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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sometimes you gotta laugh at yourself!

Good Saturday morning.

I'm at Gatwick Airport outside London getting ready for a flight back to New York in few hours.  I was going to write about what a great week we had here and the terrific feedback we received about our Behavioral Presentation Coaching and Women's Leadership Workshops - our first in London (I that considered Europe?).

Rather, I found an email that was sent to me in August 2005 by a long-time reader of this column.  He is a world renowned restaurant industry maven whom I've had the pleasure of knowing more than a tad more than 30 years - we met when we were both 15!  

Like with most things that happened more than two days ago, I had totally forgotten about this.  In the spirit of a comment by a couple of the women in our leadership workshop yesterday - "It's not often that you run into a man who is willing to show his vulnerable side" - I offer you this.  It made me laugh and hopefully will lighten up your Saturday - given the heavy stuff going on in the world these days.




REUTERS, AUGUST 19, 2005  – Gossip columnist Steve Felix today crowned himself and his real estate rag national icons.  Felix, who fled metropolitan New York several years ago for refuge in Napa Valley, celebrated the event by grilling hot dogs in his backyard.

Felix’s ‘zine is published weekly as a blog, having first bombed on supermarket checkout counters across the country.  It deals with, in no particular order, his son’s musical taste, self-absorption, tales of a road warrior, and between-the-lines goings-on at various real estate conventions, all the while racking up unconscionable quantities of frequent flyer miles for its author.

Felix has so many miles and upgrade certificates that he once actually bumped the pilot, causing havoc throughout the nation’s travel community.

His employer, according to sources who requested anonymity because of possible retaliation, is overjoyed at Felix’s unilateral achievement and reportedly will reward him by causing his ‘zone to be issued twice as often.

There are unconfirmed rumors, based upon reports of people who carpooled with others who should know, that Felix put the bite on Nathan’s Famous for free frankfurters to serve the twelve or so people and assorted dogs who arrived for the crowning ceremony, in return for which Felix withdrew his threat to pan them in his newsletter.  It is not immediately known what became of the sixty-dozen unserved weenies, and National Real Estate News was unable to verify that K-mart/Sears had shipped an extra freezer to his home, also gratis.

A neighbor, invited to sample Felix’s culinary skills, observed that this was the first time he’d actually seen the iconic gossip columnist up close.  “I always assumed he was on the lam or something,” said the neighbor, who refused to give his name for fear of purple paint-balls launched at his new pink aluminum siding. “He’s always jumping into his car with a small suitcase and rushing for the airport.” 

A bystander, who wouldn’t identify himself because he is in a witness protection program, observed that “being a journalist was sufficiently disreputable to warrant being on the lam.#

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Kevin Lynch

It's early afternoon in London and I just read some very sad news:  Kevin Lynch, who along with Terry Ahern founded The Townsend Group, has died.

Kevin was one of the most smart (and fun) guys in the institutional real estate world.  I was fortunate to be able to call him a friend.  We got to know each other over the past 18 years starting with my time with Institutional Real Estate (IREI) and our relationship continued since I left that firm in 2008.  

At the first IREI Europe Editorial Advisory Board Meeting, IREI CEO Geof Dohrmann and I invited Kevin to attend.  Those meetings were reserved for sponsors of The Institutional Real Estate Letter (there were 12 that first year) and one representative from at least an equal number of institutional investors (pension fund, endowments, foundations, etc.).  At that time, in 2006, there was an on-going debate around those meetings: are Fund of Funds considered institutional investors or investment managers? Notwithstanding the debate, we invited him to the meeting. 

There had been no other meeting like that board meeting in Europe and I had spent two years working at signing up those 12 sponsor firms (investment managers) and then convincing the LP's that it was worthwhile for them to attend.  In several cases I went to one country to see one pension fund face-to-face to explain what that 'board' meeting was all about.

As Europeans tend to play it closer to the vest than most Americans, I needed a way to show the LP's that the meeting was a safe environment for open discussion.  Just prior to the start, I pulled my friend Erwin Stouthamer to the side and asked him if I could pose the first question of the meeting to him - knowing that Erwin would speak candidly.  I did. He did and the rest is a great story.  As many of you know, Erwin died in the spring of 2016.

