By many measurements, the recent 2013 ULI Spring Meeting was a major success—record-breaking attendance of nearly 3,700; content-rich real estate sessions on topics ranging from the DNA of place making to coastal redevelopment; news coverage from the largest-ever press contingent for our Spring Meeting; a record-high $607,000 in sponsorships; and a succession of dynamic keynote speakers emphasizing the rewards of innovative business strategies. An added bonus: a dramatic bayside backdrop, and a welcome reception on the USS Midway aircraft carrier—certainly one of ULI’s more unusual and historically significant networking venues.
Throughout the week, people walked the halls with a spring in their step. This is indicative of a generally improving economy, and it is emblematic of a broader recovery within ULI’s business lines. ULI is a multifaceted organization, but our business model is fairly simple: we produce revenue through our membership dues, meeting registrations, and service-oriented activities, and we use those net revenues to deliver our mission. There is a saying in the nonprofit world: “No margin, no mission.” Fortunately, ULI’s margins are improving, our revenues are on the upswing, and we are seeing benefits from the retooling of the organization over the last few years.
As ULI’s chief executive officer, I am responsible for designing and managing an organizational structure that can translate these net revenues into the mission, and to do it in a way that engenders confidence from our membership and a willingness to continue to support the Institute. I hope that many of you have noticed our recent achievements in communications, perhaps best exemplified by dramatic improvements in our suite of websites. When you visit uli.org, you will find that it is much easier to navigate and to locate what you need. We will continue to improve our work in this regard, with a stepped-up focus on developing much richer website content and increasing our capacity to produce short videos to encourage you to dig deeper into our knowledge base. In addition, we have put in place more consistent messaging across the various communications tools of ULI, including a much more robust Urban Land magazine, in print and online, that is integrated with our other communications tools.
We remain focused on two key areas:
1) enhancing the use of technology to deliver content and better connect members to each other; and 2) ensuring that ULI’s content is current, relevant, and useful. On the technology side, we are putting together an information-sharing and virtual ULI strategy that will have tangible and near-term impacts on your experience with the Institute, as well as a longer-term capacity to develop a more adaptive, more intelligent organization. This includes tools that will allow you to transact business with ULI much more easily and effectively, including on hand-held devices.
On the content side, we are heightening our emphasis on connection, integration, and efficiency. In this regard, we are making adjustments to the team structure and to our resource allocations to make sure that the information we produce reflects the interests of our members and the industry, and is relevant to societal trends and behavior. Examples of this can be found in two reports released at the Spring Meeting: America in 2013, which examined the housing and transportation preferences of several generations—gen Y, gen X, baby boomers, war babies, and the silent generation; and Generation Y: Shopping and Entertainment in the Digital Age, which looked at the shopping tendencies of 18- to 35-year-olds. One parallel finding: generation Y is upending traditional notions about both housing and retail development, challenging our industry to quickly adapt to the new needs and often-fickle tastes of this highly influential, highly mobile group.
Publications such as these reinforce ULI’s reputation as an objective source of information on real estate and urban development. But, the true source of ULI’s content is all of you—our members—offering your insights and expertise. The challenge is to capture, curate, and redistribute the knowledge you share at our convenings, and to circulate it more broadly through all of our networks.
One important avenue for creating, collecting, and disseminating ULI’s content is through our district councils. Many of you are active in the Institute primarily at the local level through the district councils and national councils, as they are called outside the United States, and this local network has been ascendant. We have reformed the business relationship between ULI’s global headquarters and the district councils, and we have created new capacity for strategic leadership within the district councils. In addition, we have invested in high-quality staff at the district council level; our executive directors make an incredible difference in the quality of our programming and the fulfillment of our mission.
Without a doubt, ULI is only as strong globally as we are locally. Our local presence is the foundation for our collective impact. While I am excited with the progress we’ve made with the district councils, we have yet to fully tap the potential of this key ULI network. The next step is a much stronger emphasis on our growing system of national councils, which currently includes 14 in Europe and seven in Asia.
This halfway point in 2013 marks the close of Peter Rummell’s term and the start of Lynn Thurber’s term as ULI chair. Peter has been a thoughtful leader for the past two years, and has left ULI firing on all cylinders. We are very excited about the Institute’s prospects under Lynn’s equally careful guidance. The positive changes we’ve put in place, combined with your wisdom, experience, and innovative thinking, represent a powerful force that is driving our organization to new levels of excellence.