4min readBusiness 04 May 2019
Throughout my career, I've learned that the most fruitful business decisions start with an optimistic vision for the future. Whether that's seeing the potential to build new communities through real estate development or how investing in the right innovations can move entire industries forward.
Bold visions must be supported by comprehensive research, confident and capable teams, meticulous planning and, of course, good timing. But, it all starts with a vision.
Having served as a Commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission under Mayor Bloomberg during a period when the Commission approved several major influential rezonings, I gained a new appreciation for how development can transform or reinvent a neighborhood.
As a real estate executive, I have always aspired to work on projects that champion communities, empower businesses and enrich neighborhoods through thoughtful design and planning. Community—a group of people and businesses in a physical space—is my primary focus. If the streetscapes are inviting, if people are encouraged to walk through an area, if the layout is thoughtful, then the developments can become truly community-oriented spaces. After decades building community through real estate, I began to explore what other investments could enrich the lives of residents and businesses in neighborhoods.
Retail has always been a big part of my life. After college, I started my career in real estate by launching clothing stores in SoHo and the Village. These experiences in New York City retail were all-encompassing. For each store, I had to build my understanding of the market, the customer base, sales, inventory and communication without the help of the magical research tool that is the Internet. It was an exciting time to be in retail in those burgeoning neighborhoods, but the work of coordinating a business was often complex and labor intensive.
As my career progressed, I continued to work with retail tenants across many of my developments with Continental Ventures. I noticed in my conversations with them that not much had changed in the past 30 years in terms of logistics. Order fulfillment, inventory management and retail logistics are still elaborate processes that require mountains of back-end paperwork. I envisioned a simpler way of running a business: there must be a technology-enabled, full circle solution to make order fulfillment more seamless and less burdensome on brands and retailers.
Consumer expectations have also been evolving. Today's consumers want to buy from brands that speak to who they are and will often use online marketplaces to discover these brands. People want to know more about what they buy. The question is no longer just "What is a brand selling?" Consumers ask: "Where the materials are sourced?" "What is the environmental impact?" "What is the brand's mission?" Today, the role of a retail brand is not simply to get quality product into the hands of their customers. Consumers expect far more; they want to understand the story and message of the brand.
From what I have seen, retail evolves so rapidly that for a brand to be truly prepared for its future means it must have the flexibility to adapt. The interplay between online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores is exciting, and their relationship will continue to change as consumer preferences and expectations shift. The premise of omnichannel retail is that consumers need a mix of e-commerce and physical shopping experiences to meet their desires.
As a real estate developer, I recognize that physical presence matters in retail, and retail space remains an important element of any successful development. Research shows that more Americans are interested in urban living. For real estate developers, this means investing in walkable areas that meld together live, work and play—communities that include housing, employment opportunities, cultural experiences and shopping.
Shopping, of course, looks different today and my vision as an investor is to support technology that helps brands adapt to these shifts and engage their customers. If e-commerce continues to account for more realized sales, brick-and-mortar stores become an experiential complement to online retail. They are tactile showrooms, places for consumers to immerse themselves in the brand's mission, aesthetics and ethos. E-commerce and physical retail are not mutually exclusive—in fact, they enrich one another.
This dynamic is at play for one of my current SoHo tenants, ARJÉ. The brand positions each ARJÉ store location as a "home" and launches new clothing collections as "chapters." They express their philosophy through store design, which adapts to each new chapter but retains a cozy atmosphere with live plants, seating areas and a beverage bar. The online store reflects this friendliness and warmth, driving purchases around the world.
I believe in two models of investment: invest in what you know and invest in something related to what you know that has the support of a strong and knowledgeable team that executes the vision. My partner and I structured Continental Ventures as a multifaceted company that invests in integrated solutions for real estate-related businesses. We have had the opportunity and continue to invest in building communities, one building at a time; we are partners in a private equity lending business that supports this growth and most recently invested in an e-commerce marketplace and fulfillment business, Project Verte; all of these platforms are part of a larger ecosystem.
By investing in these types of companies, I have the opportunity to partner with forward-thinking leaders in e-commerce technology. With this investment, we work together to support a retail landscape that encourages brand-consumer relationships and nurtures valuable physical and digital experiences. I sincerely believe that innovation in e-commerce extends far beyond online shopping. It is all part of my vision for how people communicate and build community.
Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.
Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.
I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!
My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.
And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.
Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.
It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."
Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.