At that time, The Townsend Group had very little consulting business in Europe. Kevin, who needed no prodding to contribute to open discourse, was extremely quiet for the early part of the meeting; listening; taking everything in.  And then, by agreement, we opened the floor to a discussion about whether Townsend was needed in Europe and also the role that Townsend as a manager (which was still in the closet in those days) plays in the industry.  It was lively and Kevin's eyes were opened - he truly appreciated the invitation to be there.

On a number of occasions over the years, usually in New York, Kevin and I would meet for dinner (and drinks) and talk for a couple of hours about this, that and the other thing.  He was a great sounding board for me during some difficult times in my life and I always appreciated his friendship and sage advice.

This past winter, I ran into Terry Ahern on 55th Street early one morning - he was returning to his hotel from a morning run.  We talked for a few minutes and he suggested I follow up with he and Kevin early in 2017.

Last week, I wrote to Terry and Kevin to discuss whether there was a way for us to work together - to coach some of Townsend's consultants who make regular presentations to their pension fund clients.  We hadn't connected yet and now I know there will be no connecting with Kevin - at least on Earth - any longer.   

On Feb 3, 2015 Kevin wrote me this email after I shared a story about my meeting the baseball legend, Ernie Banks on a cross-country flight:

Steve it's been a long time. I was personal friends with Ernie for over 20 years. He was one of the nicest people I've ever met. He and I talked frequently but now that he's gone I know not as much as we should have. That's always the case when we loose a friend. I was buying baseball shoes for my son who was 5 at the time at Dicks and the phone rings; it was Ernie. I'm glad you remembered him. Ironically he liked baseball but didn't love it. Ernie was used by some managers to open doors to raise money and not paid for his efforts. His riches came from friends and life. I'm glad you remembered him. Kevin

This is not easy for me to write; sitting having coffee after a long day of traveling yesterday (even for me). On April 22, 2016 I received this email from Kevin after I wrote in this column about Erwin's passing:

"Nice piece. Sorry to hear our friend passed away. He was a good man and always fun to be with. Kevin"

And now, I will close with those same words:  Sorry to hear about Kevin passing away.  He was a good man and always fun to be with.  

My heartfelt condolences go out to Kevin's family and his partners and colleagues at The Townsend Group.  

Very, very sad!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

West Coast Swing / Upcoming Workshops / Felix Weiner in the New York Post

West Coast Swing
The rest of my West Coast swing ended late Thursday night when I flew back to North Carolina from Vancouver, British Columbia where I was working with a client.  It was the first time in a long time that I was in a city that I hadn’t been in before.  Other than a lot of cloudy days, I’ve never heard anyone say anything but good things about Vancouver.  Have you?  While there really wasn’t any time to see the city or take any side trips I was reminded that the Alaska cruises begin there.  I’ve never been on a cruise but for many years have wanted to take one of those cruises – simply because the photo on the ads looks so wonderfully inviting (see below).

This trip started in Laguna Beach, CA and took my partner Liz and I to Los Angeles and San Francisco.  We conducted workshop in all three places – both Women’s Leadership and Behavioral Presentation Coaching.  A major milestone was reached by us when we conducted our first in-house Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshop for a public pension plan!

Over last weekend, taking a little break, I visited my old stomping grounds, Napa, CA, where I had lived from 1999 – 2012.  I had meetings with a few local real estate developers and then had a chance to visit with my old friend, Christophe Gerard.  I met Christophe many years ago when he was the head chef of a Napa restaurant my former wife and I used to frequent.  Recently, Christophe joined the team at the newly opened Restaurant at CIA Copia (Btw, CIA stands for Culinary Institute of America vs. Central Intelligence Agency). While I didn’t have time to eat there on this trip I know it’ll become a ‘go-to’ restaurant in Napa very shortly.
Felix / Weiner Professional Development Workshops
We’ve been getting more and more great feedback from the attendees of our workshops.  While it’s very nice to get glowing commentary, it’s more important that people care enough to give us ideas on how we can improve our workshops – we take that to heart.  One request that has surfaced multiple times from women who have attended our Women’s Leadership Workshop: “It’s great that you’re giving women more insight into how they can develop more professional presence.  But what about the men?  Don’t they need to understand more about the challenges faced by women in a male-dominated industry like commercial real estate?”  The answer is a simple YES! 

