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Retail Retold Episode 211: Leadership in a Post-COVID World with Adam Ifshin

DLC Logo overlayed on top of Tri-City Plaza in Vernon, CT

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Chris Ressa:
Welcome to Retail Retold, everyone. Today is a special episode. I am joined by my partner and friend, Adam Ipshin. We are actually not in the same place today. Adam is in Burlington, Vermont, and I am at my house this morning on this lovely Sunday. I’m excited for him to be here and have a great conversation. I think you will all have many takeaways. Welcome to the show, Adam.

Adam Ifshin:
Hey Chris, good morning on an early Sunday morning from cold and snowy Burlington, Vermont.

Chris Ressa:
Good morning. Is it snowing there?

Adam Ifshin:
It is not snowing now and sadly in the world of global warming that we live in, there hasn’t been much snow here recently, but it is cold and we did get some snow a couple of days ago which given why I’m here turned out to be nice to have.

Chris Ressa:
Excellent. Most people know who you are, Adam, but for those who don’t, can you give a little color about who you are and what you do?

Adam Ifshin:
Sure. Well, I’m Chris Ress’s partner. That’s the easy

Chris Ressa:
Hehehe

Adam Ifshin:
way to describe what I do. No, I am, but so I think most people in the industry certainly know for those who are not industry practitioners. I’m a serial entrepreneur, except I’m a serial entrepreneur inside of one platform for 32 years. 32 years ago, I founded DLC management, which started as a over the years and built the team over the years. And today, DLC encompasses a bunch of businesses under the DLC umbrella, all of which add up to about 120 people. Everything those businesses do have to do with the intersection of creating value where a retailer and their physical presence, real estate, usually their store intersect. And that includes everything from buying and redeveloping underperforming and distressed retail, to third-party services for both retailers and owners who don’t have their own operating platforms, to institutional joint ventures with large institutions to help them deploy capital into the space, new development of single-tenant net lease development in select markets for select clients programmatically, and then most recently it includes a general contracting business that we have built up since the start of COVID construction performance not only for our own business but for our retailer clients.

Chris Ressa:
That is quite

Adam Ifshin:
Mm.

Chris Ressa:
a list. I find it always interesting. And I’m just going to ask you a bunch of different questions, Adam, and we’re going to have a conversation. So nobody, this is not planned. Well, before I get there, let’s back up to Burlington. What are you doing in Burlington, Vermont?

Adam Ifshin:
So I’m in Burlington, Vermont, pursuing a philanthropic and business aligned passion, which is I am a sponsor, a lead judge, and a speaker at an event that is the largest enterprise case competition at a business school anywhere in the world solely dedicated to family business and family business matters. It is an event that my father, who I co-founded DLC with, was the original sponsor of 10 years ago. As many people know, we lost my dad six years ago. And since then, I’ve become very involved here with a cadre of global academics who focus on family business, as well as a number of other people. And we run a case competition for both undergraduate and graduate students from the top business schools around the world. And it is an extraordinary opportunity to dive deeply into the issues and challenges and opportunities, really the incredible opportunities actually, that family businesses provide to economies and societies around the world.

Chris Ressa:
Thanks for watching!

Adam Ifshin:
It is an opportunity to use my brain in other ways, which you know, but having to deal with being my partner is something I’m always looking for. thinking about not only DLC but other businesses and how We can grow and adapt to the times Around the challenges that family businesses face both now and in the future

Chris Ressa:
I honestly have no idea and I’m someone who I consider pretty well-read. What is a hot topic in family business today from an academic perspective?

Adam Ifshin:
So this isn’t what I what I’ve tried to do here is help draw it from the purely academic to the intersection of academia and re and the real world. And I will say this, and perhaps this is the reason why I enjoy it so much is the academia here is rooted in the real world. This is not ivory tower stuff. So the big the big challenges in family business, historically are. intergenerational succession,

Chris Ressa:
Sure.

Adam Ifshin:
allocation of resources as you move from the first generation to the second generation, hopefully if that’s what you want to do to the third or the fourth generation. And these businesses are large. I mean some of the most successful businesses in the world are family businesses. It is estimated that family businesses create and generate somewhere between 70 and 90 globally of the global economy. So that means that in the 10 to 30% category, you aggregate up Google, Amazon, Facebook, GE, General Motors, Tata, Alibaba, and the entire world of conventional large publicly traded, you know, non-family businesses, public and impact and the societal impact that family businesses bring. And as a result,

Chris Ressa:
That’s a wild stat.

Adam Ifshin:
it’s a wild

Chris Ressa:
It’s

Adam Ifshin:
stat,

Chris Ressa:
a wild,

Adam Ifshin:
right? It’s crazy.

Chris Ressa:
that’s a

Adam Ifshin:
It’s

Chris Ressa:
wild

Adam Ifshin:
crazy.

