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Meet four young executives who are shaping retail real estate

June 30, 2017

In every generation there are those who strive to make a difference. And surely, the retail real estate industry teems with opportunities for talented people. The recipients of ICSC’s third annual 4 Under 40 Awards can be said to have embraced the possibilities with gusto. This year’s honorees are Sam Ankin, co-founder and a managing principal of Northpond Partners; Ross Bailey, founder and CEO of Appear Here; Ross Cooper, president and chief investment officer of Kimco Realty Corp.; and Andrea Olshan, CEO of Olshan Properties.

The winners’ stories are at once diverse and enlightening. “This group was chosen because they individually and collectively are recognized by their ICSC Next Generation peers as leaders in our retail real estate industry,” said Whitaker Leonhardt, chairman of the Next Generation Leadership Board and an associate director in the Orlando, Fla., office of commercial real estate capital firm HFF. “Also, they embody the characteristics and follow crucial lessons that are important for other young leaders to learn from: work hard, be creative, be decisive, treat others the way you want to be treated, return phone calls and emails promptly, lead by example, give back to others in the industry, seek mentors, embrace technology — the list goes on and on.”

The 4 Under 40 Awards have become a cornerstone of ICSC’s Next Generation program, Leonhardt says. “With our third annual 4 Under 40, ICSC Next Generation has established this program as a tradition of honoring our peers and highlighting those individuals
who best represent our contingent within ICSC, those that are seeking education, networking and mentorship and looking for ways to advance their careers, and especially those who give back, volunteer their time and resources and serve the industry.”

The next group of 4 Under 40 honorees will be recognized at the 2018 Next Generation Conference, in Toronto.

SAM ANKIN, Managing principal, Northpond Partners
As a managing principal of Northpond Partners, the Chicago-based investment firm he co-founded in 2016, 37-year-old Sam Ankin says he derives much pleasure from helping promote retail real estate as a great industry. “And to grow, we need to attract young, great talent,” he said.

Ankin got his start in college, through the real estate program of the University of Wisconsin, though after graduation, he went into banking for a brief period. That changed when he met his future mentor, William A. Shiner, founder and CEO of The Shiner Group, a Wilmette, Ill.–based shopping center development firm. “He was probably the smartest, most disciplined person that I’ve ever known in the real estate business,” said Ankin. “Everything in life I think is timing-related, and I learned a ton from him. Being able to grow up in the 2000s, when retail was rapidly expanding and there were a ton of deals getting done, to work for someone who was super-disciplined at that time taught a lot of lessons going into the downturn of 2008–2009.”

With Shiner, Ankin helped build neighborhood and convenience shopping centers in the Chicago area over the next few years, worked his way through the ranks and in 2007 assisted Shiner in establishing Shiner Capital Partners. “We went from a pure ground-up shopping center developer to an investment company,” said Ankin. Shiner Capital created its first fund in April 2008, just before the onset of the recession. “From a timing standpoint, we were very fortuitous in terms of getting our capital raised and our ducks in order before the downturn,” said Ankin.

The 2009–2011 period was all about gaining experience and placing money, Ankin says. “It was a great opportunity to place capital and find good opportunities. We were able to expand outside of Chicago into the Southeast, with the main focus on North Carolina, and to expand up to Minneapolis.” Ankin raised a second fund in 2013 and then co-founded Northpond Partners with Philip Slovitt three years later.

Ankin is married with two children, ages 5 and 3. He is a lifelong Chicago native who says he has long been drawn to retail real estate. “I always gravitated to it, because it’s something that you always touch and feel. I thought someone like me could understand why a retailer or a restaurant would want to be at x location or at x intersection, because I was always a consumer. I was able to understand retail real estate a little more in terms of exactly where people wanted to be and how sensitive location was, whether you were in a suburban or urban environment.”

Harkening back to his college days in Wisconsin, Ankin says he believes in the time-tested notion that location matters. “A lot of people have taken credit for the slogan ‘location, location, location,’ but at the end of the day, we have to make sure [that] when we invest in real estate we invest in location,” he said. “We will never compromise on location when evaluating a potential opportunity. That’s the overwhelming core belief. Location is the greatest hedge against all this uncertainty and everything going on.”Ankin is also experienced enough to know that change and disruption are nearly constant — and more so today, given the impacts of the Internet and e-commerce. “Nothing is insulated from disruption or change, but as retailers evolve, as tenants leave, having that right location at the right basis from an investment opportunity — it gives us the best chance not only to survive, but also to have a successful, profitable investment.”

