so sad when I got this news this morning.


Steve Bronner
I only learned a few days ago that Steve Bronner died on February 9, 2017.  For 12 years he was the Southwest Regional Partner for Parmenter Associates.  I can vividly remember the first time I met Steve, in the Miami offices of Parmenter.  He and Daryl Parmenter were picking my brain, “How do we get some of that there pension fund money?”  Well, maybe those weren’t the exact words, but that was the sentiment! 

Excerpt from a published obituary.
“…Steve lived life to the fullest, loved his wife and children, loved them hard and loved real estate; his gift for deal structuring was unmatched.  All that kew him considered him honest, kind and thoughtful and a person who always chose to see the best in people. …If asked to lend a hand, an ear or his heart, he would simply ask, “When and where.”

Steve and I knew each other for many years.  He and I used to sit together at some of the NAREIM meetings and talk the whole time…about real estate, about people, about life.  As a mutual friend eloquently put it, “He was a good guy.”  Not a bad epitaph, eh?

He had a valve replacement and from what I am told did not fully recover. 

On behalf of the real estate industry that Alice and Steve were part of our condolences to their families.

I am almost speechless.

Friday, February 24, 2017

R.I.P. Mark Gittler / UNC Real Estate Case Challenge / PREA

Mark Gittler

“I sat me down to write a little story, which maybe in the end became a song.”  That is the opening line of one of my friend Mark Gittler’s favorite Procol Harum song.  It’s sad that early this morning I’m writing a little story about Mark who died on Tuesday apparently of a heart attack while driving in West Virginia.

The vast majority of you don’t know Mark but those of you in the shopping center industry have had, unbeknownst to you, a slim connection with Mark.  In his career, he was the general manager of the highest volume A&S (Abraham & Strauss) Department Store (now long gone) in Manhattan.  His career in retail real estate (on the retailer side) spanned more than 30 years.  And, while Mark was a very hard and dedicated worker, his job was not his life.

I was Mark’s summer camp counselor in 1967 or 68, his first year at the wonderful Camp Walden on Trout Lake, up the hill from Bolton Landing and Lake George, NY.  Mark was part of the camper-waiter group, a bunch of guys who were around 15 years old.  Those were special times – those years and a few more afterwards. 

Mark was a competitive basketball player and Walden, although not a ‘basketball camp’ in the true sense of the definition, had a serious basketball personality.  The camp was then owned by Mel Besdin, who played varsity basketball at Syracuse University and Dolph Schayes, voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA (National Basketball Association) history.  Also a counselor in those days was Jimmy Boeheim, the long-time coach of the Syracuse Orangemen basketball team.  Thinking back on that time, we had a lot of fun – and played some great basketball!

Mark was also one of the most dedicated fans of Bruce Springsteen.  He and his good friend Irwin Cohen, saw, I don’t know how many Springsteen shows.  The one I shared with them was in about 1974.  Mark, who then lived in Long Beach, NY, organized a party at his house, which was followed by a chartered bus trip into New York for a Springsteen show at, perhaps, The Academy of Music.  I will not go into any details about that night – think about the time and use your imagination.

Mark was one of the most generous souls on the planet.  Not just with his family but with others as well.  Sadly, Mark and I had a falling out after the now legendary Camp Walden reunion in Montreal in the summer of 2003.  That night, Mark sang lead with The Arcade Love Machine, a camp rock and roll band that reunited for one last gig (three months after that show, lead singer Dave Florendo died of an aggressive cancer).  That night was the last time I saw Mark. 

I kept up with him via Irwin.  His retailing odyssey took him to senior positions with a number of well-known chains.  His passion for retailing was likely only overshadowed by his love for The Boss – Bruce Springsteen.

In connection with Mark's death, a memorial page in the Winter 2017 issue of the PREA Quarterly (Pension Real Estate Association) for Michael J. Humphrey, who recently and unexpectedly died, included this message:

His family would like to stress that heart disease and heart attacks can happen to anyone at any age and fitness level, and there are many preventative steps people can take to stay heart healthy.  The family encourages everyone to visit a doctor regularly for a health screening, which can determine if further action needs to be taken. 

Mark was carrying around a bunch of extra weight for a number of years and I learned that he suffered from Type-2 Diabetes – which is many times directly related to being overweight.  But both Michael Humphreys and Kevin Lynch, co-founder of The Townsend Group who also died recently of a sudden heart attack, were not overweight and we should all heed Michael’s family’s message.

