Friday, May 22, 2009

Something got me thinking about all the different ways people are connecting, or trying to connect, today. I remember one of my best friends’ brother in law opened a nightclub called “The Phone Booth” in Manhattan. The gimmick: many small round tables in a trendily decorated (i.e. black) room each with a telephone. If you saw someone at another table, you just dialed them up. The club lasted for a few years but I thought it was a great idea. Another great social networking idea, which no one has launched, is, picture this: you’re driving in your car and you see someone in another car that you’d like to talk to. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to share cell phone numbers while driving on the Adirondack Northway? Well, maybe not as we’re all getting more and more protective of our privacy and sadly there are just too many lunatics out there. But social networking also applies to business and I’m finding more and more people less and less good at networking. Networking is an art. And that runs directly to something that I read in a book on networking many years ago: not everyone is a networker and if you are then you should gravitate towards people who are. One tip: if you attend a conference or any type of event where you gather even a few business cards, drop each person an email, within 24-hours of the exchange of business cards. All it has to say is: “Nice meeting you at such and such event. Look forward to staying in touch.” Although with some folks you meet there will be a desire on, hopefully, both your parts to do more than exchange pleasantries in an email, as there may be some real potential business that can be explored. Anyway, now that the whole world is a “Phone Booth” the only thing that is missing is how to find out the phone number of the person standing right next to you. Although, I guess you could ask. Hey, whatever happened to ‘beaming’ contact info from one device to another?

We’re seeing more and more of government injecting itself into the business world. Some of it appears to be for the greater good. But this thing about politicians trying to find opportunities to build their own reputation is really something that needs it’s own watchdog looking over the shoulder of the politician claiming to be a watchdog. This is happening right now in the placement agent business and it’s not fair to indict a whole industry because of a few bad apples. And, today, with everyone in the investment world nervous about everything, this is not good. Institutional investors in particular are so wary of doing business that many have closed up shop temporarily until things get sorted out and it’s safe to go back into the water. But, because there are still leaders (vs. followers) who actually think for themselves there will continue to be capital flowing into the alternative investment industry and while it may be less it will be going to those firms who not only have communicated openly but who are doing the right thing, right now, during a time when no one wants to be surprised…about anything-except perhaps for a birthday cake.

It’s perfectly clear, based on an industry webinar this week, that institutional real estate investors not only want they expect their managers to communicate more frequently and totally openly. And why shouldn’t they? But it seems like some are not. One firm this week had an investor call where the head of client relations didn’t even make an appearance. What message does that send? And, investors won’t get fooled again. Sure these times are trying with valuations falling like the mob hit victim who was fitted for cement overshoes and thrown into the East River. But it’s not like it’s really anyone’s fault. It’s pandemic of the whole industry around the world. So what can managers do? They can take appropriate action, assign their most experienced people to specific problem situations (or hire outside expertise) and communicate, communicate, communicate. And, as much as there are things being said about how we may be past the worst, I don’t really thing so but I do feel that there are strategies that are timely and opportunistic and that investors are looking for those firms who not only have done the right thing but know the right thing to do.

Photo top right: Chalkboard from one of Tom's class. He was famous for them (and for stealing chalk from neighboring classrooms).
Photo top left: Recently discovered photo of my friend Tom David (center) the bass player from the band "Everyone" who passed away in late 2008. His students remember him this way (how will people remember us?):

"Mr. Davis always took time for others. This is his legacy."
"He always had a smile on his face and something pleasant to say."
"His life was worthiest of all because he was able to show you your worth."
"For someone over 40, he's cute as ever! Ask to see the pics of him in his band when 20ish!"
" I have never met another professor who was so passionate and wise about what he was teaching."
"An inspired and inspiring man. Zany, insightful, intelligent, interesting and benevolent. One of the best. (The classes weren't bad, either.)"
"He loves to jump down the rabbit holes. he doesn't ever make a student feel like their views are insignificant, he considers all points."
"He's probably the nicest person you could possibly meet."

These are my personal views and not that of my employer.

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