Friday, August 26, 2016

The Sassy Goose / CRE Tech Intersect / Brevard Music Center / Toots Thielemans (1922 – 2016) / Felix / Weiner Women’s Leadership Workshops

The Sassy Goose
Recently I met the owner of The Sassy Goose, a beautiful piece of real estate in North Carolina.  Then went to visit on a scouting trip for the location of our next family reunion.  When I was there, I realized it could also be the location of a special executive coaching retreat that my partner Liz Weiner and I have been talking about.  

From their website:

The Sassy Goose is located on 57 acres central to some of the best hiking and biking in all of Western North Carolina — DuPont State Forest, Caesar’s Head State Park and Pisgah Forest. The views here at 3,000 feet above sea level are spectacular.

The beauty and privacy of the property is enhanced by a lovely six-acre lake that is great for swimming and fishing. Three canoes, a pontoon boat, and a separate, well stocked, catch and release trout pond are located on the property and available to guests at no additional charge.

Whether you're a couple looking for a fantastic weekend getaway in the mountains or a group of family and friends looking for a place to hold a great reunion, you can find both at the Sassy Goose.

Check The Sassy Goose out here.
CRE Tech Intersect
CRE Tech Intersect is a grassroots organization founded by Pierce Neiken.  Their events are a fabulous way to get an immersion into what is happening in the world of commercial real estate technology.

I was able to attend one of these events in NYC (they’re now conducting them in San Francisco, Austin and London).  Walking from table to table, simply asking people to tell me what their company was doing was fascinating. 

It took me back to the first commercial real estate technology event held in NYC in about 1997 and hosted by Peter Pike, one of the very early bloggers in commercial real estate.  For CREOL, the startup I was with, it was our first exposure after coming out of the garage.  There were only 6 exhibitors!

At CRE Tech Intersect there will probably be 35 exhibitors – some established CRE Tech and data firms, like RCA, who are sponsors of the event, but more early stage firms and true start-ups with new ideas on how technology can make our industry more efficient.  Here’s the information and a link to register. 

Brevard Music Center
This summer, I’ve been able to spend four weeks in my new ‘home’ of Western North Carolina.  It’s given me the opportunity to discover the mountains, the forests, waterfalls and cultural centers – all within a 30-minute drive! 

The Brevard Music Center has a summer program for college and high school students.  During the final weekend of the ‘semester’ I was privileged to see a classical music concert.  The venue is very cool – has a roof but no sidewalls.  A small number of people sit on the lawn and picnic.  The real, unexpected treat was when I went down early for the show.  I parked and heard some music coming from the venue.  Walking in I saw a full orchestra and what appeared to be a 200-voice choir playing a piece. They were rehearsing, I learned, for the final show of the season the next day.  As with rehearsals, there were stops along the way where the conductor coached the orchestra.  I love classical music but don’t know or remember the names of pieces.  This piece sounded incredible.  I shot an 8 second video clip and texted it to my son Brian, assistant professor of music at the University of North Carolina – Asheville.  He wrote back, “Dad, they’re playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – one of the greatest pieces ever written!  Shortly after getting the text, the orchestra started up again and this time played the entire piece from start to finish.  I’m getting chills writing this to you now.  It was absolutely incredible.  The show I had bought a ticket for that night was very good but this rehearsal session, during which there were only about 30 people in the audience – probably parents of the students and some faculty – was the highlight.

Then, last Friday night I went back to the same venue and caught a show by Gillian Welch.  She is one of my son Kevin’s favorites. I had not seen her before but Gillian and her husband, who perform as a duo, were great.  They play what is probably referred to as bluegrass but it was more diverse than that.

The final cultural experience, an unexpected one was when I was walking aimlessly and came upon Flat Rock Playhouse.  I had heard of it before and saw that cars in front of me were pulling into the parking lot.  I followed and asked a very nice parking attendant, “Is there a show this afternoon?”  Yes, he said.  “Do you think there are tickets left? Yes, he said.  “By the way, what show is it? “  9 – 5 he said. It was the play based on the movie for which Dolly Parton wrote all the music.  I was able to secure a very good seat.  The show was great. The acting, staging and singing was Broadway quality. I later learned that many of the actors at this theatre are members of the Actors’ Equity Association – the primary trade group for actors in America. 

