Saturday, November 1, 2014

Johns Hopkins - Careers in Real Estate / Vacant storefronts on the streets of NYC / Jack Bruce - Farewell / My almost annual, holiday season Pizza & Drink Thing

Careers in Real Estate – ‘Connecting the Dots’ at Johns Hopkins University

The Masters of Real Estate and Infrastructure students at JHU will soon be entering the job market.  Last week the school brought us down to Washington, DC to conduct our third annual ‘Careers in Real Estate’ coaching workshop, something we look forward to every year.  We spent a productive day on job search and career development, specifically working on networking and interview skills with this next generation of real estate professionals.

Communication exercises and role-plays were incorporated into our program. I played ‘myself’ - a rock and roll keyboard-playing commercial real estate executive with more than 30 years of industry experience. I described some of my own networking history, going back to the early days when I hardly knew anyone at industry events.  My partner, Liz Weiner – with her Zydeco and swing dance repertoire - shared 20 years of Human Resources experience and enlightened participants to the HR perspective, and the dramatically different interview experiences one can anticipate between a real estate hiring manager and a corporate HR team. I mention our interests in music and dance as both topics came up during the course of the day, providing immediate evidence that networking is not all about business!

To help students overcome their initial trepidations about networking, we did an exercise to show the differences between ‘open-ended’ and  ‘closed-ended’ questions.  Students witnessed firsthand how the dynamics of a conversation often shift – for the better – when introducing open-ended questions.  Asking someone, “Have you been in the real estate business for a long time?” (closed) and getting the answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or a simple, ‘10 years’ versus …. “What got you into commercial real estate?” (open) invites a more animated dialogue. This type of exercise is easily practiced in business and personal interactions. How effective is your own networking and communication style?

With the commercial real estate industry job market so competitive, students from graduate real estate programs may discover that there are simply not enough jobs to go around.  It’s important that they learn to deliver clear, crisp and concise answers to questions in networking and interview situations – just one way to differentiate themselves.  In the workshop evaluation forms, students told us that preparing for both the expected – and the unexpected questions - was great advice. 

Many participants said that real estate development is the #1 job they’d like to have.  Other interests included analyst, project management, investment management and affordable housing.  Instructors, like Dan Kohlhepp and Lin Mao have educated the students well about the importance of proficiency in the ‘hard’ skills – analysis, financial modeling and underwriting, to name a few.  The students left our workshop with an enhanced level of confidence (they told us this!) and new ideas, tools and resources for their ‘soft’ skills development.

Here are some other things this enthusiastic, bright, focused and globally diverse group reported they would do differently as a result of the workshop:
  • ‘Keep a database of contacts instead of a box of cards’
  • Always debrief after interviews (and meetings), whether formal or not.  And debrief after going to networking events
  • Boldly reach out to people through LinkedIn and snail mail
  • ‘Make my social media more professional’ 

Over the years, this type of ‘Connect the Dots’ session has visited schools including Cornell, DePaul, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Stanford, MIT, NYU, North Carolina and Harvard.  We are reaching out to my real estate academic friends (as well as the real estate clubs) to schedule other similar workshops for our future real estate leaders.  Please feel free to forward this column to anyone you feel may be interested.

Vacant storefronts on the streets of NYC

Walking the streets of New York City I continue to see an increasing number of vacant storefronts, both big and small.  To some degree this is related to landlords not extending an existing tenant’s lease so they can increase the rent, sometimes by 300% or more, and lease it to the next retailer.  But the fact that some of these spaces have been sitting vacant for many months suggests that the mania which has existed in New York real estate for quite a while may be beginning to wane. 

Something I learned in my shopping center days:  there is a maximum percentage of gross sales retailers can afford to pay and still make a profit.  And, while some ‘Flagship’ retail locations (as it seems every landlord feels they possess) offer stores an image opportunity, from a down to basics business perspective, a retailer paying too much in total occupancy costs may not last long.  The stigma of a long-time vacant space is only exceeded by a storefront where there is frequent turnover. 

