Friday, August 11, 2017

A Parallel Universe / The O'Heart Festival, Tyalgum, New South Wales

A Parallel Universe

Have you ever heard the term 'parallel universe?'

I hadn't until a few years ago when someone mentioned it to me.  

The official definition: A parallel universe is a hypothetical self-contained reality co-existing with one's own.

It's an interesting concept:  could be a certain part of your life is confusing you - or there's trouble that has percolated with a job, family or a relationship.  You want things to work out but you don't know if they will. And you imagine your parallel universe - a place where everything works out - exactly the way you want it to.

Yet there are no roads, no maps, no paths that allow you to get from your current universe to the parallel universe.  It's sad - that you can dream everything going the way you'd like it to go - yet when you try you realize that you can't touch it or hug it and pull it to you - it's out of your reach, out of your control.  

I've got one of those situations going on in my life right now and while the parallel universe idea seems like it might be helpful, I'd rather see the real universe I'm living in magically start resembling that parallel one.  And for now, all I can do is put my positive energy out there and hope that, the words of author Paul Coehlo are true: "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."


As I was writing to you, in whatever universe you are currently situated, I thought of this song:

When You Wish Upon A Star:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

The Heart Collectors, Tyalgum, New South Wales

I bought myself a birthday present this summer:  a trip to Australia. This will be my first visit down under.  I leave on Sunday, Aug 20th. 

The trip was stimulated by my serendipitous meeting last summer in Tennessee of a band called The Heart Collectors. We became instant friends and they told me about an annual festival in their hometown, Tyalgum. It's called the O'Heart Festival and it takes place on Aug 25, 26, 27 and I'll be there!

Tyalgum has a population of 300...yes, no typo, 300 people!  There are just a few places to stay and The Heart Collectors steered me to The Celestial Dew of Tyalgum - which looks really, really cool.  

I'll probably share some of the experience with you here.

Corn as high as an elephant's eye - Fletcher Park, NC

Friday, June 30, 2017

Half a year gone / 'Give and Take' / Words of wisdom from Anna Quindlen

What a coincidence
It seems fitting that the end of 2Q2017 and 1H2017 is happening today, on a Friday…the end of this week. 

So much has gone on since we rang in this new year 6 months ago!  A lot of job changing – some at very senior levels.  Now, with college graduations behind us there’s a new crop of ambitious, eager and excited folks entering (or re-entering) the global commercial real estate industry.  It’s really terrific because as much as those of us who have been around a while know (or think we know) to me there’s no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes and voice saying, “Have you ever thought of doing it this way?”

We can all learn from each other – if our minds (and egos) remain open.  And, while the income-producing commercial real estate business is still pretty much the same as when I started (except for the layers upon layers added to the capital stack) there are new challenges that we’re facing – not the least of which is the shopping center / retail real estate industry. 

Remember, years back when the talk started, “The Internet is going to destroy traditional retailing.”  It’s taken a while but…it’s happening…big time.  I have always done my best to support the independent retailer, and continue to do so whenever possible.  However, I’ve become a regular Amazon shopper:  order it today, get it tomorrow (or the next day).  If the root of Amazon is not “Amazing” it should be.  And, let’s not forget FedEx who are also amazing in processing and delivering stuff.

While I’ll be leaving the mastering of drones to my grandsons, I’m taking some time off this summer – to really think about what’s going on in the commercial real estate industry, my place in it and what I want to do for the next 40 years of my life.  Yes, there are things to do, places to go and people to see and, for now, identifying and clarifying the priorities and making a plan is, for me, a serious undertaking. 

Felix/Weiner ‘Big’ Client Event
Thanks to those of you who wrote Liz and I with good wishes for the client event we orchestrated last week.  While it was not without anxiety, from the feedback we’ve received – it went great!

Now, when we’re asked, “What’s the largest group you’ve worked with, we can proudly say “260 people.”  It really felt good, celebrating after the event was over!

Book recommendation:  Give and Take by Adam Grant
Someone once asked me, “Steve, why do you feel like you always have to help people?”

There’s a terrific book called ‘Give and Take’ by Adam Grant.
I’ve read it and am in the process of typing up my ‘highlights.’ As with anything, when something we read or hear resonates with what we already do, we feel validated.  I have always enjoyed helping people.  Have I been disappointed in some folks that I’ve helped?  Yes.  I was willing to help and, on occasion (luckily very rarely) chosen unwisely – hey, we’re always learning.  I help people in part because I remember the times that I needed help and there was no one there for me.