In ending this piece about Mark Gittler I want to mention to two good stories about people in the industry.  Ray Torto, co-founder of the legendary real estate research firm Torto/Wheaton and currently a professor at Harvard University, has substantially recovered from a terrible car accident about a year ago and is back to his teaching gig.  Mike Clarke, London-based senior exec with CBRE Global Investors is also ‘this close’ to going back to work full-time after also being involved in a bad car crash a little more than a year ago.  As Sam Cooke sang, ‘Ain’t that good news!”

My condolences go out to the family and large entourage of friends of Mark Gittler.

 I hate writing these pieces - except for the good news!

Mark Gittler

 Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da live goes on

University of North Carolina Real Estate Development Case Challenge
Last week, thanks to the gracious invitation of Dave Hartzell, director of the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies at Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (boy Dave, that’s some title you have!), Susan Drake and Jim Spaeth, I once again served a judge for the annual real estate development case competition. 
 15 of the top graduate real estate university programs sent their teams and the case was a real doozy.  It’s always an honor to be part of this event.  The students are smart and creative and pretty darn good presenters (and this comes from a professional presentation coach!).  The team from Columbia University was the winner, however, I can tell you that in the judges deliberation of the four finalists, it was not a runaway for Columbia.  I’ve received the resume booklet of all the students who participated.  Some of them are graduating this spring and are looking for jobs.  There’s a lot of talent and passion for the industry, which, as a life-long commercial real estate veteran, is heart-warming and exciting to see.  Those of you who are looking to add to your teams have some really good candidates in the Real Estate MBA graduating class of 2017.

Felix / Weiner Workshops 
On Tuesday of this week, in New York City, we ran another of our Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshops.  These four-hour interactive sessions are limited to 6 participants from different commercial / institutional real estate firms.  For example, in this week’s workshop were folks from UBS, AEW, Ackman Ziff, Oxford Property Group (owned by OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System) and Stockbridge.  In these workshops there are no speeches by my partner Liz Weiner or I, no presentations and no technology (nothing can go wrong!).  It’s all interactive exercises.

The feedback we’ve received about these workshops has been extremely positive – and, more importantly, participants have taken the time to give us some great suggestions on how to make this workshop even more valuable.  Our schedule of these and our Women’s Leadership Workshops can be found here.  Btw, today, we are conducting our 23rd Women’s Leadership Workshop in New York City.  Liz and I have run these across the U.S. and, as of a few weeks ago, in London.  Women from more than 90 different industry firms have attended. 

PREA (Pension Real Estate Association) Spring Conference
This week PREA held one of it’s semi-annual conferences at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.  Attendance is estimated to have been 900 of my closest friends in the industry!

While I got to run into a good number of folks I know, what interested me is the number of younger folks wearing conference badges.  It’s great to see what is starting to amount to the changing of the guard in the pension fund real estate world. 

The senior executives in our industry generally aren’t going anywhere fast.  Yes, there have been some retirements or semi-retirements of my peers over the past few years but those founders of private equity and investment management firms are still very actively involved – not only in their businesses but in nurturing the next generation of industry leaders. 

Congratulations to Gail Haynes, President of PREA, her long time colleague Amy Laffargue and the entire PREA staff for hosting another great event.  If you are someone who would like to immerse themselves in the institutional real estate world, check out the next PREA conference, which is in October in Chicago (there's a good chance the 'Unofficial PREA Band will be performing the night before the conference...stay tuned).

On the Road with Steve Felix…
March 1-2: San Diego, CA to attend the NAREIM Spring Executive Officers Meeting
March 3 – 8:  New York City
March 9: Dallas to conduct and internal Women’s Leadership Workshop for 29 women 
March 13-17: Arden/ Asheville, NC
March 27:  Washington, DC for our 24th Commercial Real Estate Women’s Leadership Workshop
April 3-4: New York City to conduct a Behavioral Presentation Coaching workshop for a real estate investment management firm
April 5-6: Los Angeles tentatively to attend the PERE Global Investor Forum
May 11: London tentatively to attend the PERE Europe 2017 Forum
May 23:  London to conduct our Women’s Leadership Workshop
Week of May 22:  London to conduct our BehavioralPresentation Coaching Workshop
June 25-27: Newport, RI where I’ll be moderating my “A Day in the Life of an LP” at IMN’s18th Real Estate Opportunity and Private Fund Investing Forum

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