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Meet four rising stars who are making standout contributions to retail real estate

August 1, 2019

The bar for being named an ICSC NextGen 4 Under 40 designee was higher than ever this year, because this annual award received the greatest number of nominations ever in its five-year history.

“We are excited to continue the legacy of 4 Under 40 with very bright and talented men and women who are proven leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including leasing, asset management, brokerage and consulting,” said Jessica Goss, vice president of Americas real estate at J.P. Morgan & Co. and a member of the national ICSC NextGen Leadership Board, which oversees the subcommittee responsible for the 4 Under 40 program.

This year also represents the first time someone from a retailer has earned the distinction: namely, Shake Shack’s Carren Ballenger Coston. The honorees were formally recognized during RECon in May. Besides Coston, who is director of real estate at New York City–based Shake Shack Enterprises, this year’s other honorees are Daniel Katz, founder and a managing partner and principal of New York City–based KPR; Whitney Livingston, CRRP, chief operating officer for projects at Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate; and Joseph M. Tichar, co-founder, president and COO of New York City–based Raider Hill Advisors.

“ICSC is thrilled to have such an outstanding group of 4 Under 40 honorees this year,” said Stephen Taylor, ICSC’s director of volunteer services. “The impact of having such a dynamic cohort of 4 Under 40 honorees cannot be understated, and we are excited to engage with this group of thought leaders as we recognize opportunities for the group to engage the larger retail real estate community. The ICSC team and NextGen Leadership Board will continue to focus on elevating the voices and professional insights of recipients as we capitalize on the momentum of the award’s best year yet.”

Carren Ballenger Coston,
Director of Real Estate
Shake Shack Enterprises

At only 36, Carren Ballenger Coston already has roughly 15 years of experience in specialty retail and restaurant strategic growth initiatives. And her résumé is unique also in that she is the first representative from a retail chain to receive a 4 Under 40 award.

As Shake Shack’s real estate director, Coston is spearheading the company’s U.S. growth strategy at roughly 100 stores across 27 states and in the District of Columbia. Prior to joining Shake Shack in 2016, she worked at New York City–based consulting firm Dallimore & Co., where she helped develop and implement national growth strategies for such specialty retailers as Allen Edmonds, Soft Surroundings and Vince. Before that, she was a consultant for Open Realty Advisors, being involved with the early expansion efforts of Apple, Aritzia, Madewell and Restoration Hardware (now RH).

Carren Ballenger Coston

Coston’s early industry experience also included being part of the J.Crew real estate team in New York City, where she was a lease analyst. Before moving to New York from Dallas, she was responsible for renewal and relocation negotiations for Chili’s Grill & Bar, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina and Romano’s Macaroni Grill, as an asset-management specialist for Texas-based Brinker International.

Coston attended Texas A&M University for two years and then transferred to The University of Texas at Dallas, graduating with a business degree. She credits her friend Valerie Richardson, vice president of real estate at The Container Store, for getting her into retail real estate. “I was working in marketing for a magazine in Dallas, and while I loved the marketing side of things, I realized I wasn’t into marketing in the creative sense,” said Coston. “Valerie said I could be involved in the ‘physical expression of a brand’ if I went into retail real estate, and I ended up finding my first opportunity at Brinker.” (Richardson is a past chairman of ICSC.)

“My biggest mantra here is to be a leader and not a boss”

In 2010 Coston was awarded the first Mary Lou Fiala Fellowship from the ICSC Foundation. That yearlong fellowship allowed her to create and implement a program to help promote the retail real estate industry by educating and mentoring university students. “That took my career to a whole new level,” said Coston. Indeed,
one of her many passions is mentoring the next generation of retail real estate leaders. She has participated in the ICSC RECon Student Mentoring Program and also joined in several panel presentations at ICSC events, sharing her expertise and outlook with members.

That mentoring mentality is evident also in Coston’s role at Shake Shack. “My biggest mantra here is to be a leader and not a boss,” she said. “I really try to put a lot of effort into grooming the people that work for me, just giving and empowering them with knowledge, so that they know the value of what they’re doing, versus just telling them what to do.”

Coston is heavily focused on bringing more talented people into the industry. “How am I going to make a bigger impact within our industry in recruiting people?
A lot of that is focused on women and minorities, which I think is a huge hole in our industry. I would love to see my time go to something like that a little bit more. I just want to make sure I’m continuing to promote our industry and bringing in the right people.”

At press time Coston was most excited, however, about a change in her personal life in the form of a new person in the family: Her first child was due in July.