Chris Ressa:
stat.

Adam Ifshin:
But it’s

Chris Ressa:
Well,

Adam Ifshin:
so true.

Chris Ressa:
what. Well, how are they defining family business?

Adam Ifshin:
It’s

Chris Ressa:
What is

Adam Ifshin:
it.

Chris Ressa:
it? Because to me, that feels, that stat feels a little bit like it’s every business other than public companies. That’s what it feels

Adam Ifshin:
It’s

Chris Ressa:
like.

Adam Ifshin:
really not, it’s not at all. So if two unrelated people, I’ll give you a very classic example, right? Two unrelated people start a tech company and they grow that

Chris Ressa:
N-

Adam Ifshin:
business and they take private equity and that business gets to be very big. And one day they take that business public, whether they think it or not, they are not related, that is not considered a family business. An example

Chris Ressa:
Okay.

Adam Ifshin:
of that, right, Google. Right? That’s

Chris Ressa:
Right.

Adam Ifshin:
right. So, you know, Elon Musk, nine children not withstanding, Twitter and Tesla and SpaceX are not family businesses. So what generally defines a family business is that there are one or more members of the same blood-related family who start and then ultimately run a family business. So if you think about our industry, just to tie it back to industry is filled with family businesses, filled with family. DLC is just one of about a billion family businesses, right? Some of the biggest owners who you and I talk about frequently are family businesses, right? Benderson, right? So Randy Benderson is the second generation, his father and mother, Nate, and I forget his mother’s name started the business. And now his son, Sean, and his other son, whose name escapes me are in the business. That’s a third generation family business, but many, many, many of the are or were family businesses. Many of them,

Chris Ressa:
Sure.

Adam Ifshin:
right? In fact, the business school here at the University of Vermont has two buildings, right? The first building is named after a gentleman who’s alive and in his early 90s, his name is Eugene Kalkin. Gene Kalkin. I’ll get to Gene in a minute. And the expansion of the business school is named after Stephen He was

Chris Ressa:
Hmph.

Adam Ifshin:
also the founder of the home furnishings business in New Jersey, not far from where you live now, Chris, in Paramus in Oro Del, called Calcon, which he ran with his wife after he created and sold linens and things. Many family businesses start as family businesses and they get sold, right? Gene

Chris Ressa:
Sure.

Adam Ifshin:
sold linens and things initially to a majority-owned entity of Kmart, and they ultimately took it public, right? And then they spun it off. But there are many, many. The retail business is all about family business, right? My wife, Alicia, who you know well, right? She and her mother had a family business and her mother and her father and another couple had that business before them in the retail pharmacy space. Most retail chains in America started as family businesses.

Chris Ressa:
Got it. Well, that is super interesting. So you’re at this event in Vermont. I don’t know if you can share. Are they in this competition, are they like theoretically starting their own business? And that’s the

Adam Ifshin:
No,

Chris Ressa:
competition.

Adam Ifshin:
so

Chris Ressa:
What is the

Adam Ifshin:
this

Chris Ressa:
competition?

Adam Ifshin:
is a case competition and the way case competitions work, and there are case competitions around a lot of different subject matters. So there are just generic case competitions held globally. A team from UVM is currently at a case competition at the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University on the same weekend, and that case competition is all about diversity business. So no, here’s the way case competition works. The way case competition works is a panel usually as much as a year in advance puts together a strategy of what the competition’s going to include. And generally what happens is students are given a case, like they would be given a case to work on in business school and they have a limited amount of time to time to prepare for that case and to present in 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A to a panel of typically four judges, their view on the case

Chris Ressa:
you

Adam Ifshin:
as if they were advising

Chris Ressa:
Thanks for watching!

Adam Ifshin:
the business in the case. That’s the way these

Chris Ressa:
Hmm.

Adam Ifshin:
work. This is no different than if you go to a business school, undergraduate or graduate, that uses the case method to teach. So this is famously places like Harvard, talk at Dartmouth,

Chris Ressa:
Thank you for watching.

Adam Ifshin:
Kellogg at Northwestern. who rely on the case study and many, many businesses rely on the case study method. So the cases are generally timely. In a family business competition, they are focused on family businesses and usually about inflection points in those family businesses and how the team comes about to craft a strategy concepts that they’ve been taught in class, amongst other things, to come up with cogent, defensible, durable, and often innovative recommendations and solutions for challenges that a particular business in the case is facing. So for example, I don’t know if you and I have ever actually talked about this in all the years we’ve been together, but I actually, as you know, I came very, very close to taking and called it off. After that,

Chris Ressa:
Hey Adam,

Adam Ifshin:
yeah.

