Friday, February 10, 2012

Aisle of Solutions, RREEF, World Trade Center

Walking the aisles of one of the large chain "pharmacy" stores this week and seeing the signs above the aisles got me thinking:  wouldn't it be great if there was a place like that where we could find cures for our real estate ailments?  Need a tenant to fill a long vacant space:  Aisle 1.  Trying to find some gap financing to close a deal:  Aisle 7.  Feeling under the weather because your key first close investor just told you they were going to wait a little longer:  Aisle 2.  You get where I'm going, right?  Maybe some of you reading this are saying, "Well, there are firms that offer solutions to problems like those."  And you are right, they're called "Service Providers."  And while solving one of these problems doesn't happen as quickly or reliably as, say, taking aspirin for a headache or rubbing Ben-Gay on a sore shoulder or gulping down Vicks Forumula 44 to stop your cough, there are people out there who have proven to be good at delivering "a cure for what ails you."  But, try as we might to find simple, quick and painless solutions, sadly, it's rare in our industry that there is one.  

This week, roaming the streets of New York and speaking to a number of people from all different parts of the commercial and institutional real estate world one thing is clearer than ever before:  Things are not clear by a long shot when it comes to us knowing what we'll find around the next curve in the road.  We have a lot more questions about our careers, our businesses and our personal lives.  There is a lot of stress out there and we can hope that things will just get better.  But, remember how the hopes fans in the famous baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat."  (Ernest Lawrence Thayer, 1888) were dashed in the end:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; 
But there is no joy in Mudville-the Mighty Casey has struck out.

Even if you don't know anything about baseball, the phrase 'struck out' is easy to understand.  We're all trying to either 'get to first base' or 'hit singles and doubles' or 'make the big play' but success is not guaranteed, not by a long shot, no matter how hard we try and no matter now much success we've had in the past.  Some firms have or have had their own "Mighty Casey" who were relied upon to make things happen, to bring home the bacon.  But those folks are not magicians.  So, when we're faced with situations where we've run out of brilliant ideas or we keep talking and talking and talking and coming back to the same old thing, it's sometimes helpful to bring in an objective, knowledgeable third-party to help you get 'unstuck.'  In line with my policy of full disclosure, this last sentence is somewhat self-serving as I have been working with clients in this capacity for years, with good results and excellent feedback.  You know why it's helpful:  people that work together, just like couples in a committed relationship, sometimes have difficulty being open about things with each other and the conversation slips into a finger-pointing argument which does no one any good.  When an intermediary joins the party, they bring one really important thing to the table:  they are only interested in helping; they have no axe to grind, no hidden motive, no issues, no politics to play....just helping their clients find a solution to what ails them or at least bring to the surface the root of a problem.  Maybe it's something to think about next time you're in a similar predicament.

One more thought on this general topic.  There's someone who's website bills her as "America's #1 Female Talk Radio Host" who, after listening to one of her callers tell a story of relationship woe, told that woman, "Whatever you're doing is just not working!"  None of us is happy when we admit that what we've been doing is not working but it's a very important step in finding something that will work.  We need to remind ourselves from time to time that doing things the way we used to do them won't work in a world that is changing around us.  More and more people are talking with me, seeking a different way to do something, particularly in the area of raising capital for real estate funds, joint ventures, etc.  The appetite of the many investors has changed and you need to change your menu to give them what they want.  Change is not easy but change is good and those that recognize the need for change are the ones who will be the winners.  If things aren't happening for you, slow down, take a break, get away from things for a day and think.  Or find a confident to brainstorm with.  As Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  

There's lots of talk on the street about the future of RREEF.  From what I can tell, the only people who really know what's going on are those people directly involved in the discussions.  I'm not a rumor guy; I don't start them and I don't pass them along but society is built on them.  The media is grasping at straws, hoping that something that someone told someone else has an ounce of truth in it.  But, until it's a done deal (or until some 'Deep Throat" source leaks the news), we'll just have to sit and wait but, like with lots of big corporate stuff, we aren't alone as employees of companies involved in M&A deals are kept in the dark and learn about things at the same time as the rest of the world.  For the sake of my friends at RREEF I hope something definitive happens soon so they can get on with business and with their lives.

You know how sometimes you'll walk by a place hundreds of times and never go it?  Then one day, for some reason, you do and you say, wow, this place is great, why didn't I go in before?  Well that happened to me this week when a good friend of mine invited me to join him for breakfast at Casa Lever in New York (390 Park Avenue [entrance is on 53rd St.).  It's a great room and the food is really good.  (Note:  It gets busy for breakfast starting at 7:30 and I'm told that lunch is crazy so make a reservation).  

Early in the week I was driving back to Manhattan on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was a beautifully clear night as I got to the part of the turnpike approaching the Holland Tunnel.  The World Trade Center jumps up like a proud child saying "Look, here I am."  It's an wonderful sight to see; construction lights blazing from bottom to top; it's the most massive and dramatic structure in the New York skyline.  Yes, it's taken way too long for this building to be built and that's a sad commentary on politics.   But it's now at 90 floors and it is a sight to behold.

Phrase of the week:  "Brand Guardian."  A strong brand identity is more crucial today than ever before.

Always the last to know:  Today I became the 417,795,817th person to watch this cute video.

On the road...

Feb.  13-17:  San Francisco Bay Area

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