My explorations and getting lost (one of my very favorite things to do) is opening my eyes to some great stuff.  It’s no wonder Western North Carolina has become a magnet. It’s very cool and I’m starting to meet some very nice people!

Toots Thielemans (1922 – 2016)
From the New York Times obituary.

Toots Thielemans was one of the only musicians to have a successful career as a jazz harmonica player, died on Monday in Brussels. He was 94.

That Mr. Thielemans played jazz on the harmonica was unusual enough. Even more unusual was how he first gained international attention: by playing guitar and whistling in unison.

It can be heard on the soundtracks of movies including “Midnight Cowboy” and “The Getaway.” It was featured in television commercials and on records by, among many others, Ms. Fitzgerald, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, who once called Mr. Thielemans “one of the greatest musicians of our time.” For more than four decades, it has been heard in the opening theme music of “Sesame Street.”

Here’s my Toots Thielemans story. In college, I managed the varsity basketball team.  We were on a flight back to New York from a game in Virginia and I randomly met Peter Duchin.  Peter is the son of Eddie Duchin, a famous bandleader and Peter is a celebrity bandleader and recording artist himself.  He liked me and invited me to visit him in his Madison Avenue office the following week.  Peter was looking for someone to work with, as an intern, to help him and learn about the music business.  I jumped at the opportunity and started hanging around his office and helping out as asked.  One day he invited me to attend his recording session.  I went into the studio – it was my first time in a professional recording studio - and found a seat in the corner.  As the session evolved, gentlemen joined the group and one pulled out a harmonica.  Then, over multiple takes, the group performed the song.  I can’t remember the names of the other musicians but trust me; they were heavy hitting New York City session men.  The gentleman with the harmonica was Toots Thielemans – whom I had never heard of.  He was amazing. I had never heard anything like that come out of a harmonica.  This was truly one of those very special musical moments in my life.

Felix / Weiner Women’s Leadership Workshops

As we continue to do our part to improve gender diversity in the industry, Liz and I are pleased to announce the upcoming schedule for our Women’s Leadership Workshops – exclusively for women in the commercial / institutional real estate community.  Developing and enhancing the professional presence of women is the foundation of our 4-hour interactive professional development program.

Women from over 70 firms have already attended our programs across the country! Here’s what a few participants have said:

·       “… left with great takeaways, as well as motivation to implement them.”
·       “Great program – I would recommend to all the women in my network”
·       “Very eye-opening and fun at the same time.”
·       “Brought to the surface all the issues I felt were stopping me from moving ahead and learning I wasn’t alone”
·        “I learned a lot about myself. I am able to identify things I do that I want to change for the better.”
·       “Very empowering, stimulating”
·       “Appreciated the casual, collaborative atmosphere”
·       “Fascinating and eye-opening discussions!”
·       “Interactive sessions were great and also learning that I am not the only one struggling with social / gender bias”
·       “The concrete tips and advice were most valuable as well as perspective on things like personal brand, first impressions, etc.”

*Please reach out if you would like to sponsor a program in your city or if your firm would be interested in discussing an internal women’s leadership workshop.

Here’s the link where you can learn more and register.

Triple Falls at Dupont Forest, NC

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Face Time vs. FaceTime

In the spring of 1995 I had just completed a three-year stint as part of the real estate loan workout team that ‘saved’ Midlantic Bank in New Jersey.  The team was headed by Andy Siwulec, a great guy who is still with the bank (which, when healthy, was bought by PNC).  As many of you know, in workouts, it’s not just the loans that you’re working out, you’re working yourself out of a job.

Thinking about what to do next, I met with an long-time acquaintance, Bill Farber, who headed Levin Management Corp.  The late Phil Levin was one of the original shopping center developers in NJ and PA.  For 40 years, the firm had been quietly overseeing it’s own portfolio. Bill told me that he had wanted to seek institutional third party leasing and management business but they didn’t have someone who could focus on that.  So, we made a deal and I joined them as their first Director of New Business Development. 