We have run one ‘co-ed’ Senior Executive Workshop to date which was focused on “Unconscious Bias.”  With that experience under our belt (remind me to tell you about it one day) we have rolled our that program and will be posting dates soon.  We know that having women and men from the same company participate is a win-win; what we’re not certain about is whether that type of workshop would be beneficial if attended by people from different companies (Your thoughts are welcome and encouraged!).

On February 22 in New York City we are launching a workshop that I've had on my mind for more than 10 years:  Moderator and Panelist Coaching Workshop.  With more and more events embracing the 'Pay-to-Play' model for moderators (and panelists), the moderator may not have much experience (or training) in how to mange a panel so that the audience gets the best takeaways.  We'll be simulating panels in the workshop and having participants playing roles of both moderators and panelists.  In the test run it was both a lot of fun and we received excellent feedback on the value.
Thank you, thank you, thank you
Liz and I are so grateful for all the firms that have lent us conference rooms for our open-enrollment workshops (some with absolutely spectacular views).  It’s truly a testament to the interest commercial real estate firms have in providing professional development programs for their team members.  I’ve watched this industry evolve for more than 30 years and, while the underlying principles of making money from commercial real estate have not changed, a lot has changed.  Just go to certain industry events these days and you’ll see more and more women and more and more younger professionals.  It’s great to see that so many folks have chosen the commercial real estate industry.  We are a fortunate lot – there are a great number of wonderfully smart, talented and friendly people in the global commercial real estate community and, you, those who have followed my adventures through this column, are a particularly special group!
Felix / Weiner in the New York Post!
Thanks to my long-time friend, New York Post Commercial Real Estate columnist, Lois Weiss, for recently publishing an article in the Real Estate Board of New York insert.  It’s titled:  How To Own The Room During A Speech or Presentation.  It’s our first ‘feature’ story in print and we were pleasantly surprised when we learned it had been published.  Here’s the link to the article.
Congratulations to my friends…
 Rob Bilse who has joined Patrizia Property Inc.
 Briana Succop who joined Abacus Capital Group

On the Road…

Feb 13 -15: New York
Feb 16 -17: Chapel Hill, NC; To be a judge in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Real Estate Development Case Competition
Feb 19: Asheville, NC: To see Umphrey’s McGee in concert
New York City,  Feb 24:  Women's Leadership Workshop
San Diego, CA: Mar 1-2: NAREIM's Executive Officers Meeting
Dallas, Texas, March 9 -10:  To conduct a private Women's Leadership Workshop
April 5 - 6: Los Angeles: PERE Global Investors Conference
May 11: London: PERE Europe
June 25 - 27: Newport, Rhode Island:  IMN U.S. Real Estate Opportunity and Private Fund Investing Forum (I'll be moderating my 'signature' panel: "A Day in the Life of an LP")

CBRE lent us their main conference room for our Women's Leadership Workshop in their spectacular Glendale, CA office
Cruise from Vancouver to Alaska (I'm going to go this year!)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

IMN Conference - Laguna Beach California / Felix Weiner Professional Development Workshops - in a city near you

This past week IMN attracted more than 900 commercial real estate professionals to their Opportunity and Private Real Estate Investing Forum in Laguna Beach, CA. Liz and I were fortunate to be invited to attend and also got to run our eighteenth Women’s Leadership Workshop – exclusively for women in the commercial / institutional real estate industry.
It always nice visiting with some long-time industry friends some whom I only get to see once a year – at this event.  And that’s terrific.  
Although, the great thing for me is meeting new people - and that was the case at IMN.   
The word 'networking' is thrown around a lot. I don’t know about you but I’m a little tired of hearing the word ‘networking.’  To me it minimalizes the underlying theme – people meeting people, understanding people and perhaps starting what will develop into a business relationship (and even sometimes a true friendship). 
This IMN Event is one of a series of three similar events that IMN runs annually.  The next one is June 25-27 in Newport, Rhode Island.  I’ve just been invited to conduct one of my signature panels, “A Day in the Life of an LP” in Newport. For the panel I invite four of my pension fund friends and they talk candidly about things such as how they like to be communicated with (and how not to), what they look for in a new real estate manager / partner, etc.  I haven’t been to Newport in many years – it’s a beautiful area and I’m totally looking forward to it.  I encourage you to check out that event. 
Some takeaways from the Laguna conference…
  • Surprisingly, there were only a few comments about how the new U.S. administration will impact the commercial real estate industry (even though the forum was competing with the inauguration the main session room was full. What does that say?)  Clearly, none of us knows anything for sure about what President Trump will do.
  • Still a lot of money chasing deals – Competition getting hotter and hotter in the lending world with more players seeing the opportunity of providing capital in ‘The Stack.’
  • "We're at at true inflection point in the debt market area."
  • "Investors are interested in shorter duration fund life - 1 to 3 years and out in no more than 5."

