The inaugural Robert C. Larson Leadership Summit was held as part of the ULI 2010 Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Boston. In accordance with Larson’s vision of infusing leadership DNA in ULI members, the Leadership Summit was designed to bring together 50 full members to focus on how enhanced personal and organizational leadership skills can benefit their businesses, their communities, and the industry. The invitation-only event included a diverse group of public, nonprofit, and private sector executives who have demonstrated leadership capacity, and provided them with an opportunity to share experiences and best practices.

The session, hosted by longtime ULI member John Griffin and held at the offices of his firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, was opened by ULI Chairman Jeremy Newsum, who welcomed those attending, outlined the program for the morning, and introduced Eric Larson, Bob’s son and president/CEO of the Larson Realty Group. Eric spoke passionately about Bob’s desire to “create a leadership legacy in the responsible use of land” at ULI and announced the kickoff of the Larson Leadership Initiative Fund to provide resources for the ULI Robert C. Larson Leadership Initiative.

David Gergen, head of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and senior political analyst for CNN, was the keynote speaker. Drawing on his decades of experience as an adviser to four presidents, Gergen spoke about leading in these challenging times, quoting Larson about the “care and feeding” of people and setting a vision from ULI’s 2009 book Keepers of the Castle by William J. Ferguson, co-chairman and co-CEO of FPL Advisory Group. A new generation of leaders is emerging from the military that has been in combat, displaying include great institutions, engaged citizens, and a culture of leadership, he said, and pointed to cities such as Chicago, New York City, Boston, and Indianapolis that have both strong leaders and a spirit of collaboration.

Collaboration was also a theme of the segment keynoted by Anil Menon, president of Globalization and Smart+Connected Communities for Cisco Systems. To Menon, collaboration includes embracing technology and firms such as Cisco at the beginning of planning for real estate development, especially for the huge new cities that will need to be built to accommodate the planet’s growing and urbanizing population. Much of the opportunity will be in India and the Far East; 70 percent of the world’s population will be within an eight-hour flight of Bangalore, India, he said. Cisco and other firms can provide new sources of funding to large-scale projects. Lance Patterson, president of Patterson Real Estate Advisory Group, commented that real estate professionals need to understand what is happening internationally and apply those lessons to the United States. Chris Frampton, managing partner of East West Partners–Denver, said the industry need to think more “gigantically. The guys from Cisco clearly are.”

ULI senior resident fellow Tom Murphy moderated a response panel of ULI leaders, including Eric Larson; Ferguson; Steve Kohn, president and principal of Cushman & Wakefield Sonnenblick-Goldman; and Frank Wuest, president of Forest City Enterprises. Murphy commented that while the panelists are aware of the impact technology will have on future real estate developments, the idea of technology companies being partners in the financing of developments is new. Murphy said the lively discussion involving Menon, panelists, and the audience about the role technology will play in shaping the workplace and home “sounded like an updated Jane Jacobs versus Robert Moses discussion about the importance of place versus the freedom to work anywhere that technology provides.”

“The industry’s next generation of leadership will have to embrace technology, not only to manage their businesses more efficiently, but also in developing new products and services and staying close to their customers,” Ferguson said. “Enlightened CEOs will surround themselves with technology-savvy infrastructure, which includes hardware/ software and human capital.” The event ended with the group working with moderator Michael Horst, ULI senior resident fellow for leadership, to help craft some parameters for the ULI Larson Leadership Initiative. There was consensus on continuing to hold events like the Leadership Summit and the CEO Summit at the Fall Meeting; carrying out leadership training in other components of ULI such as product councils and district councils; bringing in people like Gergen and Menon at future events to provide outside perspectives; and focusing provided a great deal of take-home value.

Kirk Humphries, chairman of the Humphries Company and former mayor of Oklahoma City, summed it up best: “I believe this and future summits will be most beneficial in helping identify and cultivate leaders within ULI and will be of value to them in their own businesses and careers as they lead ULI’s work at the local level and as they help ULI carry out its mission worldwide.”