On October 8th, 6,000 industry leaders from around the world gathered to meet in Boston to discuss the future of the real estate and responsible land-use industries at the ULI Fall Meeting. Over four days, developers, investors, architects, planners, brokers, academics, attorneys, decision makers and public officials gathered to exchange ideas, expand networks, and explore a vibrant city. Among those in attendance were two Young Leaders from Toronto, Christine Chea (Graywood Developments) and Alexander Candy (Allied Properties REIT). They were selected from a group of their peers to represent ULI Toronto at this dynamic and far reaching conference. Following their experience, they interviewed each other, shared their insight and what they learned from their time in the great city of Boston.
Here’s what they had to say:
Christine Chea: What was the most interesting session that you attended? What session was the most useful for your position as an analyst in Toronto? Please provide a couple of highlights from these session(s).
Alex Candy: By far the most interesting and engaging session was put on by author and entrepreneur Scott Galloway. Held in the main conference room holding thousands, his perspective on the impact tech is having on the real estate industry and the globe as a whole was a new side to the story for me. Not only was his presentation engaging and enthusiastic (public speaking skills 11/10), but his ability to challenge the status quo, particularly addressing faults in the American government was inspiring. It takes guts, especially considering the audience. He noted that not everything is as it seems, and there is always an underlying story once you start to dig a littledeeper. That’s what I really took away from what he talked about — not the numbers, figures, and company names, but to always peel back as many layers as possible to uncover the real information, to get past the surface level ‘garbage.’ That’s where true value lies.
CC: Who did you meet at the Fall Meeting? Were these the people you initially wanted to network with?
AC: It was difficult to network at a conference of this size, particularly as a newcomer. My usual strategy of ‘sit beside someone random at breakfast or lunch’ didn’t work because there was no breakfast or lunch, but I did have the opportunity to sign up for a program called ‘Coffee Connections.’ I was paired alongside two other ‘Young Leaders’ with Todd Gomez, SVP at Bank of America out of New York City. His insight and enthusiasm for affordable multifamily housing lending ($2 billion worth might I add), and his career, was inspiring. He kept reiterating that it is vital to do what you love. I think that’s important because so many people don’t do that and end up down a rabbit hole they realize they can’t get out of before it’s too late.
CC: Did the Fall Meeting change your perspective on ULI as an organization? If so, how?
AC: It didn’t necessarily change my perspective, but it definitely reaffirmed its global reach and impact in the real estate and land use industries. It’s kind of like reading an article about how beautiful it is to be at the top of the Alps, but until you’re there, you don’t truly understand the impact it might have on you.
CC: What did you like most about Boston?
AC: The city itself is beautiful. I stayed in a neighbourhood called Beacon Hill – old row houses with narrow cobblestone streets, gas fire street lights, the kind of thing you read about in children’s fiction novels. We were also graced with perfect weather, which made things more enjoyable and easy to explore. But by far, my favourite thing was the street layout and design. It’s set up in more of a radial system than what we have here in Toronto, so it was interesting to navigate around, especially on a city bike. This pattern definitely changes the built environment as well, working with winding streets and weird angles. It provides opportunities for some interesting architecture and design.
CC: Would you attend the Fall Meeting again?
AC: Definitely, and I would encourage anyone who can, particularly Young Leaders, to try and attend. Even if it’s out of your budget, finding creative ways to get there such as asking your employer to sponsor a portion, or even getting personal sponsorships, online, whatever method you might choose to take, it would definitely be worth the effort.
AC: This was your first time at the ULI Fall Meeting. How did you find the topics discussed and how would you describe the energy of the overall conference?
CC: I found there was a great variation of topics for the seminars. The topics ranged from environmental sustainability to financing to construction. They weren’t just aimed at the private sector which I found impressive. Beyond that, the speakers chosen for each seminar that I attended provided different perspectives which created a wholesome discussion that wasn’t skewed one way or the other. The overall energy was great. People were excited to be there and were eager to learn from the seminars and network with other individuals at the meeting.
AC: I want to talk about global perspectives. The Fall Meeting has professionals from the entire gamut of the industry from countries around the world. What is a new outlook you have gained from attending the Fall Meeting?
CC: A theme that constantly came up in one way or another in most if not all the sessions I attended was the idea of creative and adaptive solutions to meet the needs of people, and not just seeing how much could be contributed the bottom line. Whether that’s in the form of creative repurposing buildings; combining uses that wouldn’t typically be combined; using bus stops as mini art installations; or supporting a community hub that naturally blossomed from a local and independent hardware store. Even during a seminar on getting the best ROI, the discussion quickly turned to creative placemaking for people, not value engineering or what uses typically get you a better return.
AC: A lot of important networking happens outside of the conference rooms. On Wednesday, the Canadian chapters host a well-attended social. Tell us the ins and outs of what goes on there.
CC: Going into the conference, I had heard about the notorious Canada Party and that it was an event not to be missed! Organized by ULI staff from Toronto, British Columbia and Alberta, it was well-represented by industry professionals from all over Canada. It was great to enjoy food and a couple drinks with people working in Calgary and Vancouver. We may all be from the same country but it’s rare to get the chance to network with someone on the other side of Canada!
AC: As a younger attendee of the meeting, what is some advice you would give to a Young Leader attending a conference hosted by ULI of this magnitude?
CC: My advice would be to try and join a broader committee or try to make connections prior to the Meeting. As co-chair of the Young Leaders Committee, I’m also on the Young Leaders Coordinating Committee for the Americas where I’m in frequent contact with active ULI members from all over the States as well as Mexico. Toronto also had the distinction of hosting the Young Leaders City Exchange so it was great to be able to reconnect with some of those participants as well. It helped that I already knew people who would be attending. Otherwise, I would do my homework in advance and find people who you want to meet and arrange for quick coffees or meetings before their schedules fill up for the conference! It’s an action-packed couple of days!
AC: What was your favourite seminar — describe it in 5 words.
CC: My favourite seminar would have to be the Keynote by Theaster Gates. Fresh perspective, creative, engaging, thought-provoking, and funny. I know that’s seven words but he had a great presentation!