Peter S. Rummell
Peter S. Rummell is taking the helm of ULI at a pivotal time for the industry and for the institute, which is adapting to the shifting needs and preferences of members operating in a radically different environment.
Longtime ULI trustee and former ULI Foundation chairman Peter S. Rummell is the new chairman of the Urban Land Institute, serving a two-year term that began July 1. As ULI evolves in the postrecession environment, the new chairman will encourage a strategic approach to outreach that includes putting greater emphasis on relevance to the next generation of land use practitioners, reaching nontraditional stakeholders outside the design and development disciplines, and showcasing innovative, game-changing work.
Rummell is taking the helm of ULI at a pivotal time for the industry, which faces great change related to demographic, economic, and environmental issues, and for the institute, which is adapting to the shifting needs and preferences of members operating in a radically different environment. “In times of transition, it’s important to know who you are and where you are going,” Rummell says. “And, you have to deliver in a way that exceeds expectations.”
Now principal of the Rummell Company in Jacksonville, Florida, Rummell began his 40-year development career working at the Sea Pines Company in Hilton Head, South Carolina, for industry legend Charles Fraser. In his view, working for Fraser provided an ongoing education: Fraser constantly emphasized the value of building in a way that enhances the surrounding environment, and the importance of recognizing opportunities and potential, even in the most unlikely circumstances. It was a career-shaping experience for Rummell and his colleagues, including three, who like Rummell, would eventually become ULI chairman—James J. Chaffin, Jr., Harry H. Frampton III, and J. Ronald Terwilliger.
Chaffin, now chairman of Chaffin Light Management LLC in Okatie, South Carolina, had been with Sea Pines only a couple of years in 1971 when he was asked to help recruit Rummell to join Fraser’s team. “The company was in the process of growing from one community to seven communities. . . . We were on a hiring frenzy to go after the best and the brightest, and, of most importance, to find someone with not only the intellect, but the work ethic to go at it very hard. Peter distinguished himself. He fit the bill,” Chaffin says. When Rummell was dispatched to oversee sales and marketing at Amelia Island, Florida, “We were frankly amazed at how much work he would get done,” Chaffin adds. “Peter was very quiet, very thoughtful, ever the analyzer. And he was always coming up with creative and effective ideas.”
Rummell would later apply the lessons learned from Fraser as president of the Disney Development Company and chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering, where he guided major developments, including Celebration, Florida, a community widely regarded as exemplary of pedestrian-oriented design and connectivity. Former ULI chairman Todd W. Mansfield worked for Rummell at the Walt Disney Company from 1986 to 1997. “My personal development as a manager was tremendously enriched by the opportunity to work with Peter, in part because he was willing to give people significant responsibility at an early age,” says Mansfield, now principal of Mansfield Company LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “He is a strong leader who sets a direction, delegates authority to his staff, and then holds them accountable. Peter is a direct communicator: one doesn’t often lack an understanding of his view.”
Mansfield describes Rummell as “an unconventional thinker who typically sees patterns and opportunities before others.” This characteristic was apparent at Disney, he notes, where Rummell pioneered the modern-day manifestation of place making. “Peter’s vision shaped the growth of the Disney theme park and resort products, and his impact on the brand remains evident to this day.”
Rummell applied in his later work the
lessons he learned as president of the
Disney Development Company and chairman
of Walt Disney Imagineering, where he
guided major developments, including
Celebration, Florida (above), a community
widely regarded as exemplary of
pedestrian-oriented design and connectivity.
Rummell believes strongly in long-term planning and in settling only for high quality—two courses of action that guided his leadership of the St. Joe Company. As St. Joe’s chairman and chief executive officer, he led the firm’s transformation from a timber and railroad company into a nationally acclaimed development and operations company branded by its nature-conscious approach to development, including several resort communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast. According to Chaffin, Rummell’s ability to think long term and his unwavering commitment to top quality will serve him well as ULI chairman.
“ULI is a very dynamic, expanding organization; it is 75 years old and full of tradition. Yet, it is in need of creative, outside-the-box thinking to face the challenges of meeting the market opportunities and drawing a larger geographic and demographic mix. Peter brings this to the organization,” Chaffin says. “He is ‘sneaky smart’ and quietly prodigious in attacking complex challenges and opportunities. There are times when an individual seeks a job, but there are other occasions when a job seeks the individual. Now is that time with Peter. He is the right individual at the right time for ULI.”
Rummell recently shared his insights about the industry and ULI with Urban Land.
What led you to a career in the land use business?
Like a lot of decisions in life, it was not strategic: I did not have a passion for real estate starting in the fourth grade. When I was finishing business school in 1971, real estate was the “in” thing. I ran into some friends at Wharton who were interested in it, and to be honest, I kind of went with the flow.
What do you value most about having chosen that career path?
When I was at Disney, Michael Eisner once said to me, “There is a difference between a bad movie and a bad building. A bad movie is gone in a week, but you will drive by a bad building for 30 years.” I’ve always remembered that. The built environment is a special opportunity and responsibility to do things because they matter. There is both an obligation and an opportunity to get it right. I’ve made some mistakes, but generally, I think my choices have been more good than bad.
