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  • Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

    Image Courtesy Amazon.com

    You may ask why a site about commercial real estate would need a review of a book by Ayn Rand. Fair question.

    I would argue that Ayn Rand is not really an author. She is a philosopher, and, more specifically, an economic philosopher. She happened to write a few books in her career, but her main occupation was philosopher. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, is essentially a treatise on economic theory and the free market economy. Therefore, this book is extremely relevant to commercial real estate and all of the industries interconnected with it.

    Let me begin my review by saying that I think Rand is an exceptional philosopher and an amazing woman. I have written about her before and I hope that I conveyed how exceptional she truly was while she lived. Whatever I may say about her book, she was one of the more gifted philosophers of the past century and deserves credit.

    Having said that, I’m not sure I would ever read Atlas Shrugged again. It was interesting and entertaining . . . for the first 500 pages or so. Actually, I listened to it in my car on 50 CDs. So I should say that it was interesting for the first 25 CDs.

    I read my fair share of books. Last year I finished more than 20 different titles. So I have learned over time that there are certain writing styles I prefer. For example, all of the books that I read not named “Harry Potter” are non-fiction and business books. So I tend to enjoy a writing style that is heavily factual and balances interesting anecdotes and facts (think Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell).

    Therein lies my problem with Rand.

    Atlas Shrugged (and The Fountainhead) is a work of fiction. All of the characters and situations came from Rand’s vivid imagination. She has an exceptional talent for detail and description. She can take your breath away with her knowledge of the steel industry down to the grittiest detail of bolt sizes on industrial smelters.

    But I don’t really care about the bolts.

    I just want to know what Francisco and Hank Reardon are doing at the mill when one of the smelters over-heats and threatens the entire mill. Just tell me what happened, what they did, and why. That’s all I need. All of the superfluous details are . . . superfluous. Remember, I’m a business book reader. I want a quick anecdote, lessons learned, and how to apply it to my life. If Dagney’s lapels match the bluest hydangea on a wet spring day . . . I don’t really care. I want facts and lessons and I want them in as few words as possible. I highly value brevity and, as a writer, appreciate the skill it takes to develop the balance between description and brevity.

    Maybe the simplest way I can critique her is as follows: Rand is an exceptional philosopher and an average writer.

    You can probably tell that this isn’t necessarily a problem with Rand. It’s just my preference. I simply don’t prefer her writing style.  As I said, I value brevity and concision. She doesn’t. I only need Jim Taggert to speak a few times to know that he is an idiot and a dangerous man. Rand has him speak 200 times and beats that dead horse. To each her own.

    So, while I may not prefer her writing style, I strongly admire her philosophical reach and wisdom. She ardently promotes individual achievement while vehemently condemning those who would bring down the achievers around them. She abhors people like Jim Taggert who believe they are entitled to success and money and need only bring giants down to make themselves feel tall. I agree with her.

    She would hate that the top 5% of income earners in the US pay 60% of all taxes. She hates Robin Hood.

    Frankly, I can understand where she is coming from. As an aspiring high-achiever, I would be pretty peeved if I worked my hands to the bone to make a small fortune and then was made to feel guilty for my success, called greedy, called privileged, or called lucky. That would probably piss me off. I’m not trying to make a political stance or anything, but I can see how you would be upset if you worked that hard only to be called “lucky.”

    I can also see how it would be frustrating to have Uncle Sam take a disproportionately large chunk out of my income apple. The country is telling me:

    Hey! You! Successful rich guy/girl! You owe us a big piece of those huge paychecks you are bringing in! That’s our money! We know how to use it better than you would anyway!

    Yeah, it’s safe to say that would make me pretty unhappy. Rand gets that. And the whole premise of her book is: What if those high achievers and successful leaders refuse to cooperate? What if they just all walked away? What if the best and brightest people on the planet all quit and walked away because they were tired of the government taking their money and then changing the rules of the game they play? What would you do then? Who would you tax to pay your government bills?

    Interesting concept, right?

    I thought so too. And Rand does a fine job of taking that question to its most extreme conclusion. To ruin the ending for you: they all do quit, the world “stops”, many people die, and then the do-ers have a clean slate to start over with. You know they will build something great, because that’s what do-ers do.

    Rand has recently seen a burst in popularity as the current political party in the White House has been promoting regulations and ideas that tout “social benefit” or “the greater good” or “helping the less-privileged” while seemingly hampering individual achievement (cough, rights, cough). Rand uses weasels like Jim Taggert and Orin Boyle as the hideous underbelly of “social responsibility” and uses Dagney Taggert, Hank Reardon, and John Galt as her ideal men and women who value achievement and individualism above all else. When you learn the difference between these two groups of people, it’s easy to see why her popularity is peaking.

    So, in that sense, I’m glad I read the book. There are some deep philosophical waters to wade through in Atlas Shrugged and I enjoy discussing them with others who have read it. The $29.99 question is: Should you read it?

    Maybe.

    If you have more patience than I do, enjoy ornate descriptions, or just have an unhealthy obsession with philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is probably worth the price. If not, take this review and other reviews, get the main point, and apply it to your own life however you please.

    Either way, beware of Robin Hood and those who wish to punish the successful.

     

    Atlas Shrugged in Two Sentences: What if all of the achievers and brilliant men and women of the world went on strike? What would happen if they stopped the engine of the world and left it to people who make a living off the greatness of others or off the guilt of the successful?

    Pros: Very interesting philosophy on economics and free market capitalism, very detailed descriptions of industries like railroads and steel, well written dialogue

    Cons: Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong, at times redundant

    Target Audience: Anybody in any country over the age of 16, I suppose

    This book is best for: Readers interested in philosophy and economics and who have the patience to learn about it through the medium of business fiction

    Overall Rating: ♦♦ (out of 5)

     

    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

    flickr-user-extranoise

    I have hit a wall this afternoon and need to unload.

    You get to reap the benefits.

    It’s random time!