ROSS BAILEY, founder, Appear Here
Ross Bailey does not consider himself a “disruptor.” And yet that could be an apt description of the sort of change he has brought to the traditional notion of retail leasing. Bailey, at only 24 the youngest of this year’s 4 Under 40 honorees, is the founder and CEO of London-based Appear Here, an online marketplace for short-term retail space.

Until five years ago Bailey had absolutely no real estate experience. He dropped out of high school when he was 16. He got his start in retail by opening a temporary shop in London selling T-shirts commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in 2012 — quickly scaling back when Buckingham Palace demanded he stop. “We opened up this little store, and the next day we had 400 to 500 people queuing up — it was crazy,” Bailey said. “I got a call from Buckingham Palace saying they were banning us from selling the T-shirts, so, as you can imagine it got a lot of hype: We were selling banned Queen T-shirts.” 

But the experience led to Bailey’s discovery of the demand among retailers for temporary space. An executive at Under Armour contacted Bailey, wanting help to find a shop for the Olympics. “I thought if this huge brand is desperate to be calling me up, then I should try and solve this problem. I was looking at all these empty shops on High Street and thought: Can we give more people access to this space and find a new way of making this work? That’s what we set out to do.”

And so Appear Here launched in late 2013. To say the concept has taken off would be a vast understatement. Today Bailey employs roughly 50 people in London and Paris. Last year in London he launched 4,000 stores. This past April the company opened its first U.S. office, in New York City, and enjoys the backing of Simon Chairman and CEO David Simon, among others.

“I was naïve,” said Bailey. “I had no idea that long-term leases were a thing. I just assumed you could book a shop like a hotel. I couldn’t understand why I had so many friends that were artists or designers who were looking for space, and at the same time I was reading everywhere about people saying that High Street was dying and people wanted to shop online. I shop online, but on weekends I still want to go to a beautiful street and drink amazing coffee and discover amazing products and look at beautiful people; that’s what people still want to do.”

Bailey’s simple mission is to change the way retail real estate is leased. “I think this is the way things should be. It’s about widening the pool of people who could be exceptional retailers. Lease lengths the year I was born were 20 years, and now it still takes normally six to 12 months to do a deal. On Appear Here it takes three to six days, and whether it’s signing the legals or making the payment, it’s all done on an online platform. You’re removing those inefficiencies.”

His grander vision is to continue growing globally. “We want to help people launch their ideas, and to really make that happen and really create impact, you’ve got to create something that is global, because people think global now,” said Bailey. “If you’ve got an idea and you’ve got a small business, from day one you can go on a website and you can sell around the world. We want to make it that easy for people doing the same thing in the physical world.”

ROSS COOPER, President, Chief Investment Officer, Kimco Realty Corp. 
Ross Cooper, 34, president and chief investment officer of Kimco Realty Corp., is one of two 4 Under 40 honorees who are part of a next-generation family business. His grandfather is Milton Cooper, founder of Kimco, which is now the largest owner of open-air shopping centers in the U.S. “Obviously, retail real estate has been in my blood since birth, and I grew up indirectly in the business, whether I liked it or not,” he said.

Cooper attended the University of Michigan and decided to major in communications, in contrast to many of his peers, who tracked in economics and business. “I really wasn’t sure which direction I was going to go with my career,” said Cooper. “I sat down my senior year with my grandfather to talk about my future.” That conversation with Milton Cooper was a life-changing moment, Ross recalls. “He was very quick to point out that I was under-qualified, and he did not want my hiring to be viewed as nepotism in any way. He wanted me to earn it, which wI agreed.”

Cooper entered the school for real estate at New York University and completed his master’s degree in only 16 months. Then he was given a shot at Kimco, where he began as an analyst in the acquisitions department in January 2006. “I was doing whatever tasks I could to help out the team. We were helping with contract negotiations, site visits, sourcing opportunities, and in 2006 and 2007 it was an extremely hot market — we were evaluating 10 and 20 deals a week,” he said. “So it was a real great learning experience getting thrown into the fire, and then I continued to work my way up in that group for the first three-plus years.”

