Friday, March 16, 2012

A very romantic PREA Conference/Fareed Zakaria/Things Beyond Business

People have already started asking me, "So what was the mood at the PREA conference this week?"  "Romantic", I tell them.  Let me explain.  On Tuesday evening, as most attendees had already arrived in Boston,  a transformer fire knocked out power in the area which included both the event venue Westin Copley and a good-sized surrounding area.  A friend and I were just finishing an al fresco dinner at Piatinni on Newbury Street when everything went black.  It got quiet and then harsh blue flashing lights and loud announcements from passing police cars began.  A helicopter appeared overhead and I said, "They must be shooting a movie!"  Of course, the weren't but the experience had some movie-like surreality to it including, as I walked back to my boutique hotel, seeing thousands of people briskly walking in the same direction, towards me, which was, as you would imagine, away from the location of the fire.  It was a modern day Exodus.  But there was no panic, not that night, when I had to use the light from my phone to climb the four flights to my room or the next morning when the PREA team, led by Gail and Amy, teamed up with the staff at the Westin to pull off an amazing feat:  the show went on!  Congratulations you guys.  

So, about the romantic mood.  Picture 850 industry people at PREA.  There was some low light in the general meeting room and the area outside it where people hung out but it worked just fine.  However,  there was no power in the restrooms so the hotel put candles in those facilities.  As you can imagine, it was all that people were talking about starting from 7am on Wednesday morning when I walked to the Westin and was told that the event would be taking place and then ran into some of the early risers and joggers in the industry who were comparing experiences, mostly about walking up and down massive amounts of stairs and whether or not people chose to (a) take a shower (cold) at all and/or (b) wash their hair.  And these kinds of conversations took place all day.  (Btw, the power was out for more than 24 hours!).  

However, the most amusing scene for me was when I 'walked' up an escalator and saw a group of about nine people standing around.  I took a look and saw that someone had run an extension cord from an emergency generator in the back room and had hooked up a couple of power bars and these folks were all standing around watching their phones charge!  The first image that jumped into my mind was that of cavemen standing around the first fire, making caveman noises and jumping up and down, pointing at this remarkable thing.  So this group developed it's own revolving klatche and, as they are talking with each other, or more more likely someone who was not 'plugged in', they continually kept an eye on their phone.  At one point, a young man bent down to make a call, "Wait", said a woman standing next to me,"  that's my iPhone!"  Anyway, you should have been there.

Okay, so the business mood?  I'd say it was inconsistent rather than uncertain.  My takeaway is that there is a lot going on and there is also a lot that people would like to see going on.  There seems to be more money coming out of the pension funds, although the majority of the talk is not so much about commingled funds but about other investment options (separate accounts, JV's, club deals).  Endowments and foundations are generally considered to be on the sidelines for the most part and there was more talk than at any other PREA event about family offices, rich people (formerly known as High-Net Worth individuals) and private wealth management firms as sources of 'institutional' capital for private equity real estate funds.  Capital raisers are getting more and more creative as they look outside their historic comfort zone for fresh funds for their investment vehicles.

There are going to be a few new hires reported within the next week. I spoke with two of my friends who are starting new jobs and heard about a third (I'd love to announce them here but I don't want to piss anybody off!).  Hearing about those hires, for both brand name firms and also one in particular that aspires to be a brand name, is encouraging, especially to those who are looking to change jobs or find a job.  

One of the highlights of the event for me was being able to meet keynote speaker, Fareed Zakaria, just before he went on stage.  Freed is a well-known and well-travelled editor and columnist and commentator on international and domestic affairs.  He also has a good sense of humor and shaking his hand and looking him in the eye (which I believe is the total amount of time it takes to get a first impression of a person), he seems like a regular guy.  A few of his comments:

"It all comes together in the end."
"Everyone is trying to play the same economic games by the same economic rules."
"One key trend today is the death of inflation."
"We forget that there are people who have a very different world view than ours."
"It will take 5 1/2 years for jobs to come back in the U.S."

And a few other random comments from the stage:
"A U.S. recovery, without housing, is pretty compelling."
"The rewards to being creative and energetic are increasing while the rewards to being ordinary are dropping."
"Is inequality a macro-economic problem?"
"Advisors develop substantial admiration and respect for those Presidents who seek their advice."

Income producing real estate remains an old-fashioned business and, perhaps, when we let it, a relatively simple business ("A good friend of mine used to say, 'This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.' Think about that for a while." Ebby Calvin Laloosh (Tim Robbins) in Bull Durham.). But there are more and more creative ideas being used to make things happen.  Stay tuned!

Some of my industry friends have encouraged me to use this space to keep you abreast of how my new company, Solutions by Steve Felix evolves.  So, yesterday, for the first time, I actually was in an elevator with two industry friends and gave them my 'elevator pitch.'

Solutions by Steve Felix provides three "guaranteed" services that I have been delivering for many years to a variety of satisfied clients:

1.  Industry Shrink:  A three-hour session with one or two senior people in a firm where we discuss those burning issues that are 'top of mind.' The benefits to my client?  (a) More clarity on priorities to growing their business (b) Ideas on how to improve marketing presentations and materials (c) Discovery of other solutions I can provide.  

2.  Guaranteed Event Enhancement:  A menu of services for events like an internal strategy session, where I facilitate the discussion and am able to get things out on the table that might not come out otherwise to a client conference, where I can play a number of roles to enhance the attendee experience to simply an Event Report Card:  You invite me to your event. I observe and deliver a memo to you "Here's what you did good.  Here are some suggestions on what you could do better next time."

3.  Presentation Coaching:  Everyone admits they need it.  Makes both 'physical' and material presentations more effective.

Tip for anyone speaking in front of a group:
When someone in the front of the room asks a question remember:  the people behind that person often cannot hear it so before you start answering it please repeat it so everyone can hear it.  

Final thought:
When I meet someone, I'm really much more interested in who they are than what they do.  Well, actually, in a business setting, asking a person what they do is the normal and polite way to start a conversation.  But depending on the circumstances, that conversation can morph into two people talking about things beyond business. It's with this in mind that I'm starting a 'recurring' part of OTR called "Things Beyond Business."  For example, this week, I'm mentioning Ken Barnes.  Ken and I randomly (or not so) at the recent NCREIF conference.  We happened to share a table eating our delicious buffet dinner and got to talking.  Ken is a principal of a Seattle-based appraisal and consulting firm called, McKee & Schalka. But, beyond business, Ken is a brilliant sculptor.  He has done a number of commission pieces for both residential and commercial consumption.  And, he's a very nice guy.  Stay tuned for more in "Things Beyond Business."

On the road....
March 18-20: Miami (South Beach) to attend the NAREIM Executive Conference
March 26-28: New York
March 26: Please join me in celebrating the launch of Solutions by Steve Felix at Joe G Restaurant, 244 W. 56th Street (bet. B'way and 8th), downstairs in the DaVinci Hotel (stairs are outside).  6pm-whenever the last person leaves.  I'll provide the Joe G pizza made famous on the David Letterman Show.  You provide the drinks!  The more the merrier.
March 29-30: Philadelphia to be a judge at the DiLella Center For Real Estate Villanova Real Estate Challenge
April 24-25:  Los Angeles for the PERE Global Investors Forum.
May 17-20: North Palm Beach, FL to attend the annual meeting of the Homer Hoyt Fellows.

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