The firm had a great legacy and story to tell – they had never before issued a press release.  In getting my budget approved I requested permission to hire a PR firm to get the word out.  Having lunch with an old softball team friend Larry Paragano, whose family owns commercial real estate, he mentioned a great boutique NJ-based real estate focused PR firm called Caryl Communications.

And that was the start of my friendship with Caryl Bixon, which continues to this day.  Caryl and her husband Bob (a guitar player) have built a highly respected PR and Communications firm which has now expanded beyond commercial real estate.

Recently, Caryl published a piece called “Facetime or Face time – Mix High Tech and High Touch to Create Productive Meetings.” As you might imagine, this totally resonated with me.  I offer you the essay in its entirety here:

FaceTime, Google Hangout, Skype, WebEX, GoToMeeting – if you’re in business today, you know dozens of ways to meet colleagues and customers without leaving your desk.  Online meetings continue to grow in popularity because they save time and money, but traditional in-person meetings remain a top tactic for a number of reasons.  As an established NJ PR firm, we share the following advice:

Let’s Admit It:  Humans Love Real Face Time
As social beings, most of us relish personal interactions.  We like eye contact and handshakes.  We interpret body language, as well as words.  Even many tech-oriented Millennials favor in-person over online meetings.  In one survey, 80 percent said they preferred traditional face time to screen time as a productive business tool.  Face-to-face gatherings tend to result in more engaged and focused participants (no opportunity to multi-task or check social media). Discussion flows better.  Questions and issues are easier to resolve.  A stronger sense of teamwork exists.  And when a client is on the other side of the table, the relationship is strengthened.  In-person meetings also tend to be shorter and more efficient and are usually free from the tech glitches that can plague the online alternatives.

When to Connect Online and When to Meet in Person
FacetTime, Skype and the meeting platform of your choice can still p lay a big role in communication.  Online meetings are ideal for quick, frequent updates.  Also, if staff work remotely, or a sales team is in the field, online meetings will keep people connected without investing travel time or money. 

That said, traditional in-person gatherings have some very distinct advantages for a number of specific meetings such as:
·      Motivational sessions
·      Early –stage sales calls
·      Product demonstrations/ presentations
·      Brainstorming
·      Negotiations

Discussions of a sensitive or confidential nature are always best conducted in-person as well.

Want to learn more about the benefits of both in-person and online gatherings?

Visit these articles:

Both before Al Gore invented the Internet and since, I have been a huge proponent of face-to-face meetings.  I remember flying to Tennessee to see a potential client.  I went on my own dime.  The phone didn’t seem to be getting us anywhere and I know they were considering other consultants.

The face-to-face meeting went very well – the client and I hit it off and he realized that my experience and style were what he was looking for.  They hired me.  Would that deal have been consummated if I hadn’t invested in visiting them in-person?  Who knows? Over the years, I have found that sitting with someone, on his or her own turf, has proven to be hugely valuable and rewarding in building relationships.

Thanks Caryl for sharing this timely message.  As technology becomes more helpful and at the same time intrusive, keeping, as Bruce Springsteen wrote, “a little of that Human Touch” becomes more challenging – and perhaps never more important.
Summer to Fall

At this time, our mindset starts moving to ‘Back-to-School’ season.  I took some time off this summer to spend in my new ‘home’ in the Asheville, NC area.  With all my travel, I hadn’t really had a chance to decide if I liked it.  I want to like it and by being around I’ve started finding some outlets for things that I enjoy:  playing tennis, getting lost when driving in the Smokey Mountains, spending time with my family and getting to know a couple of people to stuff with.  It is such a huge difference from living just off Columbus Circle in Manhattan.  I say Manhattan because in this area, when someone asks, “Where did you move here from?” and I say “New York” they don’t correlate that with New York City – rather other cities and areas in New York State. 

