Saturday, February 24, 2018

I've seen the future of the commercial real estate industry....

Some of you may remember then Rolling Stone magazine contributor Jon Landau's famous line after seeing Bruce Springsteen perform for the first time.  "I've seen the future of Rock 'n Roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen."  Jon eventually became Bruce's long-time manager and friend.

Well, each year, around this time I get to experience, first-hand, the future of the commercial real estate industry and they are the students in the graduate real estate programs.

Two weeks ago teams listed below competed in the University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Real Estate Case Competition in Chapel Hill, NC (a 3 ½ hour drive for me from Asheville).

I was fortunate to be asked to be one of the judges.  I’ve served in this capacity a number of times before and it is always both so interesting and a real treat.  The treat is to get to meet a number of first and second year graduate students who are passionate about the commercial real estate industry.  Many of these students have already had jobs in the industry (or another industry) and made the decision to invest two years to get a real estate MBA.

The schools represented (in alphabetical order as I know someone very competitive would ask me why they're listed this way!):
  • Columbia University
  • Duke University - Fuqua
  • Georgetown University - McDonough
  • New York University  - Stern
  • Northwestern University - Kellogg
  • Rice University - Jones
  • UCLA - Anderson 
  • University of California (Berkeley) Haas
  • University of Chicago - Booth
  • University of North Carolina - Kenan-Flagler
  • University of Pennsylvania - Wharton
  • University of Southern California - Marshall 
  • University of Texas - McCombs
  • University of Virginia - Darden
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison

Dave Hartzell, who heads the real estate program at Kenan-Flagler, Susan Drake and Jim Spaeth put on a great event (although Susan does most of the heavy lifting!).  It’s been a wonderful experience to not only see how smart these students are but how well they present themselves - although, like everyone, they can use some presentation coaching 😉

The actual competition took place a week ago Friday. Thursday night there’s a networking / dinner event.  The funny thing about that event relates to the judges not being allowed to know the names of the schools the teams represent and therefore are not allowed to have a ‘normal’ conversation – Where are you from?  What school do you go to?  What year are you in?  Even one of my regular questions - "Where did you grow up?" could be treading on thin ice.  However, I encourage the students to ask me questions – ask all the judges questions about themselves – and get to know their peers. it’s a great networking opportunity for them and for us but particularly for the students as they are the next generation of passionate commercial real estate professionals who, one day, down the line, will be running the industry.

So, what do we talk about?  Well, Liz and I coach students (as well as people who were once students and are now into their careers in the commercial real estate industry) on such things as:
  • How to make a good first impression?
  • How to engage someone in a conversation (hint: it’s not talking about yourself!).
  • How to network.
  • How important it is to not hang out with your teammates (work colleagues) at a networking event. 

I encourage the students to try to meet as many of the judges as possible as we all come from different facets of the commercial real estate industry and...hello, when they graduate, they’ll be looking for a job.  Many of those second year graduate students at the competition are in active job search mode right now.  That advice, about not hanging out – at least too much – with people you work with, or know, is good advice for all of us attending an industry event.  While it may feel more comfortable to spend time catching up on things with those you know (and love), you lose out on a real opportunity to meet new folks and, as my sons and I regularly remind each other, “You never know.”

A few suggestions for students in situations like this (when more senior commercial real estate people are in the room with you):
·      Approach them – they’re approachable
·      Talk with them – ask them about themselves (people love talking about themselves)
·      Ask them to exchange a business card with you – take advantage of this opportunity
·      Have a simple answer to the question: What do you want to do when you graduate? 

The development case chosen for the competition was, as usual, not an easy one. This time it was a real deal and complex situation with a long history - including lawsuits.

The creativity of how to handle the project design, the fact that the two buildings were both on the National Register of Historic Places and the requirements of the current land owner, who is seeking a development and financing partner, was challenging for the students. Hey, when I read the case it was challenging to me although my conclusion was that I would not go near this deal with a ten-foot pole.  However, the students did not have that option. 

Now, knowing the deal will make it interesting to follow the progress and see what actually happens.  I have a feeling that some of the suggestions made by the student teams will be incorporated into the final project.

Congratulations students – well done!

Oh, you were wondering who won the competition?

First place:  Kenan-Flagler (truly a coincidence as they were the host team)
Second place:  Wisconsin – Madison
Honorable mention: UCLA - Anderson
Honorable mention: Rice - Jones

My long-time industry friend Andy Herz, the highly-regarded real estate industry attorney sent me something the other day and there are parts I’d like to share with you that resonated with me.  It was about mentoring and referred to a person that I didn’t know of:  Bill Campbell. Bill died in 2016 and, as happens too often, some of the great things you find out about a person occurs after they are gone.  I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing from an obituary on Bill – and adding some of my own comments (what else is new?).

Bill Campbell, a former CEO and chairman of Intuit and a longtime Apple board member was better known simply as "Coach" by venture capitalists, tech executives and investors throughout the industry, and remembered for the mentoring, advice and eminence grise role he played to some of tech's biggest names, including Google's Eric Schmidt, Apple's Steve Jobs and Amazon's Jeff Bezos. He had become something of a Silicon Valley consigliere. (SF Note:  I had to look up ‘eminence grise’:  a confidential agent; especially one exercising unsuspected or unofficial power.

I first heard the term ‘consigliere’ in The Godfather movies (I recently watched Godfather I and II - what great movies), and thought I knew what it meant but I just looked it up: a consigliere is an advisor or counselor to the boss, with the additional responsibility of representing the boss in important meetings both within the boss's crime family and with other crime families. He is a close, trusted friend and confidant, the mob's version of an elder statesman and an advisor to the boss in a Mafia crime family, and sometimes is his 'right-hand man'. In some depictions, he is devoid of ambition and dispenses disinterested advice. By the very nature of the job, a consigliere is one of the few in the family who can argue with the boss, and is often tasked with challenging the boss when needed, to ensure subsequent plans are foolproof.”

Campbell was careful not to take credit for his work, even while industry leaders spoke of Campbell "as if he's some kind of profane cosmic mash-up of Oprah, Yoda and Joe Paterno."

If you want to know about being a mentor, there was no better mentor than Bill Campbell. He had an amazing ability to very simply and undeniably give people confidence in themselves.

One Silicon Valley CEO said,"I didn’t call him because he would have the answer to some impossible question. I called him, because he would understand what I was feeling 100%." 

What a wonderful legacy, especially in a world where too many people are so self-centered.  The attributes of the “Me” generation continue, possibly even expanding, which is sad.

Thanks for sharing this Andy!

Has Spring sprung?  The North Carolina Arboretum this morning.

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