Archive for February, 2010

Don’t Put Off ‘Til Tomorrow…

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Raise your hand if you knew this was “National Procrastination Week.”

Well, it is. And don’t wait to write that down, ok? It’s March 1-7.

I only know this because a press release caught my eye late last week from Smead, a company that produces filing and organizational products. Here’s the gist of it:

Green stoplightThe causes for procrastination are many and are subject to debate – whether it’s a fear of failure, uncertainty of how to proceed, anxiety, or a nagging feeling of being overwhelmed. What’s not up for debate is that procrastination is a tough habit to break, and it robs millions of Americans of their time, productivity, and well- being.

“The good news is procrastination is a behavior that can be changed,” said Louise Kurzeka, a professional organizer who works with Smead. “Fighting procrastination isn’t as simple as willing yourself out of it, saying something like, ‘I won’t procrastinate with my next project,’ but it can be tackled with a strategy that suits your organizational style.”

Kurzeka recommends taking advantage of National Procrastination Week with the following three solutions for chronic procrastinators:

•The “Worst First” approach challenges the procrastinator to pick the least palatable part of the procrastinating task and get it out of the way up front.

•The “Pros and Cons” strategy requires the procrastinator to list all the positives that will result if they accomplish the procrastinating task as well as all the negatives that will result if they continue to put off action. The pros usually outweigh the cons.

•The tried and true method of “Divide and Conquer” helps the procrastinator break down all the steps of a task into manageable portions so the whole task feels less overwhelming.

Not surprisingly, Smead created a Web site that can help anyone determine their organizational style and provides tools to match.

The whole thing seemed pretty clever. I don’t know about you, but I learned something today.

Carry on.

Ben Before Congress

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

As part of his semi-annual testimony before Congress today, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke fielded numerous questions about the present and future of the commercial real estate markets.

BernankeWhile it pains me to hear the industry mentioned so often now as a target for the next wave of the economic apocalypse, I suppose it’s only logical. Thanks to a new Congressional Oversight Panel report earlier this month, CRE is the new target. As if the industry didn’t have enough problems.

Bernanke was asked repeatedly today about the “distress du jour” or the potential flood of foreclosed commercial real estate mortgages that might take down community and regional banks.

To be sure there is an abundance of misinformation regarding this topic in the public sector, which is also troubling. A congresswoman from Illinois had her reasoning all wrong as she asked Bernanke why federal regulators were putting more pressure on banks to write down their CRE loans. Plainly that’s not the case, as Bernanke gently noted that there is a cognizant effort among regulators to not force banks to write-down the value of their mortgages on commercial properties that are otherwise performing and not “impaired.”

He did mention that the best way for the CRE loan problem to rectify itself was for the economy to start growing . “That will mean more people in shopping malls and people getting jobs that take space in office buildings.”

From your lips, Ben…

Power Player Q&A: BOK’s Bryan Geiger

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010
As the new president of the Commercial Real Estate Council (CREC) in Oklahoma City, Bryan Geiger is an established figure on the local commercial real estate finance scene, and for good reason.

Geiger has been with BOK Financial (Bank of Oklahoma) for the past five and a half years, after spending six and a half years at MidFirst Bank. At BOK, he is a senior vice president managing a $180 million commercial real estate loan portfolio.

Those Were the Days My Friends…

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Back in the late-1990s, I was the editor and publisher of National Real Estate Investor magazine, the top CRE trade magazine (then and now) celebrating its 52nd year of publication in 2010.

For those who remember, those were the giddy days of Thursday night broker parties, endless groundbreakings for soon-to-be-see-through buildings, and unlimited, sky-is-the-limit opportunities. We thought those days would never end.

Oops.  My friends, in case you hadn’t noticed, they did. In fact, the dot-com bust of early 2000 drove a stake through the heart of that overbuilding, overzealous beast.

“So Ben, why are you bringing all of this up now? Don’t you know it hurts to reflect on the past by rubbing it in?”

NREI Jan 1996 sm2Well, I was vividly reminded of that bygone era recently while rummaging through my endless stacks of magazines at home. The NREI cover you see here is from January 1996. That’s nearly exactly 14 years ago that the leaders of General Growth Properties, Robert Michaels and John Bucksbaum, graced the cover and several inside pages as part of a company profile.

Today their once-proud firm is at the center of a takeover battle thanks to Simon Property Group’s $10 billion unsolicited bid on February 16 to buy the company out of bankruptcy.

I chose GGP for that profile back then and met with the company’s top leaders to write the piece. Over the years, I grew to respect and admire John Bucksbaum, in particular, for both his easy-going nature and his razor-sharp business acumen.

While Bucksbaum and the rest of GGP’s leaders stayed steady through the downturn of the late-‘90s and early-2000s, they were caught up in the next downturn thanks to an ill-timed merger and some highly leveraged property acquisitions.

In that cover story of 1996, I wrote a tagline that proved prescient to a point, “General Growth Properties is living up to its name.” It was growing, and had just paid $1.85 billion to acquire a group of malls from Homart, which at the time was owned by Sears (raise your hand if you remember that).