    1. I think ABC, Fox, NBC, et al, need to stop creating CGI-heavy show concepts. Any time I see a dinosaur or magical creature in one of those shows that is VASTLY inferior to Spielberg’s creations in Jurassic Park from 18 years ago, I lose a little, er, a lot, of respect for network execs.

    2. Now I feel old. Jurassic Park blew my mind back in the day and it is 18 years old. Jurassic Park is old enough to buy cigarettes.

    3. While we are on the topic of Spielberg movies, JAWS is the scariest movie of all time. Period. If you have seen that movie, it is in the back of your mind every time you put a foot in the ocean. You may have the occasional bad dream about bleeding walls or demon-possessed children, but the threat of a graphic shark attack is always there when you are in the ocean.

    4. I don’t think I could ever live in VA Highlands. Since I’m not a single guy looking to walk to bars, it has little appeal. I love the older houses, but the roads are tiny, the parking is the worst in the city, everywhere is crowded, and it just smells like hormones. No thank you.

    5. Similarly, what happened to Decatur? That place is awesome. When I was growing up, Decatur was the putrid swamp donkey of Atlanta neighborhoods. You only went there if you had a relative who made you. Now, there is a solid collection of unique restaurants (Iberian Pig!) and cool spots to hang out. It might be one of Atlanta’s most walkable neighborhoods. What the flip?

    6. I like the idea of Jamestown’s pop-up park near John Marshall. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it’s nice to see a huge CRE investment firm creating public green space. Seems very Mayberry, or something.

    7. Speaking of Jamestown, I saw that they got the redevelopment deal of the year in the Business Chronicle for Ponce City Market. How can you get an award for a deal that isn’t finished? You get awards for good ideas? If so, I better get some medals for those winners I am cooking up for 2025!

    8. Does any one else miss watching the X-files? I grew up watching Mulder and Scully, and I miss them a little.

    9. My boss said “if you are a developer for long enough, you will eventually file for bankruptcy. ” Hmmm. Ok. Then I won’t be a developer. I will be a real estate investor who happens to develop from time to time. Take that!

    10. The borrower really is slave to the lender. Trust me. I have first hand knowledge of what happens when creditors and debtors face off. Debtor = Bug. Creditor  = Windshield. Careful what debt you get yourself into!

    Have a killer weekend.

    – Duke

  • Goal Setting: The Ideal Day

    flickr-user-wolfgang-staudt-3

    This may be unique to me, but I think an integral part of setting goals for yourself should include your time.

    That is, I think you should plan for what you want your ideal day to look like in addition to what you want to accomplish or who you want to be.

    Most of us focus on deals we want to do, money we want to make, or roles we want to acquire as our career progresses. But, how many of us plan for how we want to spend our time in an ideal work setting?

    Maybe the simplest way I could ask it is as follows: Suppose I were to give you $100 Million, no strings attached, and you realize that you still want to have a career. How would you spend your time in those work days?

    For this thought exercise, let’s assume that careers have more intrinsic value than the basic need to make money. People like you and I are accomplishment-oriented and, as the great JoePa noted, there is only one major life event after retirement. We don’t stop being achievers when we have a bunch of money. Think about it. Think of all the start-up and business success stories you have heard about the entrepreneur who struck it rich and made so much money that they never had to work again. How many of them actually never worked again?

    Maybe 5%? Maybe less?

    Most of us love the rush of working and accomplishing things. That basic desire may change slightly, but it doesn’t fade when we get rich. It is still there and even the one-hundred-millionaire will want to work toward some goal every day.

    So, for this exercise, let’s assume you have enough money to do whatever you want whenever you want to, but you still yearn for accomplishment and efficiency. How will you spend your day?

    Do you see why this is a crucial question to ask of yourself? If you only focus on deals, money, and titles, you will work yourself to death and ruin your health and your relationships. I think you need to build some time into every day working on your life plan, not just your business plan.

    Consequently, what are the things you would like to do every day to have an ideal life? If your life were “perfect”, what would you spend your time doing every day? I’m not trying to dig too deep philosophically, but if you don’t think about what the perfect version of your life would look like, then how do you know what to aim for?

    So, back on point, what would your perfect work day look like?

    Here are a few questions to consider . . .

    What types of things would you accomplish?

    What time would you wake up every morning?

    How many hours of sleep would you get?

    How would you spend the majority of your time?

    How much of the day would you spend in the office vs your home?

    How often would you be on the phone?

    How much time would you spend meeting with people?

    How much time would you spend with family?

    How would you fit in your exercise?

    What else would you like to spend your time doing?

    How many days per week would you work?

     

    All of these answers are unique to each person and no one can tell you what you “should” be doing. You have to figure that out for yourself and I can almost guarantee that these answers will change over time as your temples gray. But you MUST have a plan on how to spend your time.

    When the shadows creep in, all we have is a collection of moments in our life. The greatest regret of a dying man may be to look back at his life and realize he wasn’t intentional with the way he used his moments. Those are the times when you hear men talk about “wasting their life.” That’s just a way of saying they wasted the time they were given on this earth since they didn’t intentionally plan how to spend those moments.

    Don’t you be like that. Have a plan for your time and how you want to spend it. I bet that you will realize that there are changes you can make today in your current life stage to get you closer to that ideal day. You certainly don’t need $100 Million to make the first steps in that direction.

    Take a few baby steps today and every year for the next 5 years and I am betting that you will find yourself much closer to that ideal day than you ever imagined you could be. You may just find that the $100 Million is an irrelevant consideration and that control of your time is more valuable to you than a huge paycheck.

    Lest I be accused of being a philosopher, here is my practical application. My ideal work day and week is below. Take note of how much time I spend doing each of my activities and how I answered the above questions. That should tell you more about my priorities and lifestyle desires than any long-winded rant could. I put a few notes at the end of the schedule.

    And here it is (click to enlarge) . . .

