My New Normal: Weitzman CEO And President Marshall Mills
Retail real estate is one of the fastest-changing asset classes in commercial real estate as the coronavirus pandemic forces a majority of operators in the sector shut. Yet, Weitzman President and CEO Marshall Mills is not letting the pressure of a rapidly shifting environment slow him or his team down.
Mills admits his career and life are definitely operating on a different frequency these days, but his team of retail brokers is still closing deals while working from home, and the team of property managers is busier than ever.
He's also enjoying some extra time with family, particularly one furry pet, who has turned into an eager beaver office assistant.
Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life.
Mills: Daily, I’m on numerous Zoom calls and phone calls, including company-wide sessions and one-on-one meetings. Our IT department gave me, along with the rest of our team, the tools to replicate our offices at home. But instead of walking down the hall to talk to someone, I now pick up the phone or communicate with technology like Zoom or Jabber. Frequent communication now is more important than ever.
I always encouraged our team to work face to face or to pick up the phone, and not just rely on emails or texts. Technology gives us the option, in a time of social distancing, to hear and/or see each other on a phone call or a video chat. Either way, we’re communicating as much as possible in as many ways as possible, because communication is critical right now.
Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the homefront?
Mills: Our IT department, long before this crisis, had put in the hard work of establishing workflow systems to get our team working remotely.
The initial reason was a complete renovation of our corporate offices that began in summer 2019 and reduced our available office space. But the net result was, when our entire team transitioned to remote work, we experienced very little if any downtime.
Our accounting team, for example, over the past year established checkless payments and online reimbursement systems. Improvements like these were implemented to increase efficiency, but the move to paperless systems is thankfully in place at a time when they are necessary.
Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?
Mills: We have several business lines, including asset management, property management, brokerage, development and acquisitions.
Our asset and property managers are as busy as they’ve ever been, working with tenants and dealing with issues that are new as a result of this crisis, like traffic-pattern mitigation for our centers with a large number of curbside or pickup/takeout options.
And our brokers are reaching out to clients, researching sites, even cold-calling and showing properties with video tours. They all are connecting with each other, too, and sharing tips and tricks and best practices. Who would expect a time of working remotely to bring people together to work and share like this, but that is what is happening!
Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?
Mills: First and foremost, I worry about our people and their families. Their safety is our No. 1 priority.
Uncertainty is one of the most damaging factors for any business, and the uncertainty of the timing for a return to "normal" is one that has to be managed.
The title of your series, the "new normal," applies to every aspect of our business and our economy right now.
As this crisis continues, how we adjust to that new normal will be critical.
Bisnow: What was your lowest low and the highest high these last few weeks?
Mills: I’d say my biggest worry was for our people and their safety. We established work-from-home guidelines before it was mandated, because our people’s safety is first and foremost.
I think the biggest joy I’d had these past few weeks has been the way our team has come together to help each other, to help our clients and our tenants, and to keep working hard. After the initial adjustment to this new situation, the team has shown a level of energy and enthusiasm that makes me want to work harder for them. We are all working harder than we ever had before.
Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity?
Mills: I think it’s important to keep a schedule and to focus on the task at hand. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to work out, I read several newspapers and publications, then I go to the office in my home at 7:30 a.m. This is my usual routine, only now it means walking down the hall, and not commuting, to the office.
My family is everything to me, and we’re in this together, and that is huge for me.
Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks?
Mills: Several years ago, we rolled out a proprietary digital suite that allowed our shopping centers and our tenants, particularly smaller businesses and mom-and-pop concepts, to compete by reaching customers online and on mobile devices. The suite included shopping center websites, social media pages, targeted social media ads, e-blasts, tenant outreach and the like.
At the time, we saw this as a way for our small tenants to compete in an Amazon-centric world. I don’t want to say we were prescient, but those digital tools are now being used to let shoppers know which of our centers and tenants have curbside, takeout, pickup, delivery and all of these other options that are critical in this environment. And they let us communicate almost instantaneously with our tenants so we have the ability to make adjustments quickly.
I am finding that tenants and landlords and lenders are all working together to do what is needed to help us get through this crisis while minimizing any collateral damage. It’s times like these that you really get insight into people’s characters and ethics, and I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen.
That’s what I learned about our company and our industry; we know how to prepare and how to compete and how to work together.
Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?
Mills: Every day is precious, and you need to make the most of it.
I share the hope that tomorrow can be better than today as long as we are smart and prepared.