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VOL. 129 | NO. 92 | Monday, May 12, 2014

Real Estate ‘Titans’ Share Industry Advice

By Amos Maki

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In the 1980s Dan Wilkinson and Robert Snowden were deeply involved in developing Memphis International Airport Center.

Valerie Calhoun moderates CCIM’s Titans of Real Estate roundtable with, from left, Dan Wilkinson, Rick Wood and Leonard Lurie.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

But some in the industry had concern about the industrial park’s location near a low-income housing development and whether MIAC could be developed safely. Wilkinson said Snowden – who he affectionately referred to as Bobby – came up with a novel solution.

“Bobby went in and asked who the biggest, baddest dude there was,” said Wilkinson. “Bobby gave him a salary and told him he didn’t want anything to come up missing or anything else to happen. It was cheaper and more effective than insurance, cheaper and more effective than security, so you have to be creative.”

Wilkinson, past chairman of Colliers International Memphis, delivered that nugget of wisdom about creativity to around 40 commercial real estate professionals gathered Thursday, May 8, for CCIM Memphis’ “Titans of Real Estate” roundtable discussion.

The talk featured Wilkinson; Leonard Lurie, president of Lurie & Associates; and Rick Wood, executive vice president of Financial Federal. The Daily News, Shopping Center Group LLC, Utley Properties and Valbridge Property Advisors sponsored the discussion.

The evening was full of practical advice – and humor – from the three men who have spent a combined 130 years in the industry and been involved in billions of dollars of investment and development.

In addition to being creative, Wilkinson emphasized his “four Ps” for success in commercial real estate: persistence, patience, people skills and “Plan B.”

“Having a Plan B might be the most important,” Wilkinson said. “The way you initially envision the plan, it isn’t going to happen that way so you have to have a Plan B.”

Wood relayed a story about drive, desire and making meaningful personal connections in response to a question about keys to success in the business.

When Wood entered the lending business out of college, he was working in a basement – having bologna sandwiches for lunch – in the safety deposit sector for National Bank of Commerce. Meanwhile, Wood had a friend who worked on the fourth floor at NBC as an assistant to the president.

“There I was working in the basement and let me tell you it was very quiet in the basement,” Wood said. “I didn’t want to be in the basement that long. I aspired to be on that fourth floor where they were eating filet mignon instead of bologna sandwiches.”

Lurie also emphasized persistence. After working at an accounting firm, “in the basement of the county court house adding numbers up eight hours a day,” Lurie waded into commercial real estate, but he didn’t land plum assignments right away. After sticking with the business, he eventually was hired to manage Laurelwood Shopping Center, which gave him a much higher profile.

“I was a lot better leasing agent at Laurelwood than I was in Frayser,” Lurie said with a laugh.

Wood said dealing with people, even strange ones, was his favorite part of the job, and not necessarily the deals he worked on. He said he was sitting in his office one day when a man inquired about a loan for a shopping center. Wood told them man he would need some detailed information on the center, including a list of tenants.

“He said, ‘Buddy, if I had tenants I wouldn’t need a loan,’” Wood said. “Dealing with people and relationships is far more interesting than the deal.”

Lurie, Wood and Wilkinson said they were each lucky enough to work with visionary entrepreneurs during their careers.

“When I see a vacant lot and old building I see a vacant lot and old building,” Wood said. “But the entrepreneur sees it and asks if a CVS belongs there or if a Walgreens belongs there,” he said. “That entrepreneurial spirit causes Henry Turley to look stand on the Cotton Exchange building and look at Mud Island and ask why a Harbor Town isn’t there, or Michael Lightman to try to figure out where (Tenn. 385) is going and to buy everything around it.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
BANKRUPTCIES 31 153 3,270