For now, I wanted to share a few of my takeaways:
  • Givers and takers differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people.  If you’re a taker you help others strategically when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs.  If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs.
  • On balance, people who choose giving as their primary reciprocity style end up reaping rewards.
  • At some point in your life, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of dealing with slick schmoozers who are nice to your face when they want a favor, but end up stabbing you in the back - or simply ignoring you- after they got what they want.    This faker style of networking casts the entire enterprise as Machiavellian, a self-serving activity in which people make connections for the sole purpose of advancing their own interests.  
  • If you set out to help others you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities.
  • You never know where someone is going to end up.  It’s not just about building your reputation; it really is about being there for other people.
  • “When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”  Goethe
  • Givers are inclined to see the potential in everyone.

Words of wisdom from Anna Quindlen
With the college graduation season pretty much over, I thought I'd share this with you.  I pull it our once a year around this time and, while I am not a recent graduate, I feel like there's a different sort of graduation we go through from time to time in our lives.  You may want to send this to someone you know.
The following is from Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen’s commencement address at Villanova University – June 2000
It's a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university. It's an honor to follow my great-uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce.
I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage, talking to you today. I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.
Don't ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for reelection because he'd been diagnosed with cancer: "No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office." Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: "If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."
You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.
People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the test results and they're not so good.
Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.
I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.
So here is what I wanted to tell you today:
Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.
Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night.
And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.
All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid's eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. I learned to live many years ago.
Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this:
Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.
Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Here you could learn in the classroom. There the classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end. No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office. I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.
He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.
And I asked him why. Why didn't he go to one of the shelters? Why didn't he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."
And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. And that's the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. You'll never be disappointed.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

John Riordan (1938-2017)

I was very, very sad to learn that John Riordan passed away yesterday morning after a long bout with cancer.

John was Past Vice Chairman, Past President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).
In 2001, John stepped down from a 15-year term as President and CEO of ICSC. At the same time he was chosen as the Thomas G. Eastman Chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Real Estate. In 2003, ICSC announced the renaming of its professional development school as the John T. Riordan ICSC School for Professional Development. Riordan has served on the advisory boards of the MIT/Center for Real Estate, the Center for Real Estate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Business School of Baruch College of the City University of New York. He has served as director of General Growth Properties and Ivanhoe Cambridge. In 2003, John was elected an ICSC Trustee for life.

I met John fairly early in his 15-year term as President and CEO of ICSC.
John was a true leader and visionary.  To me he was a good friend and voice of reason as my career evolved.  As I think back, in some regards he was a mentor to me at different times in my life. 
John was highly respected; as a person and as an executive.  He led the ICSC during a period of exceptional growth and globalization. 
The John T. Riordan School for Retail Professionals is the pre-eminent shopping center industry educational program at the ICSC. 
In the past couple of years, he and I resurrected our contact via lengthy and personal emails.  I hadn’t written to him in a while and hadn’t heard from him but just last week I wrote him with an update and asked if he’d be open to me coming to visit him over the summer.
Always prompt to reply, I didn’t hear back from him. Now I know why.
I went back to our most recent email exchanges and wanted to share some of what John wrote to me as it says a lot about the man John was.  I was encouraging him to write a memoir and don't know if he started it - he lead such an interesting life and was a positive influence on so many people he came in contact with.  
Dear Steve,
….Shopping centers and ICSC in the early 80's were becoming a world-wide retail and member service revolution.  Having been a frequent traveler to western Europe in my college days and my early teaching years thanks to the Experiment in International Living and speaking, as I do, the several  Romance languages helped a lot in growing ICSC internationally.  Once again success came from asking questions and together with new or potential members, finding suitable answers.

Today the big question about the future of retail real estate concerns learning to put the Internet to advantage.  Easier said than done.  Current trends point to concentration of new generations in metropolitan not suburban areas.--people for whom time is one of the most valuable aspects of life.  Locations where walking or using public transport is preferable to  long commutes by car to the workplace. Apartment dwellers who either own or rent homes cared for by building staff.  Shoppers for whom the prime means of time-efficient shopping is a Wi-Fi connected device of one kind or another, including one we still call a "phone" that tends  be with us at virtually all times everywhere  in a purse or pocket!