This area is truly a melting pot.  While it is in the South and clearly in the Bible Belt, a lot of folks have moved here from other areas.  I’ve discovered that there area bunch of people who live in South Florida and come here for the summer to get away from the oppressive heat.  Some of you know the term ‘ Snow Bird’ for those folks from the northern U.S. who go South for the winter.  I’m not sure if there’s a term for the folks here who make their annual pilgrimage. 

We’re also getting our fall and winter calendar in shape - scheduling our Women’s Leadership Workshops and finalizing Behavioral Presentation Coaching workshops for our clients. 

Virtually everyone we talk with admits, ‘Yes, we can improve our presentations” but, sometimes, getting the group together in one place at the same time is challenging but eventually happens. 

And, as our clients start thinking about fall industry events, we’re being asked about coaching some of their folks about “How to be an effective moderator” and “How to be a memorable panelist” at an industry event – or their own investor conferences.

As people ask me, “So, Steve, how’s it going?” I now have an answer that is both simple and understandable by anyone who is in the service business: “We’re getting repeat business!”  It’s tremendously encouraging to Liz and I and reinforces our value proposition.

I look forward to seeing many of you ‘on the road’ this fall.  Enjoy the last few weeks of summer and take some time to do things you love.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summertime unplugging

Remember the days that the summer was sort of a slow time in the commercial real estate industry?  I know there are a number of you who have grown up in the industry never having experienced that.  Technology has definitely been something to do with business communication being conducted the way it is today – nonstop!

This reminds me - In the mid-90’s when I was the first head of institutional third-party business for a shopping center leasing, redevelopment and management firm.  I had my first ‘cell’ phone and on Wednesday’s, when my girlfriend was off, we went to the beach – and I was able to stay in touch with the office and handle business – all the while laying there watching the waves roll in (Psst..Please don’t tell my former employer!).

Look how far we’ve come?  Is it ‘far’ in a positive way?  I’m not so sure. 

Now we are capable of being totally and completely connected, 24/7 as it were.  It takes discipline to ‘unplug’ – even on a real vacation – some say it’s not possible for them to do that – except when “I’ll be away and will have limited access to email…” or ‘I’ll be on vacation and will not have any Internet access…” is the case. (Although there are Internet cafes in many places in the world – even in Monrovia, Liberia, which I’ve visited twice).

“Tell us Steve, how can we unplug with so much going on?”  My answer:  (a) some stuff can wait; (b) some stuff others can handle for you (yes, believe it or not, you’re not indispensible!).

“What do I do, asked me one attorney, when a client texts or emails me over the weekend?”  “Don’t reply.”  Once you reply, they’ve got you.  They know you’re online and they won’t let you go – there goes your Sunday!

Don’t you agree that there are very few truly URGENT matters – yes there are some but have we slipped into a MO (Modus Operand) where we believe that everything is urgent and must be handled immediately?  I fear so.

Some time back I learned these concepts I pass along to you – about ‘there’s always tomorrow,’ don’t rush through yellow lights, listen and don’t finish people’s sentences, slow down and appreciate life.

Sure, it's not easy – no change in behavior is – there ‘s the theory I’ve mentioned here before (I think) that replacing a habit you want to get rid of with a healthier one takes 21 days.  You know, I just realized that even though I’ve read that several times I’ve never actually tried it.  Hey, there’s no better time than now.  I’ll just need to identify the one of my crappy habits I’d like to replace and focus on it.  Let’s see – how about I start with listening more and not interrupting or finishing other people’s sentences?  Yes, that’s the ticket.  Stay tuned!

The Chrysler Building, NYC on a beautiful summer day.  My dentist's office was in the top section where the little windows are.  In her waiting room you could sit and have an incredible view of The Empire State Building down to the tip of Manhattan

Friday, July 22, 2016

Some news / Exodus from NYC? / Stormin' Norman Nardini, Bobby Bandiera, Bruce Springsteen

Here’s some stuff I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks:
  • A quite large super-regional mall fund closing will be announced soon
  • There’s a search on to fill a position as Head of Business Development & Product Development role in the real estate securities area of a well-respected investment management firm.  Successful candidate will have At least 10+ years of investment product management, sales and/or marketing experience in the institutional investment management or investment servicing industries.
  • Targeted for end of summer one of the industry’s leading data providers will be launching a fabulous new website.