Then came the 2008 recession, and he was given an opportunity to relocate to South Florida in the firm’s operations group. “I was leasing and asset-managing our Florida portfolio, handling all of the rent-relief requests for the entire Southeast region. That was really a great learning experience for me, just really stepping away from the computer screen and the Excel spread sheet and having much more of a direct interaction with the tenants. It really brought a more meaningful viewpoint for me, and, I think, really helped round out my understanding of the business.”

As the market recovered he began overseeing acquisitions, dispositions and asset management for Kimco’s Southeast portfolio. Then he was offered a position back in New York to oversee investments nationally, which ultimately became the chief investment officer role. Just this year Cooper was promoted to president as well.

Cooper cites the values of “humility, responsiveness and adaptability” as being important. “I’m a big believer in the Golden Rule. That comes from my grandfather, treating others the way you’d want to be treated,” he said. “I also think you should be prompt and responsive. If I’m not early, I’m late. And if you send me an email, I will answer it right away.”

Though technically a Millennial, Cooper describes himself as “an older soul who values direct contact rather than relying only on email and text messaging. “I think it’s about picking up the phone, meeting somebody in person, having direct communication.” That comes in particularly handy with his three young children, Cooper notes.

“My grandfather has a saying: ‘The Clairvoyants’ Club meeting was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.’ I always loved that, because you never know exactly where the path of your career is going to lead you. It’s just impossible to see into the future, but if you prepare and expect for the unexpected, I think that things really can happen.”

ANDREA OLSHAN, CEO, Olshan Properties
As CEO of Olshan Properties, Andrea Olshan, 37, is another family-business executive with fond memories of growing up in a real estate life. She is the daughter of the firm’s founder, Morton Olshan. “My life is dotted with memories of walking properties with my dad,” she said. “He took us to all the major work events that he had — that was considered like a family vacation. I remember going to the reopening of a mall that he redid in Virginia when I was probably 7. I still remember the dress that I wore to it, because it’s probably the fanciest dress I’d ever bought up to that point in my life.”

Today Olshan Properties manages 10 million square feet of retail space in regional centers, community centers, urban areas and power centers.

Olshan says her path into real estate was anything but preordained. “I grew up in a time where investment banking was the job you got,” she said. “If you were smart, in college you would be a summer analyst in investment banking.” She did just that at Lazard Frères for one summer but was initially disappointed to be assigned to the real estate department. This, however, turned out to be a stroke of serendipity. “I really loved it. I found that I liked being closer to the asset, and my dad told me that he knew I wanted to work somewhere else, but if there was ever a time to come into the company it was then, because he was busier than ever and really needed the help.” That was 2004, and she has never looked back.

Olshan was cautious at first. “I was very scared about what reception I would get,” she said. “I was so conscious of being respectful and trying to work harder than everybody else to add value and not be a burden on the organization — or on anyone thinking that I was entitled. I’d grown up with all these people, and what I found was that there’s actually a ton of stuff that they were so excited for someone to come in and do. I ended up working out a lot of dad’s partnerships. It was really time to harvest a lot of those assets and the timing was great.”

In an interesting twist, Olshan is also her husband’s boss, since he is director of capital markets at Olshan Properties. Together, she and her husband, Michael Odell, have three young children.

Olshan says she learned much from the recent recession. “I was working for guys who’d been around a very long time and had incredible perspective, so while everyone was buying up everything and they thought this could never end, I was with people who were constantly saying how ridiculous this was and that there is a bubble and it can’t possibly continue like this. It kept me very grounded.”

Olshan understands that running a family company brings distinct challenges. “I hold myself accountable,” she said. “What I’ve always tried to bring to the business is a level of rigor and discipline. It’s very easy in a family business to be overly casual, and the downside of that is you could be sloppy. I always joke that answering to your family, you answer to a higher authority.”

Her advice to anyone entering the business is fundamental: “Be prepared, and do your homework. When you run an operating business, there’s so much coming at you day to day, it is just an incredible learning experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.” 

By Ben Johnson

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

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