Monthly Archive for: ‘October, 2011’

  • Careers in CRE: Goal Setting (Part II)


    If you want to get somewhere, you first have to define where that somewhere is.

    Seems simple enough, right? Well, in my experience, very few people intentionally design a career path with this is mind.

    I can’t realistically speak to the goals of others, but I could see how a young man or woman would simply tell themselves that want “to be successful” or “to be well-respected.” Ok, that’s all well and good, but what does that look like? What do successful people look like? What kind of life to those you respect lead?

    If you want to know which way to go from here, you have to figure out where you want to end up. So . . .

    Where do you want to end up?

    When you are 80 years old and looking back at your career, what would you like to say you have accomplished?

    What types of deals would you like to have completed?

    What kind of money do you want to make?

    Where do you want to be?

    I know these seem like overly simplistic questions, but they are CRUCIAL to your journey in setting out career goals.

    The most influential question I asked of myself was: What do I want my lifestyle to look like in X years and how do I work now to get there from here?

    You will have to decide that answer for yourself. But, if it will help you to formulate your goals, I will gladly share mine.

    Simply put, in my 40s and 50s, I want to have the financial freedom to do whatever I want. If I want to watch my kids’ soccer game, I  can because I don’t need to go into the office to earn a paycheck. If I want to take a month to live in Zagreb, no problem. Of course,  I will still be heavily involved in CRE and will be aggressively pursuing deals, but a couple lean years in deal flow will not prevent my family from eating. My theory is that people who work because they want to work will blow the doors off of people who work because they have to work.

    That is where I want to be in 20 years. How do I get there from here?

    Simple. Passive income.

    Passive income is getting paid without doing any work. It’s counterpart is active income: income you have to work to obtain. The difference is between the baker and the musician.

    A baker wakes up every morning and bakes rolls and pastries. Whatever he sells, he gets to keep the profit.

    A musician goes into a studio, records a song, and then collects royalties off of sales and downloads for the rest of her life. Madonna still gets income every week from songs she recorded 25 years ago.

    I want to be the musician. Work hard up front and let your work keep paying you over the years to come. I would be very disappointed in myself if I woke up at 45 years old and realized that I killed myself in my 20s and 30s at work just so I can go and kill myself at work in my 40s and 50s. I can push myself and stretch my limitations now so that when I have kids and I have reached my peak earning years I have passive income to show for all of this work.

    Anyway, we don’t need to get too deep into my goals, but I did want to give you an example of how to connect the dots. Knowing that I am seeking passive income, a role in brokerage would not be the right fit for me. I love making deals and networking is probably my favorite part of this business, but waking up broke every morning as a broker would not fit into my lifestyle plan (more on that later). I need to stay on the principal side of the business and try and get myself pieces of deals as an owner/manager.

    So, where do you want to be in 20, 30, 40, or 50 years? What do you want your lifestyle to look like?

    Figure that out, write it down, and start sketching out a path you want to take to get there. It may not be quick or easy, but I can promise you that those who start out with some general direction will end up miles ahead of those out for “success” or “respect.”

    Make sure the road map to your career has a destination and some interesting stops along the way. If you do that, you will blow by all of your peers who are just trying to figure out where they are going or just trying to get anywhere quickly.

    – Duke

  • Book Review: The Black Swan

    The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

    by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    Image Courtesy of

    This book may piss you off. If it doesn’t, then you don’t care about predictions or you don’t understand what it is saying.

    I like it, but, still, I can see how many people would be upset by being called idiots by Taleb.

    The premise of The Black Swan is that highly improbable events happen. That’s it. Even though they are improbable, they still happen. Taleb makes a convincing argument that most of us confuse “improbable’ with “impossible.” Events that alter our lives or the course of human history happen more often than we like to think and any type of prediction or prognostication that does not include the posibility of these events is one step above meaningless.

    Two examples that Taleb uses to illustrate his point are 9/11 and the creation of Google. Sept 11, 2001 changed the way Americans and, indeed, the rest of the world viewed national security and terrorism. It created two wars in foreign countries and altered the history of several countries forever. How many people saw it coming and planned accordingly?

    The Google analogy is equally potent. Google started as a search engine to rival Yahoo and a few other minor competitors. Google has now changed the way we use the internet and, by extension, the way we interact with each other on a global scale. Who would have predicted that the term “Google” would be transformed into a verb roughly translated into “find something on the internet?”

    The bare-bones point of these analogies is that almost nobody planned for these two events to alter our lives as they have. Yet, events like this happen almost yearly. Why don’t we expect them and how can we anticipate them?

    I will leave the explanation of those two conundrums to Taleb, but suffice it to say that he makes convincing arguments that we, basically, suck at predicting anything. We try to oversimplify everything into a nice, neat equation or number and to do so is incredibly presumptuous.

    I don’t want to dive into the concepts of the book too deeply, but I do want to point out one other concept that I found particularly thought-provoking.

    Taleb discusses the idea of the imbalance between negative and positive confirmation. Simply put, we need infinite examples of an event occurring to say that event is true. We only need one example of that event not happening to figure out that the even is not true. My favorite example is the turkey owner example.

