In the ULI NEXT Global “Legacies and Leadership” session at the 2016 ULI Fall Meeting, three lions of the industry, all former ULI chairs, shared lessons learned from their careers in real estate—their inspirations, insights, challenges, and how their work has shaped their values and vision for the Institute’s future.
Moderator Marilyn Jordan Taylor—a former ULI chair, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and a partner and the first woman chair at Skidmore Owings & Merrill—began the conversation by asking the legacy leaders how they got their start in the business of real estate and their perspective on the industry.
“I had a plan without a plan,” said Jeremy Newsum, since 1993 executive trustee of the Grosvenor Estate in London, a privately owned property group with investments in 60 cities and 17 countries. He said he studied rural estate management at university, but since his family didn’t own a farm, he was drawn to urban real estate, and then worked to expand Grosvenor’s international development and investments for most of his career. Newsum said that success for him has meant continuing the Grosvenor family business, begun over 340 years ago, with landholdings that date back 1,000 years. Having that long view provides “perspective on the role of the past and into the future,” he said. “Maintaining that line in the link is more important than any current project or ego.”
Ron Terwilliger, founder of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing and a recipient of ULI’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, began his career out of Harvard Business School in 1973, working with Charles Fraser to develop Sea Pines, the environmentally planned residential golf resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. It was “a fantastic environment to learn in, with a lot of young, aggressive, smart people.” After a national recession and skyrocketing interest rates led to layoffs, he joined Trammell Crow Residential, developing apartments in Florida that sold within 12 months for a per-unit profit of $20,000. This experience convinced him that real estate was “the best risk-reward business, and dedicated me to the rental apartment business.” Trammell Crow partners were mentors from whom he learned generosity and “to be a good listener.”
“Ron Terwilliger was my first boss right out of college, and he was a great teacher,” said Harry H. Frampton III, founding partner and chairman of East West Partners, a codeveloper of the Denver Union Station Neighborhood, and a key developer in Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts. “We both got a doctorate degree in those first three years” at Sea Pines. His experience of economic downturn at age 22 to 24 was impactful: “I’ve been through four recessions and because of that have always wanted to be prepared. Cycles have been going on forever, and will continue.”
Other business lessons from these esteemed leaders included how to judge risk. “Data trumps the gut, but it can’t be all data,” said Newsum. “We could have all the right answers and inputs, and it could be a disaster. That’s what experience is all about. Risk is not just foolhardy; that’s madness. It’s judging the risk and reward.”
“You can get lost in the pro formas,” Frampton noted. He advised talking to salespeople and customers as a reality check on whether your development plan can fundamentally work. Collaborative work with architects, planners, and others, he added, is “the juice that makes things work.” Frampton said he’ll continue to develop projects that don’t involve cars. Denver’s FasTracks program is developing 57 stations, where rents are 15 to 20 percent higher, he said. “People are sick and tired of living in their cars. Minimize cars and you’re more likely to be successful.”
Frampton and Newsum discussed the importance of the family-owned companies they’ve led to continue to be successful with the next generation of leaders. All three agreed on the value of becoming involved in ULI and attending its meetings and councils to “listen to people who had done it before, absorb lessons, and network,” as Terwilliger noted. Frampton said he visited 20 countries as ULI chair, which gave him a greater appreciation for creativity and innovations in land use and planning outside the United States. “We need to try to expand ULI around the world and become a more international group. Now, at a time when politically we’re hearing about isolationism, we need to accelerate that approach, not decelerate.”
Taylor asked how they viewed their legacies and what real estate professionals and ULI could do to respond to extraordinary challenges like social inequality, international migration, and relocation in the face of storm surges and sea-level rise. Terwilliger, who retired as CEO of Trammell Crow after 45 years in residential real estate, said that it was “much more important to me to be remembered as a philanthropist than a businessman.” He has also chaired and generously funded Enterprise Community Partners and Habitat for Humanity International, and continues to work to change federal housing policy and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing, which he said was “a crisis affecting 20 million families in the U.S. and 1.6 billion people worldwide.” He called for preserving and building more affordable and workforce housing as a platform for a stable, healthy future for kids and families.
Frampton discussed the importance of a livable wage as the right thing to do, and also a wise business decision. He noted that companies like Costco that pay service workers better wages and benefits retain employees at a higher rate. He recently raised wages for his resort company’s 400 hourly employees to $15 per hour, saying it was “impossible” to live in the Vail Valley on $10 or $11 per hour.
Newsum, due to retire at year’s end, called on ULI members to take action regarding what he called “gross inequities.” The Institute “has to depart from the rich man’s world” to “see” the real world. “We’re gaining where many in society are not. Disparity of wealth is becoming so great. We have a compassionate view, but not a realistic view.” He urged ULI members to “call out more” against bad development in cities that does not further goals to address social and economic inequities.
Kathleen McCormick, principal of Fountainhead Communications LLC in Boulder, Colorado, writes frequently about healthy, resilient, and sustainable communities.