Daniel Katz,
Founder and Managing Partner,

Retail real estate firm KPR recently celebrated its 15th year in business, and for founder and managing partner Daniel Katz, this represents the only job he has known. Katz founded Katz Properties in Boston in 2003, when he was only 23. Three years later he relocated its headquarters to New York City, his hometown. The firm’s first retail purchase was a grocery-anchored shopping center in the Boston area, followed by center acquisitions in New York and Philadelphia. Then came properties in Washington, D.C., and farther south along the Eastern Seaboard.

Daniel Katz

In January the company was rebranded as KPR (for Katz Properties Retail), and it now owns 35 centers valued at an aggregate $750 million, comprising some 5 million square feet across 14 states.

Just as the recession of 2008 was kicking off, Katz started buying larger properties, a strategic shift that the company maintains even today. “We found the opportunity to jump into the larger-deal sandbox,” he said. “The institutions were out of the market, and it was the perfect time for a smaller shop to come in and pick up some of the pieces. And we really haven’t stopped.”

Katz graduated from the University of Hartford, in West Hartford, Conn., with a degree in entrepreneurial studies and finance. He has participated in the ICSC New York Government Relations program, and he has served on the Next Generation Advisory Board, as well as on the board of Acquire Real Estate.

“It is a relationship game. Whether it’s knowing the buyers and sellers or knowing the larger tenants that are in our portfolio, you absolutely need to have the relationships to get ahead in this business.”

Katz directs KPR’s acquisition strategy and concentrates on delivering results for his investors. Starting out, those investors included “family and friends,” says Katz, but today they also include high-net-worth families and institutions. Katz is proudest of the firm’s consistency in buying $100 million to $200 million worth of new centers every year as it keeps on growing. “It started with me in an office in Boston with just a computer,” he said. “Now we have 40 employees, and offices along the East Coast.”

Katz insists that the 4 Under 40 designation is less about him than it is about his team. “Everything that we’ve done at KPR has been a testament to our growing team and the different talent we’ve hired over the years to help support the vision that we’ve had over the last 10 or 12 years,” he said. “Obviously, it’s great to get the [award] recognition, but to me, it’s all about my team. And I feel like they are the ones who deserve it, and that’s a big part of how we’ve gotten here.”

Katz employs a two-pronged investment strategy: buying and holding stable centers, as well as purchasing value-add centers that need stabilizing through leasing or redevelopment.

Katz has been a member of ICSC since 2003, and he says his involvement has proved crucial to his career success. “It is all about relationships for us, especially in retail,” he said. “It is a relationship game. Whether it’s knowing the buyers and sellers or knowing the larger tenants that are in our portfolio, you absolutely need to have the relationships to get ahead in this business. It’s really been a great opportunity and a great platform for us.”

What the next 15 years might hold is anyone’s guess, of course, but Katz says he is focused on geographic diversification — and on dabbling beyond grocery-anchored centers, through the exploration of more-urban retail centers. “I’m very focused, and I’m keeping my head down, sticking with my vision [about] where I want to see the company,” he said. “This is about building something bigger for the long term.”

Whitney Livingston, CRRP,
Chief Operating Officer, Projects,
Centennial Real Estate LLC

Whitney Livingston discovered her passion for real estate unexpectedly, after graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan University, in Lincoln, Neb., and then going on to co-found a Midwest-based textiles company. The process of negotiating leases with several properties and partners ignited her interest in retail real estate. After this, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, in 2005, to begin a career in marketing and innovation for key redevelopment assets at The Mills Corp. Only a year later, she joined Madison Marquette and spent the next 13 years in various roles and holding leadership positions in such areas as asset management, business development, project and property management, and marketing.

Whitney Livingston

A pivotal moment came as Madison Marquette was reorganizing from a regional office model to a national platform. At the time, Livingston was a regional director of marketing, but the new structure meant consolidating regional leadership positions according to discipline and then naming a functional head for each. “I will never forget when my boss and his boss shared that they’d like for me to take the most senior role in property management,” she said. “I had never managed a property.”

Because Livingston is an entrepreneur at heart, she found the opportunity to be highly motivating. “This translates well into real estate, as I approach every project as a new business: analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, as well as the market potential, then strategically designing and executing a comprehensive business plan to achieve our goals.” She quickly mobilized a strategic plan and held the role of senior vice president of management services for five years.

“Many say you are either born into this business or you fall into it”

“My favorite part about our industry is the pace — it’s fast and always changing, which forces you to always think ahead and innovate,” Livingston said. “It’s the perfect blend of art and science: Every project is different, allowing you to build upon past experiences but encouraging you to try something now.”