    Notes –

    7.5 hours of sleep every night. Reading at least twice a day. Running everyday. Goal time at the beginning and end of every week. Answer emails ONLY 3 times per day. Plenty of practice on delegating tasks and organizing. Three networking lunches every week. Three afternoon lifts every week. Mentoring or coaching every single weekday. Two bible study/small group sessions every week. Date with the wifey every week. About 11 hours every week with the family in the evenings. 40 1/2 hour work week with most of my time spent on making deals, driving markets, and visiting properties.

     

    Seems like a fun week and, frankly, a very efficient one. Notice how my goals conform to this ideal schedule. I need to find a role in which I am a deal-maker by phone and in person. I need to develop my organizational and delegation skills. I need an office that is close to a gym and close to my home. I need outlets through which I can coach and mentor young men (or my children). I need to stick to my networking in order to know the right people to call and visit property with during my day. And on and on and on. I can glean crucial data points to aim for now that I have this written down and recorded. If this is how I want to spend my days, I can now figure out what skills I should acquire and what contacts I need to make in order to get there.

    Anyway, that’s what my ideal day and week look like. What does yours look like?

    Visit this site and download the printable hourly calendar (I downloaded it to Word for editing). Fill out what your ideal week would look like and then take notes on what you are spending your time doing. How does that align with your priorities? Can you implement any of these changes right now? As I said above, start working toward that goal little by little and you may find that you have an ideal schedule before you ever become a high-powered executive. You may even want to show this to your boss. If he or she is a good boss, they will understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, and they will help you move toward your goal.

    Use this tool and these ideas in any way you please. Let us know what you come up with in the comments and remember that your time is your most precious resource and if you don’t plan how you are using it you may look back and wonder what might have been.

    Happy planning.

    – Duke

    (Hat tip to StudentHandouts.com for the great, free resource)

  • The Millenial Manifesto: Motivation

    aj-brustein-2

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t speak for everyone.

    I only know myself and my own issues. So any comments I make about my generation are simply an extrapolation of my own thoughts on my struggles, strengths, and style. So, please read my comments with a cautious eye.

    Today, let’s discuss motivation. Last time we discussed the Millenial Generation, we talked about loyalty and employers. To distill the message: If you can find out what motivates us, we will be just as loyal as any other generation. The $1 Trillion questions is: What motivates a Millenial?

    Allow me to shed some light . . .

    1. Meaning – I know it has been said a million times, but I am just as interested in “making a difference” as anyone else. Now, that phrase is certainly over-worked, but to me it means that I look back at my career and see that what I did improved the lives of others and improved the place I lived.

    Exploiting the arbitrage opportunities in the widget market in Southeast Asia’s developing economies can be extremely lucrative as a career, but that career would never allow me to go to sleep at night feeling like I truly accomplished something important or meaningful. I wouldn’t look back on that career with satisfaction knowing that I effectively traded the put options of textile conglomerates in Jakarta. Maybe that’s just me, but huge paychecks aren’t what I think will cause me to look back on a career with a sense of accomplishment.

    I have to make sure that what I am doing is a meaningful endeavor and not simply a job that pays well.

    2. Creativity – I need to have a certain level of creativity in my role. That isn’t to say that I need to be able to paint or write poetry. I just need an outlet in my day-to-day activities in which I am encouraged to think creatively, challenge the status quo, and invent new products or processes. That was probably the worst part of my job as an analyst.

    When I worked as an analyst, my basic role was as follows:

    Duke, here is a model. Here are some numbers. Put those numbers into that model. When you are finished, bring it to me and I will tell you how you input those numbers incorrectly.

    Does that sound like an environment that offers ample opportunity for creativity and inventiveness?

    There are certain time-honored traditions, battle-tested best practices, and hard-learned lessons that every member of my generation should try to adopt from previous generations. But every role should have an opportunity in which the employee can think creatively and dynamically about a problem that needs solving. All I really want is an environment in which I can approach a “boss” and say: What if we tried it this way? or Can I run an idea by you?

    If I am in an environment that fosters those types of discussions, then I will have all of the creativity that I need.

    3. Flexibility – If you measure my output, work-ethic, or effectiveness by the number of hours I sit at my desk, then you and I have a huge fundamental disagreement on what constitutes an effective employee. Life happens. People get sick, relatives pass away, friends get married, tires blow, lunches run long. If you micromanage the number of hours I sit at my desk, the vacation days I take, the phone calls I make, or any other way I spend my time, then I will try and find a way to leave your employment as soon as possible.

    Here’s why:

    You may think that you are paying me for my time. You’re not. In most CRE professions, we are paid for our output. Yes, attorneys and accountants are paid by the hour and need to log some hours, but for all of us who are deal-makers, we get paid by . . . making deals.

    Since I am not an accountant or attorney, my hours worked is irrelevant. My output is the only effective measurement against which I can be judged. If I can accomplish in 5 hours what others can accomplish in 10, why do you want me to work 10? Maybe your theory is that “the most successful people in our business are the ones who work the most.” If that theory is true, then I will choose “moderate” success in business and will have a collection of fun hobbies that I enjoy and a wonderful home life that I can experience to the fullest degree.

    This is a deep topic and we can discuss the ramifications of time management and our generation later, but the bottom line is: I want to feel like I am trusted with my time. If an employer tells me what hours I have to work, how many vacation days I can have, and how long my lunch meetings can be, they are essentially saying “We don’t trust you with your time, so you have to adhere to OUR time policy.”

    Why would I want to work for an employer who doesn’t trust me with my own time?

    4. Balance – I touched on it briefly in Flexibility, but a sense of balance in my life is extremely important. Every person defines “balance” differently, but I can tell you a little bit about what it means to me.

    I am not my job. We all ask someone “What do you do?” when we first meet them, but I never want to be defined by my occupation. If all I am to this world is a commercial real estate deal-maker, then I will have failed to live up to the expectations I have set for myself.