Chris Ressa:
Adam, Adam. So, your audio quality is fine, and I am…

Adam Ifshin:
Your, the

Chris Ressa:
And I

Adam Ifshin:
screen

Chris Ressa:
have…

Adam Ifshin:
has gone dark to me of you and it’s blinking.

Chris Ressa:
Because I did that, I did that on purpose. So I have on this platform, this wasn’t what we used last time I don’t think.

Adam Ifshin:
No.

Chris Ressa:
It enables me to do a few things. I turned off the video

Adam Ifshin:
Okay.

Chris Ressa:
and whatnot. Your audio is good, but your internet keeps coming in and out. I don’t know if you’re in a weird spot or if you could look at your wifi,

Adam Ifshin:
No,

Chris Ressa:
but you

Adam Ifshin:
I’m

Chris Ressa:
keep

Adam Ifshin:
on the

Chris Ressa:
getting.

Adam Ifshin:
Wi-Fi in the hotel and it says that the service is good. Wow.

Chris Ressa:
It says that it’s good. Do you hear yourself getting cut out

Adam Ifshin:
Not

Chris Ressa:
there?

Adam Ifshin:
at all.

Chris Ressa:
Okay, all right.

Adam Ifshin:
I’m sorry, that’s weird.

Chris Ressa:
You’re see like right there you sound perfect, but every once in a while you get cut. And so I think I there’s this platform’s got a lot of things. I think I’ve got it. I want to keep going and it’s because it actually says here. I enabled this thing low data that says low data mode enabled. Everyone is still recording in high quality. So that’s why I did

Adam Ifshin:
Okay.

Chris Ressa:
that because I heard a couple of like you were cutting out type pieces and that’s the one thing that’s hardest for them. at it. So I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I just wanted to ask that question.

Adam Ifshin:
Okay. So anyway, so I wrote,

Chris Ressa:
Keep

Adam Ifshin:
so

Chris Ressa:
going.

Adam Ifshin:
I agreed after calling off the, the IPO to be the subject of a case that would be written by the then Dean and now chaired professor of family business and entrepreneurship here at the University of Vermont that ultimately

Chris Ressa:
Wow.

Adam Ifshin:
led to her and I being co-authors of that case. Now that case has never been a subject of the competition for obvious reasons right it would be unfair for me to be both the subject and a judge

Chris Ressa:
Did anyone ever say you were stupid? Why didn’t you go public?

Adam Ifshin:
No, actually, for the most part, not to toot my own horn, most people thought I made the right decision. Most of the people who’ve read or used the case to teach thought that I made the right decision. Now, the case does not disclose what happened, right? So that’s part of

Chris Ressa:
I

Adam Ifshin:
the

Chris Ressa:
see.

Adam Ifshin:
challenge for the students. The other case, there are a number of very famous cases in the family business world, but perhaps one of the most famous family business cases is about a company you know, which is Aldi. know, and the Aldi family had some extraordinary blow ups in the 2000s. Uh, after the patriarchs passed on and they passed on with a lot of rules that turned out to be way too restrictive and a bunch of other things. So,

Chris Ressa:
Interesting.

Adam Ifshin:
um, and, and I mean, I’m all the lead all trader Joe’s. I mean, when you move into, when you move to Europe and then to Asia, you dominant players in the retail space, they are overwhelmingly family businesses.

Chris Ressa:
It’s a really interesting perspective. I work in a family business, but outside of this, of our four walls, I don’t think about it in the same way as you. So when I hear you speak about it, I’m just fascinated because I didn’t even know all those companies. I know a lot of what they do well. I know how they actually generate four-wall EBITDA pretty well. but to go to the next level and just think

Adam Ifshin:
Thanks for watching!

Chris Ressa:
of them as family businesses is not something that I do often. So it’s pretty good context.

Adam Ifshin:
Well, and

Chris Ressa:
So.

Adam Ifshin:
by the way, some family businesses, you know, become many times multi-generational. They move to where family members may or may not still be involved in the management of the business. They may be involved in the ownership of the business and not the management of the business. I think certainly the example in the United States that most people relate to the most is Cargill, right? The massive conglomerate out of Minnesota that now I think has north of 150 cousins in various generations who in some way, shape, or form are owners of the business. But

Chris Ressa:
150? Holy cow!

Adam Ifshin:
Cargill, I believe, is now mostly externally managed. Sure, I mean, think about it. And these companies, what about the Koch family and the Koch brothers, right? Another just

Chris Ressa:
Yeah.

Adam Ifshin:
massive, extraordinarily huge family business with obviously massive impact in many, many facets of American life, So, oh yeah, no, and these structures and the natures of them can get incredibly complex and they have an added dynamic, right, which is that you have to contend with generational transfer of wealth, divergence perhaps of family goals and values, and you also have to deal with it at a certain point in time. it logical for the management and leadership of the business to be separate from the management and the leadership of the family’s business and wealth affair?

