Saturday, June 17, 2017

John Riordan (1938-2017)

I was very, very sad to learn that John Riordan passed away yesterday morning after a long bout with cancer.

John was Past Vice Chairman, Past President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).
In 2001, John stepped down from a 15-year term as President and CEO of ICSC. At the same time he was chosen as the Thomas G. Eastman Chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Real Estate. In 2003, ICSC announced the renaming of its professional development school as the John T. Riordan ICSC School for Professional Development. Riordan has served on the advisory boards of the MIT/Center for Real Estate, the Center for Real Estate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Business School of Baruch College of the City University of New York. He has served as director of General Growth Properties and Ivanhoe Cambridge. In 2003, John was elected an ICSC Trustee for life.

I met John fairly early in his 15-year term as President and CEO of ICSC.
John was a true leader and visionary.  To me he was a good friend and voice of reason as my career evolved.  As I think back, in some regards he was a mentor to me at different times in my life. 
John was highly respected; as a person and as an executive.  He led the ICSC during a period of exceptional growth and globalization. 
The John T. Riordan School for Retail Professionals is the pre-eminent shopping center industry educational program at the ICSC. 
In the past couple of years, he and I resurrected our contact via lengthy and personal emails.  I hadn’t written to him in a while and hadn’t heard from him but just last week I wrote him with an update and asked if he’d be open to me coming to visit him over the summer.
Always prompt to reply, I didn’t hear back from him. Now I know why.
I went back to our most recent email exchanges and wanted to share some of what John wrote to me as it says a lot about the man John was.  I was encouraging him to write a memoir and don't know if he started it - he lead such an interesting life and was a positive influence on so many people he came in contact with.  
Dear Steve,
….Shopping centers and ICSC in the early 80's were becoming a world-wide retail and member service revolution.  Having been a frequent traveler to western Europe in my college days and my early teaching years thanks to the Experiment in International Living and speaking, as I do, the several  Romance languages helped a lot in growing ICSC internationally.  Once again success came from asking questions and together with new or potential members, finding suitable answers.

Today the big question about the future of retail real estate concerns learning to put the Internet to advantage.  Easier said than done.  Current trends point to concentration of new generations in metropolitan not suburban areas.--people for whom time is one of the most valuable aspects of life.  Locations where walking or using public transport is preferable to  long commutes by car to the workplace. Apartment dwellers who either own or rent homes cared for by building staff.  Shoppers for whom the prime means of time-efficient shopping is a Wi-Fi connected device of one kind or another, including one we still call a "phone" that tends  be with us at virtually all times everywhere  in a purse or pocket!

Could it be that the day of the creative retail real estate architect is over and that of the of the truly creative Urbanist is a hand to help answer the big question:  Now What? What to we do with all the empty retail real estate?
Dear Steve,
We have a lot in common. I did not know you attended Fairleigh Dickinson. I'm from NJ and went to Montclair State on a full scholarship in exchange for a promise to teach school in the state for at least four years.

I did in the Princeton NJ public schools which for me at the time was heaven.  I was the editor of the student paper at Montclair, President of a Fraternity, founder of the summer international travel program in conjunction with the Experiment in Int'l Living of which I later became a trustee.--and still able to be graduated in three and one half years rather than four.

Montclair's  enrollment was 1200, today it is over 20, 000 and I have just finished serving as chair of the advisory board for the colleges of the humanities and the social sciences there and am now on the real estate advisory group for its B school.

You may recall that on retirement from ICSC I took on the full time chairmanship of the Center for Real Estate of MIT for three years.  Not the most satisfying assignment I have to say.  We have long lived in MA  (now on Cape Cod) having come here after a stint with McGraw Hill to work for Houghton Mifflin Company of which I ultimately became a director and head of educational publishing then getting involved with ICSC and far more interesting people like yourself. So books and publishing a big part of my life.

I have not written one, but I have read a great many, including Norman Kranzdorf's bio in which he lists me as among the more interesting people he has known. My oh my!  I believe him to have had a fascinating life to date and count him as a good friend.  Indeed, I had a note from him only yesterday.  I'll be pleased to get a coy of your book when complete.

Your comments on health, longevity and the like are we'll taken.  I am very much aware of the niceties of geriatric medicine at this point having endured in addition to cancer, a triple by pass, removal of a kidney, insertion of two stents and in general  having become a source of income for experts in the area.