    One example that is unique to me is coaching. I coach travel baseball around Atlanta and I really find a sense of purpose and fulfillment through mentoring these young men via the game of baseball. That is a hobby of mine that I cherish and would not give up easily for any paycheck. Any job that asked my to give it up would have to be truly exceptional and I’m not sure that opportunity even exists.

    Another example is my wonderful wife. She is the most important thing on this planet to me and having dinner with her every evening is important to me. Occasions arise where I have to chose between my job and my wife. My wife will win every time. No matter what. Fire me if you don’t like it. I’ll be fine. If I can only be great at one thing in my life, then it had better be as a great husband. If you want me to chose work over her, then you and I are going to have issues.

    That is what I mean by balance. I have more than one passion in my life and I need to be able to pursue those passions without reproach or condescension from an employer.

    5. Autonomy – I’ll admit up front that this is a tough one. The proper level of autonomy and decision-making-power to assign to each employee is an extremely difficult target to hit. I have never felt like I had too much responsibility or autonomy. I always feel like I have had too little autonomy, but I understand how companies want to limit down-side risk by having decisions funnel up through senior management. I get that and it makes sense, but consider human psychology.

    Psychology 101 says every human everywhere wants to feel important. MMFI (Make Me Feel Important) is one of the oldest and truest leadership maxims in business. If you want loyalty, make people feel like they matter and are important to you. Make them feel like you trust them enough to make some decisions. For me, that means trusting me with a certain level of decision authority. If I feel like I have a reasonable level of autonomy to decide certain issues that arise, then I’m happy.

    I am not asking for the keys to the castle or to park in the CEO’s parking spot. I just want some freedom to make decisions. I want to feel trusted and respected enough to decide on issues that matter to my employer. I would pass on a higher salary position if I had to sacrifice autonomy. The company that makes me FEEL  powerful and important will have little trouble convincing me to stick around.

    6. Compensation – I want to feel like I am appreciated through my compensation. I DO NOT need to be the highest-paid guy around town. Let me say that again:  I DO NOT NEED TO BE THE HIGHEST-PAID GUY AROUND TOWN. But I do need to feel like I am treated fairly by my employer. The definition of “fairly” is totally subjective and dependent upon a number of conditions, but I will give you a numerical example.

    Let’s say I make $50,000 per year. Cool. Everything is hunky-dory.

    Now let’s say I find out that my friends who work in the exact same role make $70,000 per year. Not cool. My peers make 40% more than I do in almost the exact same position. All else being equal, I may start looking for employment opportunities at their company.

    On the other hand, if I found out that most of my peers made $55,000 per year or even $60,000 per year in the same role, I would be MUCH less tempted to look around. That extra $10,000 is important to me, but it isn’t THAT important to me. In fact, notice where this motivation falls on my little list. I found five other aspects of motivation that came to my mind BEFORE compensation. If 1 through 5 are checked off of my list, then this one becomes much less important.

    The bottom line to me is as follows:

    If I can pay my bills, take my wife to dinner once in while, buy a couple books for myself, and not feel like all of my peers are egregiously above my level of pay, then my compensation is  fine.

    I have plenty of time to make large paychecks and increase my income. For now, let me keep the lights on, take her to Buckhead Diner, have a copy of Man in Full, and not be the laughing stock of my peer network. Then you won’t hear complaints from me about my paycheck.

    7. Education & Networking – This one may be a little more specific to me, but the two best ways that I know to advance in a career are through learning and meeting people. I am a knowledge-junkie and a network-aholic. I am always learning. I can never meet enough interesting people. I would love for an employer to pay my memberships dues to networking organizations and to reimburse me for my CCIM or CRE continuing eduction classes. I’m going to pay them either way because I love learning and meeting people.

    It would certainly build some loyalty if an employer said “Duke, we think you’re important enough that we want to pay for your eduction and networking”. In that scenario, don’t you think I would want to say nice things about that employer at my networking meetings? (Hint: I would!)

     

    So there you have it. There are 7 main factors that motivate me in my business life. Other members of the Millenial Generation may feel differently, but I would guess that some of the above points are universal.

    Reviewing the above list, it strikes me that there are really just two common themes: trust and respect. Let me abbreviate the list according to those two themes:

    1. I RESPECT myself for my chosen profession. 2. My employer TRUSTS me enough to allow me some creativity in my role. 3. My employer TRUSTS my ability to manage my own time. 4. My employer RESPECTS my personal life enough to allow me to attain balance. 5. My employer TRUSTS me enough to allow me to make decisions. 6. My employer RESPECTS me enough to compensate me fairly. 7. My employer RESPECTS me enough to pay for the things that help me advance in my career.

    I can break down these two aspects on a deeper level in later articles. For now, consider your own motivation in the workplace. Do you have any to add to my list? Any of mine that are unfair or unreasonable? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

    – Duke

  • What Ayn Rand Can Teach You About CRE

    Image Courtesy of Amazon.com

    Ayn Rand is long-winded.

    She tends toward beating a concept into her reader and relentlessly emphasizing the stances of both the heroes and antagonists in her stories. She tells you almost every thought of every character in every section of the story. She tells you about character posture, facial expressions, and un-felt emotions. Can you see why each of her masterworks easily eclipse 1000 pages?

    Having said that, Rand was probably one of the most brilliant authors of the past hundred years. She had the unnerving ability to take a concept at it’s most basic and follow that thought to its most extreme and ultimate consequence. For example, she takes the idea that “man should live to serve other men” and takes it to its furthest and most damaging consequences. It really is astounding.

    She also had a talent for describing the inner thought lives of brilliant men and women. In her pages, she will describe the most secret thoughts of her antagonists and protagonists without making them appear as caricatures. She makes both sides of the argument seem believable while making the heroes out as obviously correct.

    She had an amazing grasp for the inner workings of high-industry and an economist’s grasp of the consequences of capitalistic ventures. She convincingly describes the fundamental trials of the architecture, railroad, and steel industries in the early twentieth century American economy.

    She was a master philosopher who chose fictional stories as her argumentative medium.