In 2018 Livingston became COO of projects at Centennial Real Estate and says the role is both the most challenging and the most fulfilling of her career. She works closely with senior leadership to create a vision for Centennial’s development projects, focused on growing asset values. “A daily focus of mine is to facilitate communication and collaboration between departments to ensure we deliver a fully integrated approach,” she said. “We have incredibly complex projects on bull’s-eye real estate, and each one creates a new, distinctive challenge and opportunity.”

Livingston says she appreciates the 4 Under 40 distinction’s unique approach to recognizing professional achievement through a prism of comparative youth. “Our industry has traditionally coveted the number of years of experience as one of the highest-ranking measuring sticks for qualifying a person’s contribution, or ability to contribute,” she said. “This award shines a spotlight on young leaders, and I am honored to be among this accomplished group.”

Throughout her career, Livingston has considered ICSC a valuable support. “Many say you are either born into this business or you fall into it,” she said. “Given that I fit into the latter category, ICSC has been a critical resource throughout my career.” Livingston is currently the organization’s state director for Texas (2018–2020) and the immediate past chairwoman of the Texas Convention (2017), and she also served on the inaugural planning committee for The Red River States Conference, held in January.

Looking ahead, Livingston sees a busy development pipeline for Centennial. “The announcement of recent department-store closures has created an opportunity to accelerate the timeline of our development projects, specifically in the Chicago market,” she said. Livingston says 50 percent of Centennial’s portfolio will be under redevelopment in 2020. “The sheer volume of projects, as well as plans for growth, is resulting in the most exciting time of my career.”

Joseph M. Tichar,
Co-Founder, President and COO,
Raider Hill Advisors

For Joseph Tichar, timing is critical. Soon after graduating from Case Western Reserve University in 2008 with a bachelor’s in business management and finance, he began an 18-month leadership training program at DDR Corp. (now SITE Centers Corp.). Only six months into the program, Tichar caught the attention of DDR’s Daniel Hurwitz (now co-founder and CEO of Raider Hill Advisors and ICSC’s 2019–2020 chairman), who asked him to formulate a strategic management transition plan to help steer the firm through the recession that was then under way.

Joseph Tichar

“I was clearly not qualified, and he was someone who believed in me and trusted me and gave me a terrific opportunity,” said Tichar. “Timing is everything in this business, and with real estate in particular, and also in your career. I started when things were pretty bad, and I learned a lot because I was put into a lot of challenging situations that, quite frankly, would not have been available if things were going well.”

Over the seven years following, Tichar climbed the corporate ladder and eventually became senior vice president of operations. When he and Hurwitz began looking toward the next chapter of their careers, they decided to start a consulting firm. Together they founded Raider Hill Advisors, where Tichar, 33, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the 26-person company’s advisory, management, investment and market-research services.

Tichar says he cherishes the experience of being a 4 Under 40 honoree. “It means a lot to be recognized by your peers and to be among such a talented group of people,” he said. “I’m not one to seek out recognition or to look for attention, so this is humbling and an honor beyond anything I ever expected. Candidly, it’s cool.”

“I remember my first conference was the New England Idea Exchange, and it was probably a month or two after I started in the business”

Tichar says his involvement in ICSC has been a game changer over his career. “I joined ICSC right away,” he said. “DDR was a big believer in the organization and had all of its new hires, especially the college graduates, join ICSC. I remember my first conference was the New England Idea Exchange, and it was probably a month or two after I started in the business.” Most recently, Tichar served as chairman of the 2018 and 2019 ICSC Nexus conferences.

Tichar brings to his occupation certain attributes that came to him from a decidedly unusual angle: He played offensive lineman for the Case Western football team beginning in his freshman year. “You wouldn’t recognize that I was a lineman — I was rather small for the position,” he explained. “But I did pretty well, despite the fact that I was undersized: There were a lot of people who had obviously more experience and were bigger and faster and stronger, but the stats speak for themselves — I have a mentality and a desire to perform and to do well.”

He asserts that the next stage of his career will involve expanding Raider Hill’s presence in the private sector. Recently, the firm has taken on the management and disposition of large property portfolios for both Toys ‘R’ Us and Shopko. “We’ve grown our platform from really a pure-play advisory business to a full operating platform where we’ve taken on assignments to manage and lease large portfolios of real estate.”

The focus will remain on retail. “We don’t get involved in other property types; we’re only focused on retail,” said Tichar. “Our goal is to find ways in a very evolving and fluid market to create value and to mitigate risk for our partners and our investors. We can be nimble, and we can be opportunistic.”

By Ben Johnson

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

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