Chris Ressa:
Right. I would say that piece, just a little inside baseball, and I honestly don’t know, and I think I have a lens in the room, those are pretty separate at DLC to an extent.

Adam Ifshin:
So, you know, turning this to DLC in the concept of family business for, I, and I’ve spoken about this, you know, not really in public before, but it’s no secret. I, and this aggravates to some extent, the, the, the family business practitioner crowd, I have always taken the view that deals, our goal is for DLC to be best in class and what it does. it’s a family business, that’s great. But I’m not saying, oh, well, we’re only benchmarking ourselves against other family businesses in our space. We’re competing for our three most important stakeholders, and they don’t care if we’re a family business or not. For the most part, team members looking for a great career in our industry with a great company, with a great culture, they’re not saying, oh, I’m only going to work for a family business. And we have many family business and back again. Retailers generally, and there may be some retailers that say, oh, I love doing business with long time owners, private owners, and those may be more likely to be family business. But by and large, retailers are focused on location and deal economics and the ability of the landlord to execute, not whether or not you’re a family business. And institutional capital, I think we can make an argument, is probably less attracted to family businesses because they perceive that there’s a lack of alignment between family investment, their investment needs criteria, particularly around things like duration and control. So if you think about all that,

Chris Ressa:
Yeah.

Adam Ifshin:
I spent 20 plus years of my career at DLC, a business that I co-founded with my father, expressly saying we were not a family business. And I did that for a number of reasons. One is because I think, and you know this because you’ve been on the brunt end of this sometimes, to be the absolute best we can be in our industry, irrespective of our ownership structure. If our ownership structure gives us competitive advantage to get there, fabulous. If not, it can’t be an excuse. That’s number one. Number two is, for a very long time, and you and I lived through this, the world believed that we were in a business that didn’t have a great future. And by the way, I chaired the awards last night with one of the senior most executive from Amazon, who’s a UVM alum, great guy. And the world would come to us and say, well, isn’t Amazon gonna put you out of business? Isn’t Amazon gonna make you broke? And you know, fervently, I never believed that. And fervently, we were proven to be right. And our contrarian thesis around investing in open air retail space turned out to be the solution, not the victim of e-commerce. And you and I and our whole team piece about this called the store one all of which you know but at the same time you know

Chris Ressa:
Hey, Callie and Katrina, I want to make an audiogram of that quote where Adam says open air retail is the solution, not the victim of open air retail. Thanks.

Adam Ifshin:
So one of the things though is that good entrepreneurs, family or not, they’re risk managers and they’re risk mitigants. So I didn’t want to commit that and I didn’t want to ever pressure my children, good business or not, that they should have to come into the business to keep it a family business. In part because of the landscape we were in and B, because the business is not easy as you know. It’s complex. It’s challenging. hopefully, to be able to follow whatever passion and whatever dreams they had and make them a reality. And I told my children consistently that if you’re interested, I’m interested, the business is interested. If you’re not interested, my fervent hope is that if you do have an entrepreneurial desire, and remember my children are the children of two entrepreneurs, if you do have an entrepreneurial that our family business, my goal would be that our family business would be so successful that if you wanted to start a business, you could come home to the table that you grew up having dinner at and that all of the angel and seed investors you would ever need to start a business would be in and around that table, would be your mom, your dad, your siblings, and your siblings significantly.

Chris Ressa:
Fascinating. Okay. We’ve been chatting a while about family business. I think it’s really good content. I have a simple question for you on just a leadership view and maybe just a self-identity. And you’ve even done it on this call. If you go, and I don’t care what asset class it could be in self-storage, office, life science, retail, industrial, most of the leaders in our space in the commercial real estate In conversation, they’re probably referring to themselves in some way, shape or form as a landlord or a real estate investor. And Rarely, rarely hear you say that. When someone asks you like, what do you do? You immediately say, and it’s instinctive, I think it’s who you are, that you’re an entrepreneur, which I think is super unique in the real estate space. Take me through how you think about that and why you identify like that versus, and this is no slight, just a real estate investor.

Adam Ifshin:
uh… right we we shouldn’t slight that we don’t you and i both know a lot of billy not a billionaire soon refer to

Chris Ressa:
The

Adam Ifshin:
themselves

Chris Ressa:
end.

Adam Ifshin:
as real estate investors in less than a check neither you nor i or the last prior president are billionaires so um…

Chris Ressa:
Right.

Adam Ifshin:
i think it we should we should give credit where credit is due now i started a business when i was nineteen years old which was the which is not the lc i always wanted to be an entrepreneur i was one of start my own business that started.

Chris Ressa:
And you wanted to start do that before it was the cool thing to do, which obviously you go on TikTok or Instagram and now it’s sexy.