New York City landlords may need to be rethinking their strategy…it’s next to impossible to recapture lost opportunity rent from a vacant space.

Jack Bruce (May 14, 1943 – October 25, 2014)

In a band, sometimes the bass player is the least well-known (or noticed) musician.  But Jack Bruce was an exception to that rule.  As the bass player, lead singer, and principal songwriter of the band Cream, Mr. Bruce was a superstar in his own right. 

The rock ‘n roll bands I was in performed a number of the songs that Jack and his band mates made famous:  Sunshine of Your Love, Badge (which came by its name when the word “Bridge” – part of the structure of a song  - was mis-read), SWLABR (‘She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow’ - hey, it was the 60’s!) and others.  While Cream was short-lived, its impact on music will likely be forever. 

I missed my one chance to see Cream at New York’s Madison Square Garden on their ‘farewell’ tour when I made a decision to travel to a friend’s college homecoming weekend. The weekend was a nightmare – AND I missed the concert.  Oh well. 

For those of us in a certain generation, losing people strikes a particularly resonant chord.  And, while we don’t all get a chance to have an impact on as broad an audience as Jack Bruce, we can endeavor to contribute, in some small way, to those around us.  It’s from those acts that we will be remembered.

Keep playin’ that rock ‘n roll Jack… in your new concert venue.

Pizza / Drink Thing

My almost annual holiday season ' Pizza / Drink Thing' (as it's come to be known) will take place on Tuesday evening, November 11.  These events have typically attracted a collegial and diverse group of commercial real estate professionals - some who know each other; others meeting for the first time.

Where:  Joe-G Restaurant
244 W. 56th Street, NYC (Columbus Circle neighborhood)
(between Broadway and 8th Avenue and downstairs in the DaVinci Hotel). 

When:  Tuesday, November 11 / 6pm - 9ish

What:  I supply the famous Joe-G pizza;
You buy your own drinks.

I look forward to seeing you there!  Bring a friend.


Nathan Zinn now Managing Director at CBRE Global Investors
Noah Shales on becoming Chairman of CRE (Counselors of Real Estate)

Incredible new music video

Ok go - 'I Won't Let You Down'

Hotel gem  

Topaz Hotel, Washington, DC.  First time stay.  Great experience.  Nice room and even nicer people.  Great location right near Dupont Circle. Reasonable rates. Highly recommended.

The Walk to End Alzheimers

Lynn Kehoe is a long-time institutional real estate industry friend (and one of the nicest and most supportive people I know).  Lynn's mother is one of the more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She is participating in The Walk to End Alzheimers in Philadelphia on November 9.  I've donated to her walk and hope you will consider making a donation - any amount helps.  Here's the link to make a donation

On the Road...

Nov. 6:  CRE Tech Intersect, New York, NY

Nov. 12 - 13:  PERE New York Summit, New York, NY

Nov. 14:  James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate / Wisconsin School of Business Global Real Estate Markets Conference, New York, NY

Dec. 3:  Women's Leadership Workshop, Felix / Weiner Consulting Group, Chicago, IL

Dec. 3 - 4:  NAREIM Capital Raising and Investor Relations Meeting, Chicago, IL

Jan. 15 -16, 2015:  NAREIM Asset Management and Acquisitions Meeting, San Francisco, CA

Jan. 21 - 23:  IMN's Winter Forum on Real Estate Opportunity and Private Fund Investing, Laguna Beach, CA

Feb. 17 – 18:  NAREIM Research & Investment Management Meeting, Chicago, IL

Feb. 19 - 20:  University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Real Estate Challenge, Chapel Hill, NC

Mar. 10 - 11:  National Association of Real Estate Research Professionals (ARERP) meeting, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Mar. 17 - 18, 2015:  NAREIM Executive Officers Spring Meeting, Miami, FL


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