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ICSC’s 2020 4 Under 40

December 10, 2020

ICSC’s annual 4 Under 40 Award honors the next generation of leaders in the retail and real estate industry. These leaders take active and visible roles in ICSC throughout the year, though that’s in their nature anyway. That includes seats on the ICSC Board of Trustees as Next Gen Trustees. Read more about this year’s honorees — Placer.ai’s Noam Ben-Zvi, ShopOne’s Bob Dake, Carbon Health’s Grant Guidinger and Brixmor’s Lauren Robinson — the future of the industry:

Placer.ai CEO Noam Ben-Zvi

Computers and data have been part of Noam Ben-Zvi’s life as long as he can remember. Ben-Zvi, 36, grew up in a tech family and began his college computer science degree at The Open University of Israel in Tel Aviv at the age of only 13. He joined the Israeli army after graduating at age 18 and spent seven years working with security systems and data collection. Later, he earned a master’s in computer science from Tel Aviv University.

Fresh out of the army in 2009, he co-founded a company called sales data intelligence firm BlueTail. Following Salesforce's 2012 acquisition of BlueTail, Ben-Zvi left the company, consulted, built a mobile game that became popular in Europe and then settled down in Los Angeles. He had been born in Thousand Oaks, California, and had spent much of his childhood in the Sacramento area, traveling back and forth to Israel with his father.

In 2016, he founded Placer.ai, which collects and sells various types of data to help shopping center owners. “We realized early on that data, specifically mobile-location data but also other data sets, can help shed light into what is going on in the physical world and we could provide very useful insights for decision-making,” said Ben-Zvi.

He was inspired to form Placer.ai after meeting NewMark Merrill president and CEO Sandy Sigal and former CBRE vice chairman Richard Rizika. “We were very much set on building a data company, and the idea to package that data for the commercial real estate was coincidental,” said Ben-Zvi. “We were newcomers, and at the time, I didn’t even know who CBRE was. I was living in my tech bubble, and I wasn’t much exposed to the huge world of commercial real estate.”

This led to Ben-Zvi’s first visit to RECon, in 2018. “We were blown away and decided to go all in on commercial real estate,” he said. “It was mind-blowing, the amount of companies. And I think also with tech people, sometimes there is a misconception that other industries are outdated, but at RECon, we met a lot of really smart people doing really sophisticated stuff that have been using data for many years, and they helped us figure out how to package it.”

Today, Placer.ai works with owners, brokers, developers and retailers, as well as municipalities and private equity firms and hedge funds. It has more than 400 customers and is adding five to 10 clients per week, from CBRE and Regency Centers to owners of one or two shopping centers or single retail properties. Placer.ai employs 130, half in the U.S. doing sales and marketing and customer support and half on the engineering side based in Israel. All work virtually.

“I feel like there is a lot more that we don’t know than we do know, so we try to spend a lot of the time with customers hearing about new ways they have figured out how to use the data or new verticals or new types of businesses that we could be helping,” said Ben-Zvi. Ultimately, he hopes to significantly improve efficiencies, helping customers make better decisions and doing it cheaply and more quickly. “We want to do this by making our data available to everyone, and we have some free tools that provide valuable insights and they are not just a teaser,” said Ben-Zvi.

“A big part of the company's mission is making this type of data super easily accessible”

Placer.ai’s products are designed for easy use. “You will meet 60- or 70-year-old guys who have been in the industry for decades at RECon, and you show them the product and they are like, ‘I will never be able to use this,’ and then a few weeks later, they are using it and using it effectively,” said Ben Zvi. “A big part of the company's mission is making this type of data super easily accessible.”

As Placer.ai grows, it is building more advanced reports to answer more specific questions, including void analysis and why stores are struggling, as well as new market evaluations. The product also is evolving from just mobile-location data to include migration and gentrification data, credit card data, demographic data, psychographic data, weather data, crime data and potentially hundreds of other  sources.

While COVID-19 has disrupted the entire retail industry, Ben-Zvi said Placer.ai data has become more valuable recently. “We become more valuable the more there is rapid change. It helps you monitor and understand the change and the main questions are, of course: What is coming back, what is not coming back. And then being able to adapt to the new environment.”

Ben-Zvi plans to expand into non-U.S. markets in 2022.

—Ben Johnson

ShopOne COO Bob Dake

In a year when COVID-19 caused many developers to pump the brakes on shopping center development, Bob Dake — the 36-year-old COO of ShopOne, a REIT that owns 25 open air centers across the country — pushed the company’s key projects forward with a desire to deliver essential goods and services to those communities.

