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.


No comments:

Blog Archive