    A turkey sees his owner bring him food and water every day. The owner brings the turkey sustenance every day for 1000 days and the turkey “knows” that his owner is there to take care of him. And then, Thanksgiving rolls around. The owner brings his axe to the turkey and not food or water.

    That turkey had 1000 examples to support the theory that “my owner will take care of me.” It now has 1 example of “my owner will not take care of me.” That is the asymmetry of confirmation. One negative example can overrule hundreds, thousands, or even millions of positive examples.

    Consider the statement: “The stock market has never lost 1000 points in a single day.” Then  . . . it did. So, I suppose we can’t say that the stock market will never lose 1000 points in a single day, because we have seen otherwise.

    There are dozens of examples that Taleb gives to illustrate this point and I will defer to his writing talents, but I thought it would be interesting to bring up here.

    Why should a commercial real estate pro read this book?

    Because models and projections run this business. Every decision we make is based on assumptions about rent growth, exit cap rates, ability to pay loans, etc. Our business is based on the ability to predict the future and, frankly, we aren’t very good at it.

    I will write an article later about how to incorporate Black Swans into project analysis, but for now, read the book.

    As a warning, Taleb can be pedantic and unmerciful. He has enough money that he doesn’t care about hurting anyone’s feelings and that allows him to be brutally honest and, in my opinion, makes him more readable. He skates the fine line of philosophy and practice. I enjoy philosophy, so it isn’t a problem for me but some readers may be turned off by his tone and presentation.

    All in all, I would say The Black Swan is a worthy addition to your library and worth the time to read it. But consider yourself warned about Taleb’s sharp tongue.

    The Black Swan in Two Sentences: We fool ourselves by basing our decisions on predictions of the future while refusing to acknowledge how poorly we can predict anything since we do not incorporate the probability of the highly improbable. Life and its components are not simple or easy to understand and any attempt to simplify them into formulaic or numerical predictions should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt.

    Pros: Interesting and applicable theme for everyone, complex ideas illustrated through familiar examples, entertaining (to me)

    Cons: It may be difficult for some people to apply the principles to their lives. Fairly complex, slight pedantic, abrasive, and brutally honest

    Target Audience: Anyone who uses predictions or assumptions about the future. This includes anyone who invests in the stock (or bond) market.

    This book is best for: Adults that use predictions or invest their own money

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:


    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

  • Random Thoughts

    Castle in the Sky

    Still working on my book review for The Black Swan by Taleb, so stay tuned.

    Until then, time to get random . . .

    1. I know I’m not really going out on a limb saying this, but Avison Young may be a major player in Atlanta over the next decade.

    2. Along those lines, watch out for Stream Realty. Ben and Simon are studs and they seem to be having a great deal of success in a short period of time in the Atlanta market.

    3. I recently realized that a good soundtrack and excellent cinematography are all I need to enjoy a rented movie. I wouldn’t pay $10 to see Tron in theaters, but I would spend $1 to rent it on Blu-ray at a Redbox.

    4. I think the first step in determining what a “Clean-Slate” Atlanta would look like is thinking about how we want to connect with other cities and countries. The best connected (or “Gateway”) cities are the most important.

    5. I also need a topographical map of Atlanta since certain property types are topographically limited.

    6. I think careers mirror our transitions from childhood to adulthood. Children just want to fit in and figure out how the world works. Adults want to stand out as excellent and distinguish themselves from the herd.

    7. Am I the only person alive who isn’t a Tim Tebow fan?

    8. How can a fella get great images for posts without paying for them?

    9. I think the greatest gift an up-and-coming CRE entrepreneur can have is creativity. Everything else can be learned, overcome, or outsourced, but creativity distinguishes the great ones from the rest.

    10. Employees never become billionaires.

    Have a killer Thursday.

    – Duke

  • Random Thoughts (Including Black Swans)

    I just finished reading The Black Swan by Taleb.

    It was great and I will include a review later, but for now I want to work the theme into my random thoughts for the week.

    1. The basic idea of TBS is that we oversimplify risk and everything else in life. In retrospect, to reduce any situation to a single equation seems a little ridiculous.

    2. The Falcons aren’t nearly as good as they were last year.

    3. I had someone tell me that the retail market in Atlanta may NEVER recover to the level we saw in 2005. Is that good or bad?

    4. I don’t think an MBA does much for the CRE professional unless he plans on working for a ritzy equity fund or REIT. I know just as many non-MBA CEOs and fund managers as I do MBAs in the same position. When I call you to discuss a deal, I could care less where you got your MBA. I care a great deal about how much you know about this deal, the submarket, and the financing climate.

    5. There are two kinds of people in this world: 1) people who like dogs and 2) idiots.

    6. Why is Post building apts downtown? I know Stockert and the team at Post are much smarter than me, but are there a lot of white-collar, young professionals who want luxury apartments downtown? I would love to get my hands on that demand/feasibility analysis.

    7. I have mentioned the ability to have two of the following three in any deal: Speed, Accuracy, and Cost Control. I think, as my career evolves, I will go for Accuracy and Cost Control. If I lose a deal because I am too slow, so be it.

    8. Is anyone ever going to buy the Clermont Hotel?

    9. I think I want a subscription to Atlanta Magazine. The restaurant reviews in the back alone would be worth the cover price.

    10. Finally, some rain. Keep it coming, God.

    Stay Random,

    – Duke

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