What made you want to get involved in ULI?
When I worked for Charles Fraser at Sea Pines, it was clear from the start that Charles felt strongly about ULI. He treated it as a university without walls; education was a hugely important part of Charles’s corporate ethos. I don’t know if it was required that we [Rummell and the other employees] get involved with ULI, or it was assumed that we would. But during my first couple of years, I found myself going to ULI meetings because everyone else did; Harry [Frampton], Jim [Chaffin], Ron [Terwilliger]—we all went. It just became a habit in the early ’70s. As someone entering the profession, ULI gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with high-level executives I had only heard about. That was fun.
What should ULI be doing more of or less of to improve, to stay relevant in the 21st century?
We need to focus much more on attracting young people. That should be an operational priority. I am 65, and I am not the future of ULI. There are a whole lot of 20- and 30-somethings who are. The challenge is how to respond to the fact that 35-year-olds do not live like I live, they don’t learn the same way I learn, they don’t work the same way I work; their interests are different and their habits are different. We need to make sure that ULI is interesting and vibrant for them, not for me.
Another issue is how we define ourselves [in terms of current and potential members]. Sometimes I worry that we are defining ourselves too narrowly. The world of land use is broad, and there are a lot of people outside the design and development industry who contribute to the built environment. I want to see ULI continue to step up its outreach to public sector officials, but we need to be casting an even wider net. Perhaps we should include pipeline layers, or oil drillers, or farmers, or oceanographers. There is a fine line between confusing the conversation and making it more interesting, and we need to make sure we straddle that line. Forming new partnerships with organizations outside the traditional realm is important for ULI to keep moving forward.
Also, I would like to see ULI go further in recognizing and championing innovative work. The institute has a long tradition of showcasing best practices, but we should ratchet that up to honor the game changers—the projects that really broke or are breaking the mold and have raised the bar for building practices. Charles Fraser was an innovator. He had a vision for conservation development that he pursued relentlessly when virtually no one else was thinking about it, and his work had a profound impact on what was built going forward. ULI should be celebrating the work that reflects that level of commitment, creativity, drive, and successful execution.
How do you see ULI’s priorities evolving?
I don’t see a change in issues that are important to ULI—housing, infrastructure, sustainability, capital markets, and leadership. All of these have a direct impact on the built environment. What is changing is the definition of ULI’s priorities to show the context in which we are addressing these issues. A priority is a commitment to do something about something.
For the past several months, Bret Wilkerson and others on the Policy and Practice Committee revisited ULI’s priorities. A lot of careful thinking went into redrafting priorities that are more in sync with ULI’s tenets and values and which better characterize how ULI is achieving its mission.
The result is a new set of ULI priorities, approved by the Executive Committee, which will serve as a strategic guide for activities and products produced through ULI’s program of work. The priorities are promoting intelligent densification and urbanization; creating resilient communities; understanding market forces and demands; connecting capital and real estate through value; and integrating energy sources, natural resources, and land uses. Each of these priorities incorporates some aspect of housing, infrastructure, sustainability, and capital markets—and they all require leadership. This feels right to me: it’s a new approach that provides more flexibility for what fits into ULI’s program of work.
How can ULI be equally effective, or more effective, in markets around the world?
That is really two questions: How can we operate in multiple locations and across multiple disciplines? and, Can we continue being everything to everybody? It is a challenge, but we are tackling it. We have successfully established ourselves in Europe and Asia, and there is a clear need there for the education and products ULI provides. This means keeping in mind that Germans don’t act the same way as people from Oklahoma, and we have to adapt, but that does not mean that what ULI provides is not viable in both places. I believe the better we are in Germany, the more valuable we are in Oklahoma.
Remaking places is becoming a huge issue in America. A lot has been built since the early 1960s, and much of the inventory is in need of a makeover. Europe has been remaking itself for 500 years. America can learn a lot from how countries in Europe have handled this, including issues such as gentrification. There are governance issues, there are infrastructure issues, there are code issues, there are design issues, and while the specifics may change, there is an envelope you do it in, a structure to it that is fairly universal.
Do you think the recent recession will make a lasting change on the built environment, on what gets built and where it is built?
The most important long-term factor is demographics. Demographics are a more powerful determinant than interest rates. But, this is not your grandmother’s recession. We have really been through something, and the industry is not two quarters away from where it was in 2007—particularly the residential market. Going forward, it [housing] is going to be affected by whether people still have a desire to own a home. The notion of real estate as a long-term investment has been shaken, and that is a memory that will die hard.
What have you learned from your time in the business about what really matters?
The process of creating places is not about individual buildings; it’s not about bricks and mortar. It’s about creating places for people. It’s a thoughtful process, and I’ve found the secret to success is to surround myself with people who are smarter than me. I am not saying this to sound humble; it is a fact. What you do will be determined by the quality of people around you—people who ask the right questions, people you can trust.
Correction: In the July/August issue of Urban Land, the article “An Unconventional Thinker,” incorrectly stated that Amelia Island is in South Carolina. Amelia Island is in Florida.