Could it be that the day of the creative retail real estate architect is over and that of the of the truly creative Urbanist is a hand to help answer the big question:  Now What? What to we do with all the empty retail real estate?
Dear Steve,
We have a lot in common. I did not know you attended Fairleigh Dickinson. I'm from NJ and went to Montclair State on a full scholarship in exchange for a promise to teach school in the state for at least four years.

I did in the Princeton NJ public schools which for me at the time was heaven.  I was the editor of the student paper at Montclair, President of a Fraternity, founder of the summer international travel program in conjunction with the Experiment in Int'l Living of which I later became a trustee.--and still able to be graduated in three and one half years rather than four.

Montclair's  enrollment was 1200, today it is over 20, 000 and I have just finished serving as chair of the advisory board for the colleges of the humanities and the social sciences there and am now on the real estate advisory group for its B school.

You may recall that on retirement from ICSC I took on the full time chairmanship of the Center for Real Estate of MIT for three years.  Not the most satisfying assignment I have to say.  We have long lived in MA  (now on Cape Cod) having come here after a stint with McGraw Hill to work for Houghton Mifflin Company of which I ultimately became a director and head of educational publishing then getting involved with ICSC and far more interesting people like yourself. So books and publishing a big part of my life.

I have not written one, but I have read a great many, including Norman Kranzdorf's bio in which he lists me as among the more interesting people he has known. My oh my!  I believe him to have had a fascinating life to date and count him as a good friend.  Indeed, I had a note from him only yesterday.  I'll be pleased to get a coy of your book when complete.

Your comments on health, longevity and the like are we'll taken.  I am very much aware of the niceties of geriatric medicine at this point having endured in addition to cancer, a triple by pass, removal of a kidney, insertion of two stents and in general  having become a source of income for experts in the area.

Let me know how things progress.  Good to have renewed acquaintance in this fashion.

All the best,

And, what I realize now is the last note I received from John, the first week of January, 2017:

Dear Steve.

I am up early to find your good note and the copy of one to you from me of so long ago.

Wow! Since what I wrote there has come to pass in most of the countries cited and some of which I first got to know and some of which I got to visit so long ago when I was involved first as a student and then when a school teacher and  group leader for an organization I am still affiliated with today, The Experiment in International Living and its School for World Learning.

Founded around the time of World War II by a certain Donald Watt, a scout master from Vermont, it has still today as its motto "Expect the Unexpected." Something that I have adhered to all the rest of my life since my first l957 contact with the organization of which I later became a trustee.

Today, rereading what I wrote so long ago to you (and impressed that you still have it) I would say that the unexpected is what is happening to shopping centers and retailing in general.

It comes down to technological innovations and a major change in societal values on the part of. Recent generations and their decisions on where and how to live and the dramatically reduced rates and extent to which they procreate.  Simply put it is fewer people, living more and more in metropolitan areas and having fewer and fewer children at the same time when earlier generations past child bearing ages are living longer and longer and in turn are leaving their suburban homes for closer in to city access to services.  All of this promoted in part by technology that is advancing at lightening speed rendering the need for place less important for the acquisition of goods.

Bricks and mortar in the shopping center form are not needed as much as they once were.  Dreams of making malls gathering places for entertainment are exaggerated and in the wrong places in any event as the suburbs are no longer valued and will be less and less so as time goes by, as new automated forms of transport are evolved and as already sophisticated automated delivery systems are further advanced.  The notion that retail real estate locations will do better if state sales taxes are applied everywhere and the Amazon-like advantage on price mitigated miss the real point of sales, deliveries and returns by electronic means:  speed is more important to the buyer than the difference in price due to absence of state sales taxes.

I have just retired after more than a decade as a director of Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate arm of the Caisse de depot et de placement du Quebec and am familiar with the situation there quite well, in part as I am a graduate of Laval University in Quebec City and the Caisse is the moment manager for the major provincial pension funds.  I'd be interested to learn more of your interest in Canada.  

Steve, you have made my day and got my blood running at an early hour.  I am today beginning the 6th and last sequence of Chemo for cancer--a cancer that is now gone thanks to the first five rounds but for which this sixth is a kind of double check.   I enter my 80th year in a few days and hope to survive to the end of it at least, and perhaps a few more beyond that.

All the best to you wherever you go and whatever path you take to get there.


John touched a lot of lives, not the least of which is mine.  I am privileged to have had him as a friend. He was a class act!
My condolences to John’s family and his many, many shopping center (and other industry) friends.


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