“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!
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