Adam Ifshin:
Yeah, I mean,

Chris Ressa:
When

Adam Ifshin:
I

Chris Ressa:
you

Adam Ifshin:
started,

Chris Ressa:
want it to

Adam Ifshin:
right.

Chris Ressa:
be,

Adam Ifshin:
I started,

Chris Ressa:
it wasn’t sexy.

Adam Ifshin:
I started my first business in 1985, which was at the time. If you think about it, the goal of the goal of most of the people I was in college with at the time, you know, they were very diverse goals, but they were things around, I want to go to graduate school, I want to be a doctor. I want to be an investment banker. I want to be consultant. I want to be, I

Chris Ressa:
Yeah.

Adam Ifshin:
want to be a professor. You know, I want to be an artist, whatever it was. were very, very few people, 500 person class at college that were actively considering starting a business, you know, sometime before they were 30, if at all. So I always, and I looked at, I looked at starting and building a successful business as one of the beta. Look, I’m blessed. I think I’m, I think I’m pretty bright. I think it’s one of the ultimate in America, in capitalism, to be able to build a successful business where you generate more money than you need to live so that you can raise a family, so that you can do good deeds, so that you can become philanthropic, so that you can build. I enjoy, right? You know this.

Chris Ressa:
you

Adam Ifshin:
people don’t around business. And when I say building a business, it’s not about becoming dominant in a space. It’s not about building a castle to the sky. It’s not about being the biggest. To me, it’s about building a team of people to do stuff that’s not easy. And to me, the motivation is when you take on a challenge as an entrepreneur, you’re not only taking on the execution risk, you’re taking on the financial risk. Now we’re talking about, you know, that’s chess, not checkers. And to me, that is like the ultimate challenge and the ultimate, and I’ll give you another thing. I wanted to control my own destiny. There was no doubt. I have a high degree of self-belief, self-confidence. The self-awareness came later. And I’ve always said, look, I ended up in the real estate business because my father had been a real estate broker. gravitational pull, but I could have been an entrepreneur in any number of different businesses. It ended up here. There’s a lot of logic to that. If you look around the United States in particular, the number of people and their families who may have started with very little or nothing, who have been able to accumulate wealth in the real estate business, the real estate industry. easier to make an impact and generate real success in a highly fragmented space, right? I mean, you know, if I’d wanted to go start a car company from scratch, like some other entrepreneur that’s in the news frequently, you know, the odds of that are really long. We know thousands, you and I know thousands of people who have, who are, they may not relate to themselves this way, who in one reasonable, you know, bar of being successful entrepreneurs in real estate. Real estate provided an extraordinary area of opportunity. And look, you’ve had many of them on the podcast. I remember way back in the beginning, some of the people you’ve had on the podcast, when you started the podcast, you know, right before the pandemic and a lot of those people, you know, a lot of those people, you know, they had a vision, they wanted to start something. of the same thing.

Chris Ressa:
Yeah. super helpful. You, I think you hit on a point that I want to stick to, which is you, one of your biggest passions and you think about being an entrepreneur, like one of the top skill sets you need is being able to build teams. And everybody might have their view on building teams and what that means. What’s it like building a team and growing a team in a post COVID world? different than a pre-COVID world.

Adam Ifshin:
So it’s definitely different than a pre-COVID world. I think there’s no question about that. So I think part one of it is, I think that, and this took me a long time, I did not get this right in the beginning. I think it’s really important to recognize that entrepreneurs who successfully have a business as long as we’ve had DLC, you better learn how to learn from your mistakes, right? Because the world changes really fast and more complex. I did not recognize this in the beginning. The backbone of any successful entrepreneurial business is not the brain of the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur cannot do it by themselves. No matter how brilliant, no matter how talented, no matter how little they sleep, not possible. The absolute key to the successful development of any business a lot of trial and error is your ability to build a team. If you can build, motivate, and create a talented team that can add value to whatever it is they do above what they ought to be compensated, then you’re creating net equity. And without a team, there’s a limit to how much of that you can create. If you want to create it and scale it, successful entrepreneurs better first foremost, be team builders and incredible people. People it’s an absolute requirement in my view. It is the most, the single most important skillset. I believe today that any entrepreneur needs to have to be successful. And now turning to the second part of your question,

Chris Ressa:
It’s not coding.

Adam Ifshin:
it’s

Chris Ressa:
It’s not coding.