    All that, and English was her second language. She was born in Russia and migrated to the US in her adolescence. One of her first jobs was as an extra in a Cecil B DeMille movie.

    Anyway, that’s who Ayn Rand was and what she wrote about was objectivism and individualism. Objectivism is the idea that there is an objective morality for humanity to discover. One need only discover it. Individualism has several different extensions, but for our purposes we will take individualism to mean that people put supreme importance in the individual and individual accomplishment rather than societal good or societal accomplishment.

    On the surface, these may seem extremely selfish or self-centered themes of philosophy, but Rand has the skilled hand of an artist when it comes to illustrating these philosophies and their most stark consequences. In chapter after chapter she shows the heroes acting “selfishly” when they refuse to compromise or apologize for their achievements. The antagonists are continuously whining about “the greater good” and the “greatest social benefit.” She shows the absurdity of acting based on social obligation or guilt rather than ambition and achievement.

    Frankly, its a bit disturbing how similar these social complaints are to today’s political world. This is not a political site, but I would challenge you to read Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead and not be reminded of our current political system.

    Anyway, what does all this have to do with commercial real estate in Atlanta, GA?

    Everything.

    Rand believed in unadulterated capitalism. She was an extreme capitalist who believed that the only truly free economy was the laissez-faire free market economy. Anyone coerced through guilt to produce or create something different than what they would produce in a totally free market has been cheated by the system and should therefore reject the system. She has a remarkable story in Atlas Shrugged about what would happen if all the beggars in the world got to rule all the producers and achievers. It’s actually quite terrifying.

    So, for commercial real estate, what would Ms. Rand suggest?

    I think she would say “Do what you think is best for yourself and your family. No matter what.”

    Now, be careful not to confuse this stance with Hedonism. Hedonism is a philosphy that espouses doing whatever brings you the most pleasure at that moment. That is not what Rand is suggesting. She simply thinks that ambition and accomplishment can only TRULY be driven by striving toward self-advancement.

    You could summarize her sentiments as follows:

    “I want my family to have wonderful things. Therefore I will create create widgets in order to make money and provide for them.”

    Rand would say that you can’t guilt people into greatness. Henry Ford didn’t invent the production line in order to serve a greater good. He did it to improve his company and gain wealth for himself and his family. Ayn would probably argue that every great invention in history stemmed from ambition and accomplishment-for-accomplishment’s-sake, rather than social or moral duty. Your duty is to yourself and your family first, not society.

    So, back to CRE, I think Rand would tell you that you should do whatever you think is best for your career and your family. Advance yourself as much as possible and try to achieve extraordinary results. Don’t depend on others to help you or to push you into greatness. Do it on your own merits by pulling yourself up to greatness by whatever means are appropriate. Achievement and accomplishment are noble goals worth reaching for and no one ever became extraordinary because of their social duty.

    She would tell you to ignore and even pity all of those people who would make you feel guilty for your success or who would call you greedy because of your drive toward achievement. They will call you selfish or greedy and their opinions are worth next-to-nothing. They are the freeloaders who want the help of the achievers. They cannot achieve anything great for themselves and will therefore try and make you feel guilty for your accomplishments. They want to bring you down to their level. Ms. Rand would tell you to ignore them.

    While I do not agree with everything that Rand argues in her two major novels, I do agree with her point on achievement.  “Socially conscious” individuals try to make achievers feel guilty for their accomplishments and I can’t help but think of John Galt and Howard Roark (the two novels’ heroes). Galt and Roark wouldn’t care about the guilt-mongers and their psychological abuse. They wouldn’t care about what anyone said about them or did to them. They would keep going and keep achieving. So should you. Aspire to greatness and ignore anyone who tries to get in your way.

    I will leave you with one a parallel quote from late philosopher Dr. Suess. He doesn’t summarize all of Rand’s philosophies, but he does eloquently summarize the mentality to beat the guilt-mongers.

    “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

    So here’s a toast to Howard Roark, John Galt, and you. Achievers who were not deterred or even slowed by naysayers, doubters, or the “socially conscious.”

    Cheers,

    -Duke

  • Clean Slate Project: The Rules

    russell-reno

    You should know that I hate rules.

    As soon as someone gives me a set of rules to follow I immediately set out to see instances in which it would be appropriate to break each of them. The worst feeling in the world is the feeling of chains.

    Now that we’ve dipped a toe into my psyche, let me give you some rules.

    In all seriousness, the Clean Slate Project is such a wide and far-reaching project that we could be tempted to take it in any direction. In order for the experiment to have any meaning or purpose, we need to have some general guidelines. And that is probably a better description of what these are. We don’t have to stick to these rules. I just wanted to give a few basic assumptions and generalizations on the project so that the shared vision is clear.

    You’ll see more clearly what I mean below, but I wanted to give you a heads up that there will be a few constraints on this project and they are open for discussion. Feel free to argue and debate these in the comments below.

    Without further ado, here is what we are working with:

    1. Every town has to have a town center. For the CSP, let’s assume that City Hall is the center of town.

    2. For Atlanta to still be Atlanta, I think downtown needs to be within 10 miles of the current location of downtown. That is, you can’t come in and assert that downtown should be where Macon is today because that would be a Clean Slate project for Macon, not Atlanta. So, the new city hall needs to be within a 10 mile radius of the current city hall.

    3. Let’s assume that we have today’s technology. As fun as it would be to have Jetson-style flying cars and floating buildings, it isn’t really feasible with current technology and therefore isn’t projectable. This project should be something we can realistically project and quantify. I think it will be fine to use rare technology that has crept into the market (geothermal heating, solar power, etc), but let’s be careful how far we reach into developing technology.

    4. With every decision, let’s balance past experience, current constraints, and our future hopes for the city. That way we acknowledge our past, present, and future in every decision. So you can’t just make a decision based on what is best for today. You have to consider past examples that have failed and succeeded as well as the impact of this decision on Atlanta in 50 of 100 years. What if lawmakers thought that way?

