Sunday, September 22, 2013


NAREIM Executive Officers Meeting

The National Association of Real Estate Investment Managers held their Fall Executive Officer meeting this past week at Columbia in New York City. The impressive University campus, built in 1897, was designed as an urban academic village by the renowned turn-of-the-century architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White.

When entering the University’s gates, off of Broadway, the stately buildings are pretty awe-inspiring.  A red brick cobblestone path from the subway station to the library clearly designates the campus and was very cool to look at (but a little funky to walk on)! 

During the well-attended conference, as you might imagine, there were several in-depth data presentations on the subject du jour, interest rates.  While rates have inched up recently, we do not have the advantage of a fully-functioning crystal ball to truly predict the future.  For now, the commercial real estate transaction world is operating on all cylinders. 

The NAREIM group tackled some of the big picture subjects such as (a)‘What have been the most significant changes with respect to the needs and behavior of capital?’ and (b) ‘What changes have you made in response?’  These topics were discussed with the same openness and honesty that I’ve observed at similar Executive Officer meetings; the candor amongst direct competitors was very refreshing.

Thanks to NAREIM CEO Gunnar Branson and the event planning committee, we were treated to two inspiring talks not directly related to our industry.  

Sarah Miller Caldicott, the grandniece of Thomas Edison, spoke about innovation while discussing her new book, ‘Midnight Lunch.’  Joseph Kessler of The Intelligence Group presented an eye-opening presentation on Gen-Y / Millennials. 

My thoughts on these talks…
Sarah’s engaging and enthusiastic presentation focused on The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Edison's Lab.  She spoke of the importance of bringing together individuals from diverse disciplines to gather multiple perspectives and experience faster problem solving.  The “lunch” refers to Edison’s fairly regular ritual of ordering in food from a local tavern at about 9pm.  The group would relax, tell stories, sing songs and even play music together before heading back to the lab to work.  The social connection - learning more about each other as people and not just workers - was considered to be responsible for creating a more collaborative environment. 

I basked in Sarah’s presentation of Edison’s concepts.  By breaking down some of the barriers that exist between people, Edison’s brilliant strategy gave his team permission to be open with one another without fear of retribution or judgment.  And, while “Midnight Lunch’ started at 9pm and the work in the lab often continued all night, it’s the method and not the time of day that mattered.  Managers who pride themselves in thinking differently may learn something from Edison’s practice.  

And, with regard to the “L” word (lunch) - I’ve always considered ‘breaking bread’ to be a great start to building a worthwhile relationship!

What I find so interesting is that the second speaker I will share with you spoke about young people communicating while never needing to be in the same room! Joe Kessler, a passionate and animated presenter, focused on youth culture and consumer trends of those born between 1980 – 1995.

Two interesting statistics he provided from a recent survey of Millennials are:
73% said it’s important that what they buy (product / service) makes a positive impact on society.
70% would rather buy a cool experience than buy a cool product.

The first statistic suggests an admirable social consciousness.  The second perhaps reflects the belief of some that life is a series of experiences and that those, rather than a product, are where memories are made.

Joe also enlightened us to a few acronyms used by the Gen-Y / Millennial group surveyed - with the exception of one NAREIM audience member, no one had heard of these:

FOLO = fear of losing out
YOLO = you only live once
JOMO = joy of moving on 

While I don’t see myself starting to use these ’acronyms’ it’s important to understand how different generations communicate. (I would be interested to know if any readers are now saying “Ohhhhh, so that’s what that means!”)  To keep up on things, The Intelligence Group publishes the “Cassandra Report” on daily trends.  Free subscription can be found here                         

Some of Joe’s comments may have reminded the group about the importance of knowing one’s audience when developing real estate or when hiring and managing people. And, with people working well past the ‘usual’ U.S. retirement age of 65, the multi-generational make-up of the workforce creates new and different communication challenges.  

He also gave us food for thought:  think back to a job you may have had where the boss said you couldn’t make personal calls while working.  How did that make you feel and did you actually adhere to those rules?  Flash forward to the Millennials, who are constantly on their phones, texting and posting to Facebook and other social endeavors.  Joe suggested this: learn to accept this as normal behavior of this generation – let people’s productivity or results be the measurement of job performance and not the amount of time they may spend on their personal lives while at work.  

Inviting speakers like Sarah Miller Caldicott and Joe Kessler push us to think more broadly about life and the world we share.  Because the essence of success in commercial real estate is directly correlated to where people live, shop, work, go to school and play, our understanding of the behavior and habits of the population is critically important.  The future of our industry depends on it.

Feedback from OTR Readers

There are certain weeks that I receive substantially more emails than usual about something I’ve written – I always appreciate hearing from you.  Last week was one of those times.  Here is some of the feedback I received on the “Scarcity of Smiles” section:

“How sad that people avoid eye contact with each other. My recollections of New York were of friendly people, but I guess after 9/11 and the economy tanking, people have changed. I agree that the smile is our best way of connecting with people.”

“…as you have noted in earlier blogs, the best way to make a difference in your endeavors is to be passionate about what you do, and how you do it because it fuels you, and it is contagious!”

“I like your piece on smiling.  In Chicago too, I find that people are sort of conditioned not to look at each other, which is odd for me being raised by small town parents where everyone knew each other, and would smile and wave and or stop and talk as a way of life.  Though I did not grow up in that 1,200 population Wisconsin town - through my parents and grandparents I feel the connection to the place and the values).  I still try to connect with people because it makes sense to me to do so and it feels quite foreign not to.”

“I sometimes smile in amusement at my own thoughts, and catch a smile back from an unknowing bystander.”

“BTW, people smile more in the burbs than in Manhattan.”

Please keep those cards and letters coming in.  And if you know someone who would enjoy receiving OTR directly please refer them to the website ( where they can subscribe.  Thank you.

On the Road...

Oct. 10 – 11:  Cornell Real Estate Annual Conference, New York, NY

Oct. 16-18: Chicago, IL

Oct. 23 – 24:  PERE (Private Equity Real Estate) Summit:  New York 2013, New York, NY

Oct. 28 – 30:  PREA (Pension Real Estate Association) Annual Investor Real Estate Conference, Chicago, IL

Nov. 13 -15:  NCREIF (National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries), Fall Meeting, Miami Beach, FL

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