Adam Ifshin:
by the way, by the way, by the way, look, as you know, I am a frequent, uh, venture capital investor Angel Seed Series A and growth with different, you know, professionals and independently. If you look at it, right, there are people with incredible ideas. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be incredible entrepreneurs. It’s very, very different. Now there are people with great ideas who realize that, you know, hey, building a team isn’t for them or it’s not their skill set. And they very often, right. The really smart ones. they step aside from some of that stuff and they go and get the best and the brightest to go do that because they realize that they’re better off thinking about the next iteration of the innovation as opposed to the execution. And that’s not uncommon and I think that’s fine. It’s just different, right? But turning your point about COVID, so if people are willing to take the leap with me and subscribe that building a great team and a great culture to keep that team together is the single most valuable and important thing to both succeeding and to excelling, then you turn to COVID. And the thing about COVID is it stressed every part of your ecosystem in a foreseeable and it’s taken us a long time to figure this out, but one of the things that it did was it placed after the initial phase of just adrenaline, right? Run through the wall, save the business, which you and the team did a phenomenal job of when you get to the sort of endemic stage that you’re not going to snap your fingers and this is going to be over and that the effects of this are a long time and I’m not even talking

Chris Ressa:
Thanks for watching!

Adam Ifshin:
about the medical and societal effects. I’m just talking about the effects on a business for the moment.

Chris Ressa:
Thanks for watching!

Adam Ifshin:
Then you get to the question of how do you keep your team together? How do you keep your team motivated? And the big challenge has been around leadership and those issues. That’s where the supercharged biggest challenge in my view has been.

Chris Ressa:
I think the simple follow up to that is, what are the challenges as you see it in leadership and then how do you think some of the solutions will turn, what will some of the solutions turn out to be today and going forward?

Adam Ifshin:
So it took us a long time to get to this place, but I think, and it’s gonna sound simpler than it was in the journey to figure this out. Most businesses are not enterprise sized. Most businesses and particularly family businesses are somewhere in the middle market. And successful middle market businesses, typically we’ve been taught since the 80s in the United States need to be flat, right? You need to focus on of people who are driving revenue and leadership and a whole bunch of people who are driving execution. You need a flatter organization versus a hierarchical one so that you can generate more, you can generate better margin, lower cost, more productivity, and ultimately write more EBITDA and more equity. The challenge with that is, and this was a challenge pre-COVID, is as your business grows and as people move up and experientially move up, you’re moving doers into managerial roles and leadership roles. So that’s a challenge in and of itself. Now go do that in COVID, and you are really stressing that part of the ecosystem. That’s what I’ve learned. immense challenges. So most people who get to that point, right? You come into a middle market business, you’re a doer, you’re really good at it. You’re a leasing agent, then you’re a senior leasing agent, then you’re a director, then you’re a VP or same path in property management, same path in construction, same path in acquisitions. Now you’re up to a point where your next move is you’re going to manage

Chris Ressa:
Thanks for watching!

Adam Ifshin:
a team. You’ve been a great doer all this time. You’ve got to manage team. Let’s say you started doing that at 25. Now you’re 35. Right? And I’m just, these are round numbers, generalizations. You’re so, let’s say you’re at it, whatever, five to 10 years, you’re in your 30s. And you’re doing great. And now this is what you’ve always wanted. I’m going to be, you know, I’m going to be the vice president of leasing for a region, or I’m going to be the head of leasing, or I’m going to be the head of property, whatever it is. Well, guess what? So now you’re going from being a doer to being a manager. We already talked about that pretty big challenge, right? You got to, and people like me and you have to give people the time and help them get the skill set they need to make that transition, which is not an easy transition. You and I have had that conversation a hundred times. Now comes COVID. Well, guess what most people in that age bracket are. in their personal lives, now they’re caregivers too. So not only is their business life changing, but their personal life is changing. So maybe they have children, maybe they have an elderly parent or two elderly parents or an elderly grandparent that they need to care for, both physically and financially. Now layer all of that. job. We’re asking you to do more. Your job’s harder because of COVID in general. Right? Right? We’re all scrambling for all the things we had to do. Collect the rent, figure out how to lease space, deal with supply chain issues. I can go on and on and on. We’d have a separate podcast about that. But now, layer that with the fact that daycare is closed. Daycare is 40% more expensive. My mother used to watch my kid two days a week, immunocompromised, and the other three days a week my child goes to daycare, which is a petri dish, and I can’t have my mother watch my kid two days a week, so what am I going to do? So think about what I’ve just described. COVID has taken a demanding career inflection point that many people couldn’t figure out how to navigate, even with great help and support. these other things on top of it. It should come as no surprise to any leader of any organization that the people in your organization who are probably not necessarily but probably under the most stress struggling the most and are the most worn out from the combination of the events that I’ve just described are those who are frontline and first-time managers and leaders who also happen to themselves and their significant other that they are responsible.

Chris Ressa:
Yeah, I think you hit on a great point, right? And for those to unpack with Adam said again. You have these people who are in this major inflection point in their career, which is going from doers to management and leadership. And as that was happening, we now added all these outside complexities, outside of the professional life to that, making it even more challenging than it already is because it’s a really tough challenge that many do not, are not successful at. So I think the question that everyone’s wondering is, okay, Adam, we buy all that. What do we do?