    5. Let’s always respect the experts. The experts that will be interviewed for this project will have spent lifetimes learning and honing their respective crafts. Whether it is land-use planning, shopping center development, or traffic engineering, they know their stuff. So we should trust their widsom. That doesn’t mean their opinions of this hypothetical city are unequivocally correct or beyond reproach. But let’s commit right now to respecting and trusting the opinions of experts. They wouldn’t be “experts” if they didn’t know what they were talking about.

    6. Let’s make it look cool. Let’s find a way to present and demonstrate the progress of the project online in an attractive way. That is not my expertise, so I will have to ask for help on that but it is certainly doable.

    7. Let’s remain open to change. If we screw something up, then we’ll fix it. We can’t possibly know or anticipate all of the problems or issues facing an entire metro area. No one can (sorry, Kasim Reed). So let’s just stay flexible and open to change as we build from scratch.

    8. Let’s set the bar high. While we are shooting for the best possible version of the city, let’s shoot a little higher. What would the greatest city in the world look like? How would they handle transportation issues? Where would their airport be?

    9. We need to take our time. This is a massive project with hundreds of variables and moving pieces. Let’s not rush through it and try to get to a single answer. If it takes 20 years, so be it. Let’s do it right or not at all. And doing something right usually means slowly and methodically. trying to cram all that work and thought into a single year would simply yield sloppy results.

    10. Have fun. Think of it as a journey and not a destination. Yes, we are shooting to learn something about our city and our region, but the simple process of thinking through all these projects should be fun and interesting. Seeing a blank sheet of paper through an urban planner’s eyes is fascinating to me.

     

    I’m sure we can figure out the rest as we go along, but that’s a start for now. Let’s use those 10 rules/assumptions/objectives to start the charge. If we need to pivot and change course as we learn, no problem (See #7).

    Have a lovely weekend.

    – Duke

    If you want to read about what the Clean Slate Project is, click here.

  • Millenial Manifesto: Loyalty

    Even with my relatively healthy level of self-confidence, I would never presume to speak for or represent an entire generation of people. I cannot possibly know or articulate the sentiments of millions of people.

    On the other hand, I have been reading more and more articles and opinions about the trends in the Millenial Generation (a.k.a. MY generation).

    The talking heads seem to make blanket statements and proffer stark opinions about the penchants and preferences of my generation. We are “Entitled.” We are “Socially-Conscious.” We are “Transient.”

    OK.

    Honestly, I can see where many of these stereotypes originate. I have noticed trends in the behavior of my friends and classmates that echo these generalizations. So, I am not here to discredit or disagree with any label given to us Millenials.

    What I can do is tell you what I notice about us. This is sort of an “Us. – by Us” type of post. But, as I said above, I don’t speak for “us”. I speak for me. Anything labelled as “Millenial Manifesto” is simply my observations on myself, my friends, and my acquaintances in our generation. These are inherently subjective and therefore open to argument, but I feel obligated to clarify a few misconceptions about my generation since I have a forum in which to do so.

    So, without further delay, let’s discuss . . . loyalty.

    One of the common observations I hear about the Millenials is our transience. We tend to move jobs, switch careers, change cities, and generally shift major aspects of our lives on a dime. We can discuss the benefits and costs of this constant change later, but for now I would like to discuss one aspect of that ever-shifting life: employer loyalty.

    Maybe the biggest knock on our generation of young workers is the perceived lack of loyalty or “staying power’ that we have as potential employees. If a potential employer sees us a wild card employees who may up-and-leave or switch careers suddenly or jump ship for a better opportunity, I can understand a hesitation in hiring. I have heard that employees from our generation will have as many as 10 employers before we turn 40 years old whereas employees of our grandparents generation may have had 2 employers by 40 years old.

    On the surface, the statistics seem to favor the stereotype. But let’s dig into the assumptions of that type of statistic for a moment.

    Employers seem to assume that employee retention of 45-year-olds and employee retention of 25-year-olds is roughly the same concept. It’s not. Not even close. If I need to explain to you how a 25-year-old employee and a 45-year-old employee have different motivations and vastly different lifestyles, then you should stop reading now because we are about to go deep.

    I would also like to point out that a 25-year-old in 2012 is VASTLY different than a 25-year-old in 1992. That 25-year-old in 1992 probably didn’t have internet access, didn’t have a cell phone, and had never heard of email. Think about that. How much of our business today is conducted through one of those three mediums? The business world of 1992 and the business world of 2012 are so astronomically different that it is almost laughable to compare the two. So why to potential employers try to do so? Why are they comparing the way you compensated, trained, and retained employees from before the internet was integrated into business to after? How can you possibly compare those two business environments and their respective employer-employee relationships?

    Thinking about it intuitively, wouldn’t you expect staggering different business structures and practices from the days of (snail) mail to the days of Email? I would.

    So, all I am trying to point out is that we are not comparing apples-to-apples here. To say that employees today behave differently than employees of past generations is absurdly obvious. Business changes. So do employees. Comparing the non-interent generation to the interent generation is a pointless exercise because none of us can accurately predict how Gen Y or The Greatest Gen or The Hippies or whoever would have reacted to instant information.

    I am a couple Google searches, LinkedIn conversations, and cell phone calls away from figuring out the compensation and benefits package of an acquisition position in Kuala Lumpur. I could make an informed business decision about my career in another position in another country in less than 1 day. Does it surprise you that people move, shift, and change so much these days? They do because they can. Can anyone say that other generations would have behaved differently?

    If our grandparents could have had instant access to infinite information all over the planet, don’t you think they may have considered more than two employers before 40 came calling?

    Maybe. Maybe not. The point is: I don’t know. And neither do you. So let’s stop wasting time by comparing apple-to-oranges. The constraints of our business environment are so vastly different than their business environment that it is a nonsensical comparison to relate the two career paths because none of us can say with certainty what Brokaw’s Greatest Generation would have done with infinite information.