Among the projects he oversaw were a new 48,387-square-foot Publix in Ormond Beach, Florida; the repositioning of a dark box with a 24,417-square-foot Aldi in South Plainfield, New Jersey; and a new lease with Tractor Supply Co. for 31,637 square feet that brought Columbus, Ohio’s Burlington Plaza to 100 percent occupancy. “To be able to deliver the strong results that our team has been able to deliver in 2020 despite being in the roughest waters certainly in my career — that’s the proudest I’ve been in my professional life,” Dake said.

In his early career at Equity One in Atlanta, Dake was a superstar leasing agent, known for his Rolodex, persistence and charisma. At Brixmor, he served as vice president of national accounts, overseeing retailer relationships across roughly 80 million square feet and 500 shopping centers. He consistently was one of the company’s leading producers, Dake says, a fact that he attributes to his strong relationships with co-workers, retailers, brokers and developers across the country.

“To be able to deliver the strong results that our team has been able to deliver in 2020 despite being in the roughest waters certainly in my career - that's the proudest I've been in my professional life”

In Dake, others see a trustworthy partner. “Bob knows this is a long-term business where relationships and reputations are important,” said Raider Hill Advisors president and COO Joseph Tichar, himself a previous 4 Under 40 honoree. “He’s not willing to ruin either of them over one deal or one negotiation point.”

Executives at ShopOne, which started in 2017 as an opportunistic acquisition of a distressed shopping center company, recognized Dake’s potential to make a greater impact. In 2018, he accepted the job of executive vice president of leasing for the REIT, charged with overseeing the leasing, merchandising and marketing strategies for the company. Focused on improving occupancy and net operating income, Dake ultimately reorganized and refined processes and procedures, all of which proved to be invaluable. In 2019, his team executed over 1 million square feet of space — new leases, renewals and options — generating significant value for the platform. His successes stood out. In spring of 2020, ShopOne promoted him to COO, adding the oversight of property management and construction to his responsibilities.

One of Dake’s greatest traits, colleagues say, is his ability to foster leadership in his team. They also note his steadying, knowing hand, even in the midst of turbulence. Dake credits his team’s cohesion as one of the reasons ShopOne was able to move forward during COVID-19. “I see my role as being a port in the storm and someone the team can lean on when the going gets tough,” he said.

The steadiness will be important as shopping centers evolve post-pandemic. He believes shopping centers “are going to continue to be more localized and continue to get closer to the communities where they serve,” he said. The ones that will thrive, he added, will “require a hands-on, active ownership group.” That’s something Dake knows a little bit about.

“I have such respect for Bob,” said Urban Edge Properties executive vice president and CFO Mark Langer. “I’m not a leasing guy, but I definitely lean on him for his input on anything regarding tenant negotiations or retailers that he believes in.” Langer says Dake’s personable leadership style and intimate knowledge of market dynamics, process efficiencies and retailer relationships will make him one to watch in the grocery-anchored shopping center space.

Dake himself has an eye on building up future shopping center leadership. As the co-chair of ICSC’s Nexus Conference and as a talent developer in his own company, Dake hopes to bring younger professionals into the fold. One of his personal goals is to “educate on the opportunities that exist,” he said.

He considers ICSC one of the best tools for such education, advancement and networking. “The more you get involved in ICSC and the more you network with your peers, the better a career you’re going to have in this industry,” he said. And as he looks to grow the industry’s talent base, Dake anticipates taking on more leadership roles in the organization. "I've always believed it’s important to pay it forward," he says.

—Rebecca Meiser

Carbon Health vice president of real estate development Grant Guidinger

Grant Guidinger is passionate about retail real estate. In addition to managing the retail growth strategy of technology-enabled healthcare provider Carbon Health, which he joined in November, Guidinger serves on the executive board of the ICSC PAC and is a past chair of both the Western Division Conference and Next Generation Advisory Board.

"Grant has a fire in his belly for retail development," said GameStop senior vice president of development Kim Ellis. Having volunteered with him for years and working as an advisor to his former consulting firm, Artizen Advisors, Ellis described Guidinger as a change agent for the industry and a dedicated mentor to many young professionals. "He is a natural born leader, and he's going to grow other leaders," she said.

WellBiz Brands chief development officer Matt Stanton said, "Grant is the most passionate person about the industry I know. You couple passion with a good mind for the real estate business, and that's a winning combination to rise in the industry."

And rise he has. In 16 years, Guidinger has worked in a variety of in-house and third-party brokerage and development roles. For most of the past two years, he worked with Stanton as vice president of real estate at WellBiz, where he led analytics, real estate and construction for the development of over 60 new retail stores a year for the firm's franchise brands, which include Amazing Lash Studio, Elements Massage and Fitness Together. Earlier in his career, he shouldered increasingly greater responsibilities at firms like Cushman & Wakefield and Baum Realty Group before his first foray into corporate real estate at Smashburger, where he managed corporate and franchise new-store development and real estate operations.

