Friday, October 12, 2012

Susan Hudson-Wilson

The news about the death of Susan Hudson-Wilson (aka Susan H-W) this week was shocking in it's abruptness. Last Friday, she died from a severe cerebral aneurysm.  The medical team who investigated her death said that this could have occurred at any time or place and only coincidentally happened at the end of a joyous and successful safari in Africa. 

Many of you know Susan.  Many more of you have heard of her.  Still more have been the beneficiaries of the output of her research and strategy work. 

She was generous with her time and helped younger people grow.  When you were being considered for employment at PPR it was more of an audition for a Broadway show than an interview as everyone, no matter what job they were applying for, had to make a presentation in front of the whole team. Theme picked by the candidate – you present on a subject you know, you have command of, therefore are more comfortable with.  That way you’re not making stuff up and they got a better view of how you think on your feet.  Plus – the whole process helped those already on the team learn and hone their question asking skills – a “two-fer” as I learned Susan would call it. 

Susan and I knew each other for a good number of years.  She was a regular reader of this column.  Probably six or seven years ago now, I went to the rooftop gym of a hotel in, gee I wish I could remember, some European city where we were both attending an industry event.  She was on the rowing machine and I walked in.  We said hello and she said, "Enough with the music stuff in OTR.  Get back to real estate!"  Of course, she was right and I listened.  She was like that.  She took an interest and had a passion for everything she did. 

Life is just too mysterious to try to figure things out.  We don't know why someone so vital, so alive,  dies so young.  Even if there's a medical reason it doesn't stop us from asking, "Why her or him."  There is no rhyme or reason to so many things in life.  Why, why, why.  The answer is:  we have no friggin' clue.  

Susan H-W gave a lot to the industry. She gave of herself, tirelessly, generously, caringly.  Not everyone does.  That's what makes her special in my mind and she took a lot of time to do things she was passionate about.  

Another memory I have of Susan is sitting at a table during the cocktail time at an AFIRE meeting with Susan, John Streiker of Sentinel and Ted Leary of Crosswater.  If you think I got a word in edgewise, you are sadly mistaken!  We talked a lot.  We had a couple of glasses of wine. We laughed a lot.  We debated.   I don't know how much actual listening was going on but it was a scene that I've always remembered fondly and will cherish even more now.  

Remembrances from others about Susan H-W:

  • "She told us off on a regular basis and made us pay for it."  A former client.
  • "I'm still stunned.  Susan had a huge impact on moving our industry forward at a critical time in it's evolution.  She leaves a big gap in the real estate research ranks."  Wylie Greig, former Head of Global Real Estate Research, RREEF
  • "Susan was one of our best speakers and moderators.  She spearheaded many Trustee panels and many segments at Spring and Fall meetings.  She asked the tough questions and challenged us all to think deeper and smarter."  ULI Obituary
  • "I will miss Susan. She was always a lot of fun to be around.  Having co-authored four articles with her, I can tell you that SHW (her track-changes initials) was absolutely never shy about offering up a provocative thought, a catchy phrase or a creative approach to data analysis.  Funny how our industry can feel like a "family" at times like this!"  Jacques Gordon, Global Investment Strategist, LaSalle Investment Management
  • "Susan was an incredible thought leader for this industry who will be sadly missed by so many of us.  I am struggling to get my mind to accept this bright, inspiring, energetic woman, who has always made me think harder about my views on every subject, is no longer with us."  Lynn Thurber, Chairman, LaSalle Investment Management.
  • "She touched so many people, each one in a very personal way.  Always looking to elicit something more thoughtful, more effective, ultimately to induce a better outcome.  We are fortunate to have had her in our lives and our careers.” Bret Wilkerson, Managing Director, Hawkeye Partners and former CEO of PPR.
  • "I still have one of the “Free the Damn Data” buttons she had made up and handed out at a NCREIF meeting back in the “old days” which was certainly one of the catalysts to us now having a lot more disaggregated data for research on the real estate asset class.  And as one of the founders of RERI she helped make sure the data flowed to academics who could use it to help us better understand the asset class.  She was one of the first “Road Warriors” that helped pave the way for real estate to be included in institutional real estate portfolios.  And she continued her contributions to the asset class with her work on the REIS board.   We certainly all benefited from having Susan as a advocate for the real estate asset class even if it meant being scolded by her from time to time!  I will be the first to toast her at PREA or wherever we all find ourselves having a drink." Jeff Fisher, President of The Homer Hoyt Institute.
  • "We will miss her brilliant mind, her unwavering resolve and her "wicked" sense of humor." Claudia Faust, Co-Founder / Managing Partner, Hawkeye Partners

  • "I am beyond devastated about Susan.  She not only was a great mentor to me, she was a life force that no one in her grip could quite escape (and I say that with all respect). Susan was an iconoclast.  She had her moral sensibilities and her sense of code, but it never wavered and one never had to guess on what side of it they stood.  Susan was black and white.  For this, and for so much else, I adored her.  My only regret is that she never fully forgave me for leaving her/PPR.  In reality, I never left Susan (I never will). I only decided to take another job (which Susan had prepared and prepped me for in spades), because it was the next step in the evolution of my career.  I will remain forever indebted to Susan and all that she did for me.  I will miss her until my days on this earth are through.  My parting thoughts are....Susan, may you fly with the angels.  As Frank Sinatra sand (lyric by Paul Anka), you did it "your way."  I love and miss you."  Steve Coyle, Chief Investment Officer, Cohen & Steers Global Private Real Estate Multimanager Strategy.

