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Staying Positive: A NAREIM Godfather Dinner with Dave Henry

2016-godfather-22In October, rising leaders from NAREIM member firms gathered at the Bull Moose Room of Keen’s Steakhouse, where notable American leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, and General MacArthur hung their pipes a century or more ago to meet a real estate leader and NAREIM Godfather, Dave Henry.  He started his career when institutional commercial real estate was a new idea – and has seen that idea evolve and grow through his tenure as CEO and Vice Chair of Kimco, as Chief Investment Officer at GE Capital Real Estate, and as a Vice President with Republic Mortgage Investors. His experiences through multiple cycles and in various corners of commercial real estate are a treasure trove of lessons for tomorrow’s leadership. 2016-godfather-29Mr. Henry’s career started at Republic just out of grad school making construction and development loans financed with 30-day bank notes.  When the market turned and the bank called in the notes, he directly experienced for the first time what his father had warned him all along: “real estate is a cyclical business.”  Republic fired 90% of their staff due to the downturn of the mid 1970’s.  “I saw first-hand how our business responds to a down cycle.  They only kept me because I was making $11,000 a year as an analyst.” At GE he was promoted to the sales department.  “I was an analyst, I had no idea how to sell.” But he found his way and was successful.  “One of the great lessons I’ve learned is if you ever feel pigeonholed, just raise your hand and try something else.” Mr. Henry could easily be described as a gentle giant, he is known and admired as one of the good guys. “When you work for a big company, there are a lot of sharp elbows.  It gets very political but nice guys can finish well.”  This nice-guy definitely has.  Commercial real estate is not a short term business.  The people, much like the assets, tend to stick around for a long time, through booms and busts, and people have long memories.  “Treat everyone the best you can whether they are above you or below you and that will get noticed eventually.” 2016-godfather-35Mr. Henry’s father was right. Real estate is, and will always be, a cyclical business. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that rates will stay low forever. Celebrate in an up cycle and be positive in a down cycle; that’s really important.  Even if you think the company is doing badly, stay positive.”  Mr. Henry’s positivity comes through with every word he speaks.  He wears a comfortable and honest smile at all times.  His indefatigable enthusiasm has been an underlying driver of success in good times and bad. But do not mistake a nice-guy approach as passive in any way.  Mr. Henry got ahead by asking for it. “Never be afraid to talk to your boss and tell him or her what you want to try.  Don’t wait for your boss to get fired so you can take their place.  You’ve got to make something happen on your own.”  Most describe commercial real estate as an entrepreneurial business and Dave Henry is no exception.  Even while working for a large company like GE, he focused on new opportunities, new approaches and new challenges. 2016-godfather-30The challenges did not come without fear or uncertainty.  Early in his career when he made the jump from being an analyst to sales, he admitted that it was a frightening leap.  He took the job with little confidence and even less knowledge but found his way to success.  That experience early in his career gave him the confidence to believe in himself.  “I really can’t stand it when I see managers pigeonholing people.  It’s such a waste,” said Henry in his conclusion.  “But it’s not only managers that are guilty of not expanding their view of an employee’s potential.  We quite often do it to ourselves.” At key points in his career, Mr. Henry chose to make a leap into uncharted waters. We should all be willing to do so as well. 2016-godfather-24
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