I learned about a way that companies in California can get reimbursed by the state for training that their employees engage in (apparently it’s been an under-the-radar thing).
Also spent some time with my friends Michael Dombai of Courtland Capital Market Services and Ron Kaplan of Cohn Reznick.  Ron offered me some great advice on how to market our workshops.
Had an interesting conversation with someone from a company that sells private jets who told me that if you fly more than 250 hours a year, your company should consider buying their own plane.  The rep mentioned the risk of using ‘time-share’ jets regarding the condition of the plane, maintenance, etc. 
Met some terrific rising stars eagerly looking for opportunities in the industry.  Our industry continues to be very competitive at the entry level. Offering to be an intern (paid or unpaid) still sounds like a great way to get into a company, get some experience and, who knows, if you do a good job and are a good fit they may find a job for you.  It’s not easy out there and we have an opportunity to reach out to help the next generation of commercial real estate professionals begin or further their careers.
Note on internships:  If your firm is looking to hire one, please let me know by replying to this email so I can refer folks to you.
Some of our presentation coaching clients were panelists - Liz and I were so proud of them – they all did a great job!
The weather in Laguna Beach was crazy – almost hurricane-like on Thursday.  With that comes a certain beauty, the ocean waves crashing over the rocks (one of my favorite things to see), the palm trees bending to the wind and the sound of the rain on the roof.  California’s beaches are all public access and the pathways on that section, between the Montage Resort and the ocean are beautiful, winding pathways with lush local vegetation (although I don’t think any of it is edible!).  You’re able to walk down about 40 steps to the beach itself.  I did this on yesterday, just before hitting the road.  I was the only one there – other than some seagulls.  It was very special.
On the Road…

Jan. 24:  Los Angeles to conduct our 19th Women’s Leadership Workshop. Women from 87 different commercial real estate industry firms have already attended one of our workshops.  Click here for information and registration. 4 hours / $479
Jan. 26: San Francisco to conduct our 20th Women’s Leadership Workshop. Click here for information and registration. 4 hours / $479
Jan. 27: San Francisco to conduct our Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshop.  Attendance is limited to 6 people.  Click here for information and registration. 4 hours / $679
Jan. 27 - 31:  Napa, CA

Feb. 1 – 3: Vancouver, Canada

Feb. 5 - 10: London, UK
       Feb. 8: London, to conduct our Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshop. Attendance is limited to 6 people.  Click here for information and registration. 

       Feb. 10: Conducting our 21st Women’s Leadership Workshop. Clickhere for information and registration.

Feb. 16 – 17: Chapel Hill, NC to serve as a judge at the University of North Carolina – Keenan Flagler Real Estate Development Case Competition.

Feb. 20 - 24: New York City

Feb. 21: NYC to conduct our Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshop. Click here for information and registration. 4 hours / $679

Feb. 22: NYC to conduct our Moderator & Panelist Coaching Workshop (the day before the PREA conference). Click here for information and registration. 4 hours / $679

Feb. 24: NYC to conduct our 22nd Women’s Leadership Workshop. Click here for information and registration. 4 hours / $479

Mar. 1 - 2: San Diego to attend the NAREIM Executive Officers Spring Meeting
Mar. 4 - 8: New York City
Mar. 9 - 11:  Dallas
Waves, Laguna Beach, CA

Cool rock formation, Laguna Beach, CA

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