Adam Ifshin:
So the answer is, I think, you know, you have to, it’s not as simple as calling up some consultant and saying, okay, give me a toolkit. There was no toolkit for this. And this is where I think the intersection of entrepreneurship and leadership is so fascinating and so demanding. I had never led a company through a pandemic. You had never led a company through a pandemic. I don’t think we knew anybody who had ever led a company through a pandemic, right? You you’re out there and it’s time to go innovate and create and try a bunch of things and you know what you know i always a huge believers you know jason jennings may rest in pieces I’m and i think that that’s the case i mean it came it’s everything from. the safest possible environment you can at work, so that you feel safe coming to work. We created, as you know, Flexplace FlexTime, which is probably, you know, short of 100% remote, the most family-friendly, flexible approach to hybrid in our industry. We amped, we effectively shut the business down for a week, a year, right? Because if you think about, just think about it, right? When do people, given the circumstances I described, get the most stressed? Well, you know, holidays, right? When it’s really extra demanding to be a parent and the child of an elderly person, and it’s year-ending your business is super demanding. So what did we do? We gave people more PTO, right? So that they could rest and recharge. And I think we saw this the last couple of weeks, right? People came storming out of the gate. People

Chris Ressa:
you

Adam Ifshin:
came storming out of the gate in a good way at DLC and all of our other affiliated entities And I think that’s in part because we we you know I think the first thing first thing that good leaders need to do is they need to be cognizant

Chris Ressa:
you

Adam Ifshin:
situation That’s the first thing you need to have compassion Right you need to have absolute compassion you need to put yourself in the shoes You need to walk a mile and in that person shoes Then you need to help them Right and help can be more PTO a good hybrid work policy, all of those types of things, those can only go so far. The real help is the mentorship. That’s where the real help is, is really helping people, going to people and saying, I see you’re struggling. It’s okay. What maybe I’m not saying I’ve been through exactly the same thing before, but tell me what’s going on. And maybe I can help you solve the problem faster and you can learn, but you can also be more productive and less stressed out. You probably noticed I’ve taken a lot of time in the last 90 to 120 days, right? To spend much more time with our people internally, in person whenever possible, because some of these conversations I think really do benefit from being in person, but also remotely saying, okay, what can we do to help? How do we tackle this? And I think there are going to be much bigger, longer term solutions as well, as you know, We’re in the process of rolling out a program to revamp all of the systems, processes, and procedures that we use with an eye towards the post COVID world and how to make them more efficient, easier to use, how to simplify and streamline the workflows so that we take out of our workflows, anything extraneous. So that if people have a lot of massive time demands, they can’t just be, you You can’t, because of COVID, you can’t have, you decide living health is not working for you on the childcare side, or because you can’t just go hire 10 people because there aren’t 10 people around to hire who would be great teammates for the roles that are open. We need to simplify and wipe out the non-productive extraneous workflows using systems, using technology, using just being smarter and playing smarter and using technology. using what we’ve learned. And I think a lot of it comes down to really making a difference durably post COVID comes down to those things. We need to rethink and rework why, and we’ve already started this. I mean, just look at the difference it’s made when we went to a document management system at the first of the year from what we had before. I mean, it’s going to save thousands of people, thousands and thousands of hours across the entire

Chris Ressa:
Thanks for watching!

Adam Ifshin:
organization. And that will hopefully help lower their stress, which will help make them more productive tributary.

Chris Ressa:
For sure. Have you been, how much have you been playing around in the new document management system?

Adam Ifshin:
The answer is I’m the dinosaur. Not enough. Not enough. I have one big internal in my brain commitment of what I’m going to do from a technology perspective this year. I’m trying to carve out enough space that I can be a good user of that product because I think it’s the place where I can have the most positive impact on the organization. I will say this, if you want to get humbled at 58 leading your company, walk into a meeting where someone’s asking you to make a decision about a piece of software and you realize that you really know very little about it and you really have to rely on the skill sets of the people that you’ve brought up in your organization to make a good decision.

Chris Ressa:
For sure. I think those are some, one, I think you articulated some of the challenges in leadership post-COVID and some of the solutions. One of the things you mentioned on creating the team and you mentioned about these doers moving to… management and leadership. I think one of the things maybe we can end on is from your perspective, what are some things people who are in roles where they’re execution-based or as you’ve called them, doers can

Adam Ifshin:
Thanks for watching!

Chris Ressa:
do to help themselves as they transition into management leadership?