I’ve been in New York City this week.  Conducting a presentation coaching work for a first time client, visiting friends and mucking around (as John Lennon used to say).  A friend took me for a belated birthday lunch at one of my favorite spots, Cognac Brasserie on 55th and Broadway.  They are a real deal French bistro – sidewalk seating and all.  Beet salad, Mussels, Tarte Tartin.  Oh, Champagne and a glass of Cote du Rhone.


“And maybe it’s the time of year, yes and maybe it’s the time of man and I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.” (Lyrics from the song Woodstock written by Joni Mitchell and made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) but more and more NYC people I know are thinking or talking about moving out of the city...and not just to Long Island, Westchester or New Jersey.

The main reason I’m hearing is people are growing tired of the intensity of Manhattan, the people on the streets, the cars, the noise, the lack of common courtesy and in some cases the cost of living.

As I’ve mentioned to you, my move from Manhattan to Arden, NC last November was based on those factors and when I am back in NYC for business I nod my head and say to myself, “Yup, I’ve made a good move.”  My office is still in NYC and I use it when I’m in town so I have the luxury of not having to go to an office in Manhattan every day or regularly.  But many folks do and so moving is either not an option or a complicated one.  And, at this stage in my life, having to take care of only myself, well, things are a lot simpler.  It’ll be interesting to see if there starts to be a movement of folks I know out of NYC – perhaps their employers will allow them to work remotely (especially feasible if they’re on the road a lot). 

As Ms. Mitchell, Joni, writes, I am continually learning about myself and am slowly but surely finding about who I am.  Some may say, “It’s about time Steve, after all you’re over 40!”  I firmly believe that we are all works in progress and that, my friends, is one of the beautiful things about life – there is endless opportunity to be who we want to be.  Sometimes it’s just deciding to go for it!
After visiting my brother in South Jersey last weekend, I spent Saturday night/Sunday visiting a friend in Long Branch, NJ.

In the early 90’s I spent a lot of nights at a music club called Cheers in downtown Long Branch. In addition to being the ‘house keyboardist’ and playing in the Tuesday night jam night band, I got a chance to play with some wonderfully talented musicians:  Bobby Bandiera (Bon Jovi, Asbury Jukes), G.E. Smith, who joined Bobby one night, Eddie Maniion, legendary sax player (Bruce Springsteen, Asbury Jukes, Robert Cray) and others.

Someone at our brunch last Sunday mentioned that Stormin’ Norman Nardini was playing in Long Branch the following night – last Monday.  Norman is a Pittsburgh-based blues/rock legendary guitarist, songwriter and performer.  I had the good fortune to have sat in with his trio a number of times ‘back in the day.’ Gee, I wished I could have gone down to see Norman but, alas, I had to prepare for the client workshop on Tuesday.  Norman is one of those many musicians who could have made it big but didn’t.  They have a very loyal local (and perhaps regional) following.  It’s not an easy business.  If you ever get a chance to see Norman Nardini perform, please send him my regards.  He’s totally the real deal.
Final note:  One Saturday night in 1991 or 2, I’m sitting in with The Bobby Bandiera Band and Bruce Springsteen walks in dressed in a tuxedo. Two older women and one older gentleman follow him.  Word has it that they came from Bruce’s mother’s 50th high school reunion.

Bruce goes into the back room and changes into jeans and a t-shirt.  He’s dancing and having a great time – in a safe environment.  On a break, I go up to Bruce who’s bellied up to the bar.  “I’ve got these extra earplugs that your mother and aunt may want to use.” Bruce takes them and says, “Thanks man.  You guys are the loudest fucking band I’ve ever heard!”  The irony:  (a) we were really loud (b) for Bruce who has played all kinds of venues including many large stadiums to comment on the volume (yes, Cheers was a relatively small club) I’ve always thought was pretty funny.

Ben, Steve, Edie last weekend

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