Friday, July 15, 2011

investing suggesting, WTC, hiring, interviewing, meditating

Some real estate tidbits I’ve recently heard about investing in commercial real estate today:
  • Things have bottomed.
  • Occupancy is increasing.
  • Net effective rents increasing.
  • More clarity in the market.
  • Lenders forcing borrowers into action.
  • Best opportunities may be outside the U.S.
  • Banks dumping assets.
  • Retail just doesn’t jump off the page.
  • There aren’t good or bad assets; there are good or bad prices.
  • We’re not underwriting to price perfection, we’re underwriting to value.
  • What is the price for liquidity?
As we rapidly approach the 10th Anniversary of the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, PA terrorist attacks, my friend, and real estate columnist for The New York Post, Lois Weiss, wrote this in her column this week:

The World Trade Center site is humming with activity. On Monday, we walked across the site and rode the construction hoist up at Silverstein Properties' 4 World Trade Center as the north Memorial pool was being tested.The nearly one-acre square pools have water that cascades down the sides and flows into another dark square. Each pool is rimmed with the names of the victims, which will glow at night.

All the plaza's white swamp oaks are growing in nicely, with more being added all the time. The Greenwich Street cut through the site is just starting to be filled in as an actual road, slicing off 2 WTC, the Calatrava PATH station, 3 WTC and 4 WTC from the western half of the site with the Memorial area and 1 WTC.

Four WTC has asking rents in the $80s a foot. New York City and the Port Authority have already leased space there. The lobby area feels cocooned from the outside, yet its polished black granite walls will reflect the area through its 65-foot-tall windows.

The largest of the buildings, 1 World Trade Center, where Condé Nast just signed its 1.1 million-square-foot lease, is only halfway to its 1,776 feet but is starting to become visible from all over.

I’ve picked out some of the responses from an interview with Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, which offers geographic information systems, that I thought you might find compelling:

  • I have four priorities.
    • The first one is to focus on what customers need and want.
    • And, second, make my company a really great place to work.  So when we hire somebody, we have in mind finding a person who really fits so well that they realize their life’s work with us.  
    • The third is to make sure we’re a very strong business that supports the first two priorities.
  • Interviews?  I’ll ask provocative questions that help me quickly get a sense of someone, like, “What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?” In their professional life, the issues they bring up are often associated with challenges like laying people off. I learn a lot about people’s values and their judgment about things based on how they act in those situations. I’m just trying to figure out who they are.   
    • Other questions?  “What do you like to do?” It’s an open-ended question. A lot of people start off saying. “I like to go skiing” or “I like to go on vacations.”  This is always nice, but I’m interested in people who have a passion for the work I want them to do.
  • I am hunting for people who would be a good colleague or a teammate, not someone who works for me.  
  • I like to hire responsible people who really see their life’s work meshing with the goals of our business.
  • Writing is a key skill.  That’s usually another question I ask: “How good of a writer are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”  I also actually ask a lot of skill-related questions like, “How good of a software engineer are you?” or “How good are you at public presentations?

“If I talk a lot, it must mean I’m smart.”  I learned that this is a style of some students in graduate school programs. But I also witnessed it recently first hand where one guy in particular in a group setting continually rambled on and on, trying to impress the group with how much he knew.  But in taking a pulse of the body language of many of the group members, I don’t think this guy was winning any points with them.  

Friend and fellow blogger, Ann Oliveri, offers something very interesting in her post this week:

How do you vet candidates for key positions? 
The New York Times reported this week on a method being deployed in medical school admissions processes that test for people skills, the multiple mini interview or MMI.  It's "the admissions equivalent of speed-dating: nine brief interviews that forced candidates to show they had the social skills to navigate a health care system in which good communication has become critical."  Each round is eight minutes and features a different ethical dilemma.  "The most important part of the interviews are not a candidate's initial responses--there are no right or wrong answers--but how well they respond when someone disagrees with them... Candidates, who jump to improper conclusions, fail to listen or are overly opinionated fare poorly because such behavior undermines teams. Those who respond appropriately to the emotional tenor of the interviewer or ask for more information do well..."  The goal is to find those with the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues and establish trust with patients. And, "candidate scores on multiple mini interviews have proved highly predictive of scores on medical licensing exams three to five years later that test doctors' decision-making, patient interactions and cultural competency."
I find this approach fascinating.  

After meditating twice a day for about two years I stopped doing it but not because I didn't see that it made a difference-it did. So why did I stop?  Beats me but my brother has been encouraging me to start again and I am going to.  Interestingly there's an article in the Spring 2011 issue of Ode magazine called, "Management as meditation."  It presents a compelling argument for meditation, in the workplace:
  • How you deal with your emotions and thoughts as a leader has a direct effect on employees and organization.
  • By meditating, you learn how to deal with stress and take your mind off things.  It has to do with discovering consciousness and performing activities, such as meetings or listening, with more attention, whereby you function less on automatic pilot.
  • A Detroit chemical manufacturer instituted regular meditation sessions in 1983.  Within three years, absenteeism fell by 85%, productivity rose by 120%, injuries dropped by 70%, sick days fell by 16%-and profit soared by 250 percent!  "People enjoyed their work; they were more creative and more productive.  If you do this you'll get a return on your investment in one year."
  • Before a meeting, if managers first take a couple of minutes to be still and focus on what is most important to them, they will get results faster."
  • The entire effect of meditation relies on willingness and openness.  To relax, we need patience, trust and time.  Whoever thinks that meditation is a waste of time will never have patience for it.
I am going to start meditating again tomorrow.

This past Wednesday, July 13th, was the 26th anniversary of a huge music event, Live Aid.  The great thing about it is that it was the idea of just one man, Bob Geldorf.  One person can make a difference!

Photo:  The 3-legged chair in Geneva looms opposite the "Palais des Nations". Standing 12 metres (39.37 feet) high, The Broken Chair is a reminder of the tragedy caused to human lives and limbs by land mines.

Restaurant of the week.  Nishimura, 8684 Melrose Avenue, W. Hollywood, CA(310.659.4770).  Danger: this is very serious sushi.  A little tricky to find but worth it.

On the road...

July 18-22:  New York
July 25-Aug. 14:  Northern California
Aug. 15-19:  New York
Aug. 23-Sept. 6:  Vacation
Sept. 12-16:  New York
Sept. 20-21: Amsterdam to moderate a panel at the PERE Global Forum
Nov. 2-5: Washington, DC to attend the CRE Annual Convention and perform with the CREatures of Havoc Band
Nov. 9-10: New York to moderate a panel at the PERE Forum-New York

These are my views and not that of my employer.

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