Let me know how things progress.  Good to have renewed acquaintance in this fashion.

All the best,

And, what I realize now is the last note I received from John, the first week of January, 2017:

Dear Steve.

I am up early to find your good note and the copy of one to you from me of so long ago.

Wow! Since what I wrote there has come to pass in most of the countries cited and some of which I first got to know and some of which I got to visit so long ago when I was involved first as a student and then when a school teacher and  group leader for an organization I am still affiliated with today, The Experiment in International Living and its School for World Learning.

Founded around the time of World War II by a certain Donald Watt, a scout master from Vermont, it has still today as its motto "Expect the Unexpected." Something that I have adhered to all the rest of my life since my first l957 contact with the organization of which I later became a trustee.

Today, rereading what I wrote so long ago to you (and impressed that you still have it) I would say that the unexpected is what is happening to shopping centers and retailing in general.

It comes down to technological innovations and a major change in societal values on the part of. Recent generations and their decisions on where and how to live and the dramatically reduced rates and extent to which they procreate.  Simply put it is fewer people, living more and more in metropolitan areas and having fewer and fewer children at the same time when earlier generations past child bearing ages are living longer and longer and in turn are leaving their suburban homes for closer in to city access to services.  All of this promoted in part by technology that is advancing at lightening speed rendering the need for place less important for the acquisition of goods.

Bricks and mortar in the shopping center form are not needed as much as they once were.  Dreams of making malls gathering places for entertainment are exaggerated and in the wrong places in any event as the suburbs are no longer valued and will be less and less so as time goes by, as new automated forms of transport are evolved and as already sophisticated automated delivery systems are further advanced.  The notion that retail real estate locations will do better if state sales taxes are applied everywhere and the Amazon-like advantage on price mitigated miss the real point of sales, deliveries and returns by electronic means:  speed is more important to the buyer than the difference in price due to absence of state sales taxes.

I have just retired after more than a decade as a director of Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate arm of the Caisse de depot et de placement du Quebec and am familiar with the situation there quite well, in part as I am a graduate of Laval University in Quebec City and the Caisse is the moment manager for the major provincial pension funds.  I'd be interested to learn more of your interest in Canada.  

Steve, you have made my day and got my blood running at an early hour.  I am today beginning the 6th and last sequence of Chemo for cancer--a cancer that is now gone thanks to the first five rounds but for which this sixth is a kind of double check.   I enter my 80th year in a few days and hope to survive to the end of it at least, and perhaps a few more beyond that.

All the best to you wherever you go and whatever path you take to get there.


John touched a lot of lives, not the least of which is mine.  I am privileged to have had him as a friend. He was a class act!
My condolences to John’s family and his many, many shopping center (and other industry) friends.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Friendly Skies / There’s a signpost up ahead…maybe! / An interesting 'stretch' assignment

June 16 2017

The Friendly Skies
For the vast majority of the +/- 3 million miles I’ve flown in my life, I have made an effort to not do any actual ‘work’ during the flights.  I’ve considered it a break – although since Wi-Fi is available in the friendly skies it’s tempting to get online and, well, work. 

Today, as I fly from across the U.S. (east to west) I am online and thus able to publish this column.  Today’s flight takes me from North Carolina to San Francisco for just one business meeting – as you can imagine, it’s an important one as I’m flying back at about 1 in the morning tomorrow. 

As we were waiting to takeoff, I thought about some interesting experiences I’ve had on planes: the time my row partner, an elderly woman, asked me if I was a priest (something I took as a compliment); the first time (pretty recently) that a female flight attendant actually flirted with me (maybe others did but I was oblivious); the time I sat next to baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and we talked about everything except baseball except for the last 20 minutes; chatting with two people who I kept in touch with for years (many years back I started wearing earplugs immediately on boarding and rarely, if ever, have conversations anymore).  There are a lot of other experiences I’ve had…as I’m sure have you.  As those of you who’ve traveled for a number of years know, it’s not like it used to be – actually, is anything?

There’s a signpost up ahead…maybe!
With us being just a few days short of the half-way mark in 2017 (can you believe how fast time is flying?) have we really experienced the ‘change’ that’s been predicted in the commercial real estate industry?  Yes, prices to buy properties are at record highs; cap rates are somewhere near record lows; huge cross-border capital is still flowing.  However, and that’s a big ‘But’, almost everyone is speaking about caution moving forward.  It’s like believing that something bad is going to happen but you don’t know when, right?  What will it look like?