At Carbon Health, which offers primary and urgent care both in person and via virtual visits, Guidinger will spearhead development of new locations as the company sets out to become the largest provider of high-quality, frontline health services in the country, according to COO Will Abbott. The company received $100 million in Series C funding in November. Abbott described Guidinger as "a forward-thinking and analytical leader who considers not only where customers are and what they need today but where they’ll be and what they’ll need in the future."

“It's no longer, 'If you build it, they will come,' but, 'if you build the technology, they will come.' Technology will serve as a bridge for brick-and-mortar operators to provide consumers a customizable, personal experience when consuming goods and services”

Guidinger expects healthcare and wellness to create broad retail real estate opportunities for investors, property owners, lenders and vendors. The coming decade will be filled with innovation and creativity, he says, retail leading the real estate sector by driving brick-and-mortar experiences with technology. He points to food delivery apps as an early example of "technology-enabled disruptors" that are advancing the retail real estate business model. "The unit-level economic model, the ramp to stabilization, is advancing because landlords, lenders and consumers expect more than products on a shelf," he said.

Evolved retail strategies will use what Guidinger calls "the trifecta": Technology fosters demand and channels customers to brick-and-mortar showrooms while distribution centers complete the sequence. "It's no longer, 'If you build it, they will come,' but, 'if you build the technology, they will come,'" he said. "Technology will serve as a bridge for brick-and-mortar operators to provide consumers a customizable, personal experience when consuming goods and services."

Guidinger conveys his confidence in retail's bright future by mentoring, whether working with ICSC members or educating students about career opportunities in the sector. "There really is no better time to get into retail real estate," he said. "There is a tremendous amount of pain that will be parlayed into what our business needs to become, and students will find that to be more attractive than ever."

—Matt Hudgins

Brixmor re/development project director Lauren Robinson

For 37-year-old Lauren Robinson, this challenging 2020 actually has been a year of big, positive changes. She got married, moved to Chicago and joined Brixmor as project director of re/development. After nine years in the Macy’s real estate department, where Robinson (nee Kirk) helped spearhead the plan for the ambitious makeover of the retailer’s massive store on State Street in downtown Chicago, she now has a more direct role in re-creating retail centers.

“The real estate group at Macy’s was there to support the department store business, so the ability to redevelop was constrained,” she said. “My role at Brixmor revolves around repositioning centers for the next 10 to 20 years and positively impacting communities. These centers are a part of everyday life, and I have the chance to reinvent them into something that responds to the changes in the community, providing useful, inviting and enjoyable spaces.”

Robinson is a licensed architect and worked for an architecture firm in Atlanta after graduating from Cornell University. She then became interested in real estate and received her MBA at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. Working her way up to director of real estate at Macy’s, she handled the sale of more than $220 million in assets over the past three years, capturing additional value for Macy’s. Robinson also negotiated leases, legal amendments and site-planning changes with developers, including redevelopment plans and the restatement of reciprocal easement agreements. She joined ICSC in 2011 and has been a fixture at RECon in Las Vegas and other ICSC conferences and events since.

“These centers are a part of everyday life, and I have the chance to reinvent them into something that responds to the changes in the community, providing useful, inviting and enjoyable spaces”

Her involvement in the $100 million adaptive reuse of the 14-story landmark Macy’s building in Chicago, however, turned out to be pivotal. Amid the big shifts in department store retailing over the past decades, Macy’s no longer needed all 14 floors. Robinson’s team identified the highest and best use of the more than 1 million-square-foot property, which Macy’s had acquired from Marshall Field’s in 2005. Ultimately, her group came up with a plan to subdivide the building into a seven-story Macy’s store and upper-floor offices. Beyond crafting design and site-plan solutions, they had to work with the city, historic preservationists, community members and other groups to secure approvals and incentives. Brookfield Asset Management, which purchased floors eight through 14 in 2018, is nearing completion of the redevelopment.

“There were a lot of moving pieces that a developer probably has to deal with on every project, but it was new to me,” Robinson said. “I was already interested in doing development, but that project tipped me over the edge.”

At Brixmor, she will be on the front lines to meet the evolving retail landscape. COVID-19 has interrupted some redevelopment plans, she acknowledges, but potential projects range from razing and rebuilding centers to reducing square footage and bringing more restaurants and entertainment tenants to properties. Many discussions focus on adding uses like residential and hospitality, Robinson said.

As someone who can apply a sharp eye to site plans and who witnessed changes to virtually every market-dominant mall across the country over the past nine years, she has ideas on what works and what doesn’t. She said: “The retail centers of the future will likely better reflect a shifting culture that focuses on more than just shopping.”

—Joe Gose

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