Surely, Susan is now challenging the status quo in the great beyond.  We need her to do that for us.  Speaking on behalf of myself and those readers of OTR who know Susan, our sincerest condolences to Susan's family.  It seems so little to say but maybe, out of this, we can take away another reminder that life is short and we just don't know what tomorrow will bring.

At the upcoming PREA event you know there will 
be Susan H-W stories exchanged, glasses clinked in toasts and teary eyes (nice timing Susan, deciding to take this trip just before PREA!).  

As Jacques said, we are a family. We are a high stakes industry, dealing in trillions of dollars of real estate investments but when you come down to it, we are simply a group of people, working to make a living, doing something we love and enjoying and respecting the people we do it with.  In that way, we are among the luckiest people in the world.  

I can't know for sure what Susan would write me after she read this column today but I have a feeling:  she would say, "I liked it. You focused on the industry."  And, for this column, in dedication to Susan, I deleted all the other OTR stuff that I had written to publish today.  It can surely wait for another day.  But what can't wait is for us to remember Susan.  To talk about her.  To heal ourselves.  To hug each other.  To let ourselves feel.  To appreciate what she meant to the industry as a whole and to those of us fortunate enough to know her personally.  And then, we will move forward, hopefully, really and truly remembering how precious each day we have on earth is; not taking anything or anybody for granted; being kind to each other; laughing; enjoying life; taking chances and loving ourselves and each other.

As I wrote in my song (listen free here), "Live Your Life" (Note:  The brilliant and emotional guitar work is by my friend, Ernie Hendrickson). 

They say it's long but it's really short and you say you don't have time
You can spend your days, dreaming of the way to live it
But you say that you've got things to do before your time will come
You're the only one who can really make a difference.
You just make that call, keep your eye on the ball, and don't let anyone say no
You just live your life, love your life and when go you go you'll never have regrets.
Live your live, love your life, don't think twice do it right
Live your life, love your life, don't think twice it's all right!

Okay Susan, I threw something about music in. I couldn't help myself.  This one is for you!
Susan Hudson-Wilson

On the road...
Oct. 14-16:  Chicago to attend and moderate a panel at the NAREIM Executive Officer Meeting
Oct. 17:  Chicago, DePaul University for my talk with students on "Careers in Real Estate: Connecting the Dots."
Oct. 18:  Chicago, University of Chicago for my talk with students on "Careers in Real Estate: Connecting the Dots."
Oct. 22-24:  Los Angeles to attend PREA's 22nd Annual Investor Real Estate Conference
Oct. 25-26:  Amsterdam to moderate a panel at the PERE Global Investor Forum
Nov. 7:  Washington, DC, Johns Hopkins University for my talk with students on "Careers in Real Estate: Connecting the Dots."
Nov. 6:  Hartford, CT for meetings
Nov. 8-9:  New York to attend, moderate a panel and serve as Chair of Day to of the PERE Forum
Special Event:  Nov. 8:  Post-PERE Day One chill with me and a bunch of industry folks at my "Drink Thing."  Joe G Restaurant, downstairs from the DaVinci Hotel, 244 W. 56th Street (bet. B'way & 8th).  You buy your own drink.  I supply the famous Joe G Pizza (the original pizza guy in the David Letterman theatre).  Starts at 6:30.  Hope to see you.  Bring your industry friends.
Dec 3-4:  Chicago to attend and moderate a panel at NAREIM's Capital Raising and Investor Relations Conference
Mar. 12-15:  Cannes to attend MIPIM

Trips in planning stages:
London (before year-end)
New Zealand


Connor Wilson said...

Thanks for writing this, Steve. It is helpful to know how much people in the industry loved (and at times feared!) my mother. She was a passionate and inspiring woman, and I count myself amongst the luckiest on Earth, simply because I was raised by her and my father.

Bill Gilchrist said...

Thank you for this kind tribute to a wonderful woman who insisted that we commit ourselves to our humanity through good work. Susan was a dear friend, who ignited my intellect and spirit whenever I saw her. She challenged us constantly to see past our myopia and to stay rigorously responsible to community. She also had a smile that could energize countless rounds of debate . . . and is etched in many hearts. What a blessing to have known her in his life!

Virginia Flores said...

I started my career off at AEW at a low level, a temporary executive assistant. I was hired in 1990 and worked full-time while going to school full time (Simmons College). I worked my way up the organization and ended up supporting the analytics/modeling done across the organization. I met Susan through one of her analysts. I was in crisis mode; the school told me in order to fulfill my double major of economics/management, I was going to have to quit my job and take a non-paying internship. I begged her for help/direction, and Susan sprang into action.

After talking to the chair of the economics department, the chair of the management department and my counselor, she decided that I would do a research paper under her guidance which would fulfill my economics internship, and convinced the university it was a good idea. Honestly, I don't even remember what happened to the management internship, Susan was my world for that semester and the rest of my undergraduate schooling. The paper was around whether REITs should be managed and classified as real estate or stock. I received the highest grade in my graduating class and while I worked hard, it was Susan's guidance that pulled me through.

Everything she did for me, I still do to this day. I mentor and I still use her words. I am just so sorry I didn't do more to keep in touch.

She made a definitive difference in my life when I needed the help the most.

My two favorite sayings:

"If you do your homework, do your research, dot every "I", cross every "T", the burden of proof falls to the other person to prove you wrong."

"You can be anything, do anything. The decision that has to be made is how hard you want to work and what are you willing to sacrifice?"

Thank you,
-Virginia Flores

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