Could this be a sign?
On May 31 Bloomberg reported this:
Foreclosure is looming for a 56th-floor apartment overlooking Central Park, the first such seizure in the Manhattan neighborhood known as Billionaires’ Row because of its sky-high property prices.

An auction for the 3,466-square-foot (322-square-meter) condominium in the One57 tower is scheduled for June 14, PropertyShark said. The unit has a $20.9 million lien on it, plus interest and costs. The four-bedroom Unit 56C at 157 W. 57th St. is also listed for sale by Platinum Properties, with a price tag of $22.5 million, and has been on the market for 548 days, according to StreetEasy.
Or, rather than being some type of early warning about coming changes in the commercial real estate market, is this just an example of a rich person stretching too far to buy an apartment? I’m not sure but sometimes there are subtle indicators of things starting to change.
In any event, the top researchers in the commercial / institutional real estate industry are pretty much on the same page...CAUTION! and, it resembles something that my former colleague at IREI, Geof Dorhmann, ends his editorials with:  “Be careful out there, it’s a whacky, whacky world!”

An interesting 'stretch' assignment
Since my partner Liz Weiner and I started our Professional Development Coaching business almost 5 years ago, we’ve found that our work calendar seems to coincide pretty closely with the U.S. public school calendar:  September through June.  This year appears to be no exception as what is probably the last ‘corporate’ work we’re doing is next week and it’s a very interesting ‘stretch’ assignment for us. 

A global real estate investment manager is having an off-site (coincidentally very close to where I live in North Carolina).  There will be 260 people attending from across the U.S. and Europe.  The final formal activity of the two and a half day event is the morning of the last day when we’ve been allocated 3 hours to work with the largest group for us so far.  We have been given a clear mission of what our client would like to achieve during that session. And, they’ve also given us a tremendous amount of creative latitude (and support) to be successful.  

Liz and I have pulled out some fun exercises, games and theatrical opportunities to achieve the goals.  Some of these come from summer camp dramatics experienced years ago, others come from the very creative mind of my partner.  As we’ve described our plan, our client “Loves it!” which makes us feel really good.  We’ve worked closely with the event manager at the hotel who has been a terrific ally and, with the session coming up next Thursday, we’re pretty close to being totally ready to rock.

This resembles something we coach many of our individual clients about:  accepting and seeking out ‘stretch’ assignments and opportunities in their jobs.  Yes, sometimes they’re daunting or even frightening.  “Can I really do this?”  Well, you never know until you try.  Remember the saying about letting your reach exceed your grasp?  It’s a way for you to grow, to show your stuff to your boss / manager and to feel good about knowing that you can do things that you never thought you could do before. 

As Liz and I next week experience a physician heal thyself moment, we’re both very excited and have some anticipation jitters.  Our client, who we’ve known for many years, has shown tremendous confidence in us…and that really helps.  Stay tuned!
** all my industry friends who had a son or daughter (or grandson, granddaughter, niece, nephew) graduate from college this spring. It's not an easy job market and for those graduates who want to enter our wonderful industry of commercial real estate, it'll make you feel good if you can help them land an interview, an internship or a job. 

Think back to what it was like when you were just starting out.  Was there anyone to help you?  Over the years, I've had a few folks ask me, "Steve, why do you feel you have to offer to help almost everyone?"  My answer, "Because I remember when I needed help and there was no one around to help me."

On the Road...
Sometime over the summer: New York City for a special recording session where some of my industry friends will lay down tracks on my forthcoming album, "Light of Day."  This album, like my first, "Felix...Finally" will be done as a fund-raiser. Stay tuned for the name of the charity.

Aug. 22-31:  Tyalgum, New South Wales, Australia:  My first trip to Australia prompted by the "O Heart Festival" headlined by my friends The Heart Collectors.

Oct. 4 - 7: Munich, Germany to attend ExpoReal.  Thanks to my good friend Brad Olsen for inviting me to his legendary dinner during the conference.

Oct. 11-12: Chicago for the NAREIM Executive Officers Meeting

Felix/Weiner Professional Development Workshops:
Look for our fall schedule coming soon:
  • Women's Leadership Workshops
  • Women's Leadership Workshop 2.0
  • Capital Raising Roadshow Prep
  • Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshops
  • Moderator and Panelist Coaching (just in time for Fall conference season)
  • Investor Conference / Annual General Meeting prep
  • And others...

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