    And let me further turn this argument on its head.

    Simply put, if you motivate workers to stay, they will stay. It’s a simple as that. If I am convinced that the best course of action for my family and my career is to stay with my current employer, why would I leave? I’m not going to switch and change just for change’s sake. I will leave when I feel there is a better opportunity elsewhere. That’s it. That’s the only reason I can think of to leave a company.

    So, as employers put the blame on Millenial employees for their “whimsy” or “moodiness,” I will offer a piece of the blame right back at them. Our generation has a different set of needs, a different lifestyle, and different values than our parents, their parents, or any previous generation. We have shifted from our predecessors and if you haven’t shifted with us, then don’t be surprised when we leave for greener pastures. if you convince us we should stay, we’ll stay. Why wouldn’t we?

    The trick is, what do we want?

    (I want to reiterate that I speak only for myself and my friends here.) It’s rarely money. Money DOES matter as most of us cling onto whatever paycheck we can get our hands on in this dismal job market, but once a paycheck is more assured I find that the company that offers the most money is rarely the best option.

    This topic about what motivates Millenials has been well-discussed and argued in other forums and we can certainly discuss it here. But that is an article for another date. For now, I just want to leave you with this parting thought:

    We Millenails aren’t as different from other generations as you might think. We have our unique issues and desires, but at our core we are very similar to the preceding generations that have made this country into what it is today. And as far as loyalty goes, the trick is the same with us as it was with every generation before us. Figure out what it takes to make us stay and we will stay. That may be easier said than done, but isn’t that exactly what was done for every other generation?

    Food for thought.

    – Duke

     

  • 2012 Goals: APJ Edition

    Hello, my name is Duke, and I’m a goal-aholic.

    I love making goals. I make them in the morning when I wake up. I make them before bed at night. I make them when I am happy. I make them when I am lonely. I’m not sure when my life became dependent on goals, but it certainly is now. I have trouble facing any day in which I have no defined goals or objectives.

    Now, all of that is not to say that I achieve all of my goals. I just set them. Some I hit. Some I miss. It doesn’t really matter. Goals just give me direction and purpose. As I have mentioned before, charging off in ANY specific direction is better than aimlessly wandering in NO direction.

    I have found that goal-making is as much art as it is science. It isn’t all about numbers. Numbers are a big part of goals, but they aren’t everything. There are tips, tricks, shortcuts, and hacks that will help you create aggressive but achievable goals.

    For instance, every goal should be quantifiable. If you can’t count it, it isn’t a goal. Goals that can’t be counted are just hopes and hopes don’t put food on the table.

    Also, every goal should be aggressive. There are few things worse than assessing the accomplishments of a year and realizing that you set the bar far too low. Achieving mediocrity is an oxymoron. Mediocrity is NOT an achievement. To paraphrase the cliche: Shoot for the stars. Worst case is that you land in the clouds. (Some cliches are worth perpetuating.)

    We will certainly get into more on goals in later posts, but for now let’s look at the goals for the APJ for 2012.

    1. At least 100 new posts. That is roughly 2 posts per week. It should be fairly easy, but with a new job and several different ventures demanding my time I think I will be satisfied with 100.

    2. Integrate all social media. We have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but they are cumbersome and time-consuming. I want to be able to post once and have all social media outlets updated automatically. To quantify this goal, I should be able to have updates on all SM outlets within 2 minutes of finishing a post.

    3. Build lunch generator. I want to have a functional power lunch generator built on the site by December. I know this goal has a binary outcome (yes = 1, no = 0), but it is simple and straight-forward. My new programmer should be able to build this quickly.

    4. Increase SEO campaign. Previously I have been working to create enough content on the site that readers will want to stay and read a while. Now that I have enough posts to justify that, it’s time to start getting in front of people. To quantify this, I will submit to all major search engines and spend no less than one hour per week learning about and implementing SEO techniques.

    5. Interview at least 10 professionals for the Clean Slate Project. This should be fun. The Clean slate Project is both broad and deep. There are hundreds of qualified people to talk to about this project and selecting 10 should be a small challenge.

    6. Interview potential contributors. There seem to be plenty of young men and women with opinions and ideas in our business. I need to find the ones who can write about it with some regularity. I want to talk to at least 4 people in depth about the possibility of becoming a regular contributor to the APJ. If the right candidate emerges, then I will gladly welcome them as a full-time contributor, but I do not want to force that relationship. I never want an aggressive goal to force a bad business decision. So let’s start with in depth interviews.

    7. Create Photo Gallery. I love creative images of our city and its buildings and green spaces. I’m particularly fond of sunrise images. Ideally I would like for readers to have access to these striking images for cheap through our site. I am working with a photographer to collect images and present them in a gallery. By December I want users to be able to download those images for themselves.

    8. Create Newsletter. The easiest way for readers to get our content is through passively receiving an email. An email newsletter would be a great way for readers to get our content without having to work for it. So, whether it’s MailChimp or some other newsletter medium, I will create a weekly newsletter by December 31st.

    9. Find at least 5 similar blogs and guest-post on them. There has to be some great blog on CRE in NYC. Or LA. Or Chicago. Or Boise. Wherever. I haven’t found them yet through Technorati or other blog searches, but when I do I will start trying to post on them. That way I will refine my posting skills and increase visibility for the site. The goal is for 5 guest posts.

    10. Streamline Google Analytics to monitor site traffic. The best way to track readers and viewers of my site is through Google Analytics. While I already have a GA account set up, I haven’t optimized it. I need to spend no less than 1 hour per month on optimizing my use of Google Analytics to analyze the functionality and appeal of the site.

    So, there it is. I like to keep goals to 10 or fewer. Any more and I tend to forget or the goals get jumbled in my subconscious.

    Also, the simple act of writing (or typing in this case) your goals will tend to make them stick.

    Feel free to comment or give feedback on the above goals and I would love to read any goals you have for yourself for 2012.