Adam Ifshin:
So I think the single biggest thing that people can do is if you believe that you’re going to get that opportunity or perhaps you get that opportunity unexpectedly in an organization, I think the first thing you can do is you need to go and you need to look in the mirror and you need to be incredibly honest with yourself. leaders down before they even get out of the starting gate is a lack of self-awareness. So the first thing I think is really important for people to recognize is, is to become more self-aware, to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, honestly and openly, and to ask other people. Too often I find that people who are doers who move into a managerial role typically take the position that they want people to do it exactly the way they did it, because it worked for them. But guess what? for you, they may be from a different generation, they may have a different educational or experiential background, they almost certainly have a different behavioral makeup, they may be motivated by different things. I think the thing that most people fail to recognize is that that self-awareness is the beginning to becoming a really good people person as a leader. what the people who they’re leading do. Experience can only get you so far. People skills will get you a lot further. And I think that’s the single biggest thing that people miss. If you look at the people in our organization, and obviously it would not be appropriate to name names, right? But the people who have moved across that divide from being a doer to being a leader, and you’ll notice I’ve left out words like employee and manager, associate with our culture at DLC. But people who have moved across that divide from being a doer or a contributor or even an impact player to being a leader, they’ve done that because their people skills, we’ve helped them in many instances develop and evolve their people skills and they’re motivated by seeing their people do well more than they are by their own personal accolades. across, and by the way, if you think about it, some of the people that have become leaders at DLC, they do not have a behavioral makeup that says that they’re going to be a prototypical leader. But some of our most successful leaders are not, don’t have that prototypical behavioral makeup. But they’re successful because they have phenomenal people skills and they’re really motivated. They’re motivated to teach, but they’re also motivated to learn.

Chris Ressa:
Well, that is excellent. I really, really appreciate taking the time. I know you have to run to the case competition in Burlington.

Adam Ifshin:
Actually, I gave the awards out last night. I’m running the plane to come home.

Chris Ressa:
Got it, got it.

Adam Ifshin:
So I am super, I

Chris Ressa:
Whoa.

Adam Ifshin:
am super excited. I am super excited to come. I love being here, but it’s always nice to come home.

Chris Ressa:
You’re ready. Got it. Well, you’ve done this once before, but I’m going to ask again since it’s part of the show. I got three fun questions for you at the end of the show, Adam.

Adam Ifshin:
Okay.

Chris Ressa:
Are you ready?

Adam Ifshin:
I am for a question from you, Chris, whether I like it or not. I always have to be ready.

Chris Ressa:
All right, here we go. Question one, what extinct retailer do you wish would come back from the dead?

Adam Ifshin:
I’m so bad at this question. I would love. I would love sort of the not jumbo discount or to come back. I think that there’s a role still for. I changed my mind. You know what I would like to come back? I would like to see, I wish, and it’s not going to happen, I don’t think, and they’re not extinct yet, but I would like the old Bed Bath & Beyond to come back.

Chris Ressa:
a great

Adam Ifshin:
The old Bed Bath & Beyond to me, more than Toys R Us,

Chris Ressa:
answer. I love it.

Adam Ifshin:
more than defined the category killer. Bed Bath & Beyond had 50,000 foot stores doing $300 a foot 15 years ago. Think about it. Selling sheets and towels. That’s what I would like. It would be good for America.

Chris Ressa:
Love it. Question two. What is the last item over $20 you bought in a store?

Adam Ifshin:
The last item, this is going to be wild, especially since I gave out awards with a guy from Amazon last night. The last item that cost over $20 in a store that I bought in a store and carried out of the store was a book, a printed book.

Chris Ressa:
What buck?

Adam Ifshin:
Well, I bought a whole pile of them. But the book that I bought for myself to read was called And Then There Was Light. This is the historian at Vanderbilt, John Meacham’s latest book. It is about President Lincoln. As you know, I was a historian and now I’m an amateur historian. to pull leadership lessons from historical people to be extraordinarily valuable. And I will tell you, the entire pile of books really revolved around leadership. The latest biography about Churchill, Meacham’s book about Lincoln, John Mack’s memoir about saving Morgan Stanley, and the book I’m reading right now, Touched by Fire, which is a book about leadership by a gentleman by the name of David Gergen, who served in four White Houses, three Republican, one Democratic. He’s the last person to have a senior role in both a Democratic and a Republican White House. And after that, he spent 20 years running a leadership institute at Harvard. And that’s what I’m currently reading.

Chris Ressa:
Excellent. Last question. Adam, if you and I were shopping at Target and I lost you, what aisle could I find you in?

Adam Ifshin:
So the answer is you would probably find me in the health and beauty aid section because I’m currently in the market to find, as you know, I’m a shaved head bald man. I’m currently in the market to find a shaving cream that is less hard on my head. So that’s where you would probably find me.

Chris Ressa:
Amazing. Really appreciate you doing this on a Sunday morning, Adam. Safe travels back and I will see you soon.

Adam Ifshin:
I will talk to you tomorrow, Chris, as always. Best, my friend.

Chris Ressa:
So stay on for one second, Adam.

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