I also wrote that rumors were swirling that publicly traded GGP would soon be going private, something it had already done in a prior life back in 1985, but it never repeated that feat. One is left to ponder what might have been had that particular deal gone down.

To my mind, Bucksbaum was never a swashbuckler, nor much of a risk taker for that matter. Ultimately time simply ran out on him in a credit squeeze as his huge loans matured and there were no lenders with deep enough pockets left to refinance them.

Most of all, I suppose, the cover reminded me once again that even the sharpest minds can fail.

What Pundits Think, and Why it Does (and Doesn’t) Matter

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Last week’s annual forecast conference, this year sponsored by both the Commercial Real Estate Council and the Urban Land Institute, was a terrific start to Bank of Oklahoman Bryan Geiger’s presidency of the CREC. The content was terrific and insightful, and the networking was robust to boot.

What really struck me, though, was the apparently still fashionable national snub of Oklahoma City.

 Ouch. Let me explain.

Emerging Trends coverI have been a card-carrying member of the ULI for more than a decade. I’ve even served on one of its committees, the UDMUC-Green (shorthand for Urban Development, Mixed-Use Council). But the highly touted annual Emerging Trends forecast, which is a joint effort by the ULI and PricewaterhouseCoopers, is simply not complete, in my opinion. If it does not include major metros like Oklahoma City, the 31st-largest metro in the United States with a population of more than a million people for crying out loud, then something is dreadfully wrong.

As a national magazine editor for many years from the 1990s through the 2000s, I often used the Emerging Trends report as a useful guide. But I always realized it, like every report, contained flaws.

Now hanging my shingle in Oklahoma City, the flaws have become more acutely apparent. Last week’s conference only served to reinforce that notion.

ULI Senior Vice President Dean Schwanke, a great guy and a long-time ULI staffer, presented the Emerging Trends overview before a packed house at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. But he should have been better prepared. There was very little OKC-specific information, and might as well have been talking to a group in Toledo (not that Toledo is a bad place, but you get the idea.)

When asked if he knew about the recently passed MAPS program, Schwanke said “no.” Eyes rolled and credibility was lost in an instant. A quick 10-minute discovery session on Dean’s part would have uncovered one of the most significant urban renewal programs now being undertaken in any city – large or small I might add – in America. That’s ALL 50 STATES.

All of which gets to the point of why I created this website and its content. My goal was to create a central point of dialogue, a two-way street between Oklahoma City and the rest of the world when it comes to the all-important industry of commercial real estate. “World, here’s OKC and all of the great things happening here.” “OKC, here’s what’s happening in the rest of the world and there might be something we can all learn from it.”

Just last week, OKC received two of the biggest media “hits” in recent times, major coverage on both CNBC and in the New York Times.

Without a doubt, Oklahoma City has come a long way, but I was starkly reminded last week that we have a ways to go in our mission. Let’s hope that the larger national institutions of learning can get on the bandwagon.

Barron’s Reviews Sam Zell Book

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Barron’s has reviewed the new biography on Sam Zell, Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks, in its latest issue out today and focused heavily on the “future of newspapers” angle.

There is a strong Oklahoma connection here, since Zell’s number two man, William Pate, hails from Madill, Oklahoma, where several generations of his family owned the Madill Record.

Here’s the review:

Paper Chase

Reviewed by Susan Witty

EVEN IF YOU’RE REAL-ESTATE MAGNATE Sam Zell, you can’t win ‘em all.

That was evident in December of 2008 when Zell’s misadventure in the newspaper business — buying and running the Tribune Co. — landed the media empire in bankruptcy court. It was a spectacular comeuppance for the overconfident Zell, but in the year or so since then, the challenges he faced have become commonplace in the newspaper industry.

Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks: Inside the Contrarian Mind of Billionaire Mogul Sam Zell
By Ben Johnson,
256 pages, $25.95

By providing in-depth and revealing details of Zell’s botched effort to make the ailing Tribune into a moneymaker, Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks not only provides a compelling blow-by-blow account, it brings fresh insight into the troubles at many of America’s biggest newspapers.

Author Johnson is fawning at times, especially when recounting Zell’s earlier victories. Two highlights: creating Equity Residential Properties, which made him “the nation’s largest apartment landlord,” with 554 properties, and masterminding “the largest office REIT in the world.” While the book celebrates the deals, it keeps Zell’s private life safely under wraps.

But Johnson is blunt when writing about the Tribune fiasco, the heart of the book. Instead of triumphing as “the grave-dancer,” with a reputation for turning failing properties around, Zell simply dug his own grave. While the company owned such iconic newspapers as the Los Angeles Times, Zell knew zilch about the news business and even less about news people.

The following is how he addressed recalcitrant L.A. Times and other Tribune journalists. “You think I needed to do this?” he barks at them at a town meeting. “You think I needed to take on the Tribune because this is my way to maybe get a plane, or maybe I can live in a penthouse or maybe have a house in California if this works. I got all that sh-t, OK?”

Now, he has all that and something else: a large blemish on his once-enviable record.


If you have a subscription, you can see it on the Barron’s website here.