    – Duke

  • Institutionalizing Entrepreneurship

    rooster-ruby-2

    I’m currently reading Keepers of The Castle. It’s basically just about about leadership in real estate.

    And while it commits the cardinal sin of combining commercial and residential real estate (if you don’t know what a cap rate is, then we aren’t in the same business), it does hit on an interesting point that merits discussion.

    In the introduction, William Ferguson (the author), argues that while the vast majority of real estate used to be owned and managed by high net worth individuals, the current trend shows more institutional buyers and owners are crowding out the “mom-and-pop” shops of the world. he refers to the phenomenon as the “Institutionalization of Entrepreneurship.” He claims that the entrepreneurial spirit of the small company has been gobbled up and adapted by the big, institutional players in the market.

    While I generally agree with that concept, allow me to offer a grain of salt.

    Many of the largest and sexiest properties are trading hands among the institutional capital. REITs are selling to pension funds. Hedge funds are selling to private equity funds. Sovereign funds are buying anything shiny and new. All of these players are vying and jockeying for the best and brightest commercial property in each market. They are leading the race down Cap Rate Mountain.

    One tier down from those properties, you have the solid B-class, semi-aged properties that tend to draw local institutional capital and private funds. These can be B-class buildings that are well-leased or older A-class buildings that are a little long in the tooth for some of the institutions. These properties are bought, sold, and managed by the local players in any given market. For Atlanta, think Selig and Goddard. These are still nice properties with highly-sophisticated owners that can easily obtain financing.

    The lowest tier is where mom and pop live. This is the local liquor store that was built in 1978 or the apartment complex from the 50s that has been owned by the same family since it was built. These are difficult to finance and tend to have leasing or structural issues.

    I haven’t finished Keepers of the Castle yet, but I think Ferguson may be referencing the ever-increasing interest of the institutions below thee top-tier of properties and what that may mean for smaller owners. As many of the institutional players have become comfortable with the risks of lower-quality properties and financing for the properties has become more readily available, we are seeing these funds buying B class properties all over town. Hence the perceived “crowding-out” of the smaller, local shops.

    To a degree, the argument seems intuitive and almost obvious, but here comes the salt.

    Properties age. Tenants leave. Submarkets deteriorate. It has happened and always will happen. There will always be C properties.

    And the market isn’t bifurcated into home-runs and strike-outs. There is a plethora of doubles, singles, walks, HBPs, sac flys, and bunts in between. Some owners will always be satisfied with these higher risk properties and their inherent risks. And I don’t envision Calpers wanting to own a liquor store on Briarcliff. There will always be space for Mom and Pop.

    So, while I do agree that THAT space is shrinking to a certain degree, there must be a tipping point. There is metaphorical line in the sand that the institutions dare not cross. There is a certain combination of market risk, leasing risk, and property condition that every REIT and fund in the country would cringe about having to justify in its quarterly statement to shareholders. The $1 Billion question is: Where is that line?

    How far down the hole will the institutions go?

    It remains to be seen, but for now I sense that the line has drawn back up the property food chain. The lack of funding and profound damage caused by the lower-tier properties has given the institutions the bloody nose of their life. They have been knocked down by these losses and are just beginning to get back up. My guess is that they will adhere to the one-bitten-twice-shy rule and try and avoid the lower-tier properties for longer than you might guess.

    So, while I agree that there has been a trend toward consolidation of companies and the down-tiering of investment grade capital, I would argue that there will always be a place and need for small-time, local owners.

    You may see more nimble, flexible, and aggressive whales, but there will always be minnows. And the ocean is all the better because of it.

    – Duke

  • Random Thoughts for 2012

    st-grundy-3

    Happy New Year!

    Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable holiday. I have a few articles coming your way in the next week, but for now let’s start the year off right . . . let’s be a little random.

    1. If you aren’t setting your goals for this year, then I won’t feel sorry for you when your peers pass you by. Plan to go somewhere and do something. Whatever it is, just shoot for SOMETHING.

    2. Being social is expensive. If I were to rejoin ULI, NAIOP, ICSC. AYREP, and CCIM, my dues would be well over $1000 for the year. Doesn’t that seem excessive?

    3. You know who could potentially make decent money in this market? A head-hunter. Submitting resumes on SelectLeaders is a waste of time. Most hiring managers are so inundated with resumes that a new hire is almost more work than it is worth. I’m telling you, a good headhunter is worth the fee all day every day.

    4. I didn’t really learn anything new from Dave Ramsey (because I am a finance dork and didn’t need to be told what a “mutual fund” was), but I am glad I took Financial Peace University with my wife before we were married. It was good to get us both on the same page financially and it helped facilitate our necessary conversations about money. Check it out here.

    5. I just plain don’t like working out at LA Fitness. Am I the only guy who is there to actually workout? I don’t want to flirt. I don’t want to flex in front of the mirror. I don’t want to watch the scantily-clad girls do copious amounts of lunges. Just lift. You know what I need? I need the gym from Rocky. The worse it smells, the better.

    6. I’m pretty much done with Mike Bobo. He’s a nice guy and all, but how many teams have come and tried to recruit him away from the Dawgs? Thinks about that . . .

    7. This is an interesting article about an unexpected byproduct of the tepid office leasing market.

    8. Katy Perry and Russell Brand are splitting up. What a total and complete shock that is . .

    9. Ayn Rand can teach you a lot about CRE. I don’t agree with everything she says or proposes, but she and I both dig unadulterated capitalism in a big way. If you behave, then I’ll write an article about it.

    10. As a real estate guy, I love density. I think the merging of uses into a single property may be the greatest trend of our (CRE) generation. But I will never give up my car. There is something freeing about knowing I can hop in my car and go anywhere anytime I please. And driving through the city on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Fall is just a few steps away from heaven. I don’t care how dense it gets around here. You’re going to have to pry that steering wheel from my cold, dead hands.

    Happy January and Roll Tigers!

    – Duke

     

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