REIT CEOs Reflect on Greatest Career Lessons

What do you wish you knew when you became CEO that you have since learned?

REIT magazine: March/April 2019

Debra Cafaro, Chairman & CEO, Ventas, Inc. (NYSE: VTR)

"One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that the pursuit of perfection can impede achievement and excellence. Growing up, I always thought that I had to be 100 percent perfect to be successful. But I’ve learned from my own career, and watching others, that the world rewards and respects experience, achievement, and simply being in the game, even if there are losses and missteps along the way.

This knowledge spurred me to take my job at Ventas in 1999, even though my qualifications were slim at the time, and make the most of it for colleagues, shareholders, and business partners. It’s all about making things happen.”

Nelson Mills, President & CEO, Columbia Property Trust, Inc. (NYSE: CXP)

"What I’ve come to appreciate most since becoming a CEO is the high importance, and challenge, of growing a strong corporate culture. It’s essential to Columbia’s long-term success and requires much more than talented people, great properties, effective transactions, and strong relationships—all of which are very important. A rewarding culture demands inspirational purpose, trust, respect, and patience.

Developing and empowering our leadership has been key. Honing a strategy, assembling the right team, intrinsically rewarding the team’s success, and communicating that success internally and externally have made lasting impacts on our culture. Being honest and constructive about our shortcomings have been important too. Building our culture has required consistent focus over several years. I’ve learned that culture development is more akin to nurturing a bonsai tree than growing a vegetable garden.”

Don Wood, President & CEO, Federal Realty Investment Trust (NYSE: FRT)

"Prioritization of direction in a complex organization takes an awful lot of ‘gut feel’ about what’s important and what’s not; about what will actually make a meaningful difference in a company’s future, and what just won’t move the needle all that much. It requires not only seeking out knowledge and ideas from others and really listening and understanding, but, more importantly, it requires the ability to simplify all that input and glean those relatively few ideas that really matter. It’s hard, really hard, and maybe even impossible to be as good at it when you are a new CEO as when you become an experienced one.

Developing ‘gut feel’ takes time. When I think about all the wasted effort I caused for myself and our team in the early days by setting priorities that, in hindsight, shouldn’t have been priorities, well—I’m really glad I made it through. A strong economy at the time, a fair helping of luck, and persistence fighting up the learning curve were all required.”

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