David Noël: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in this great province. I’m David Noël.
Our interview guest today is a giant of Winnipeg’s business community, and yet when he began his business endeavours as a teenager in the city 40 years ago, he was a complete unknown. In the conversation, we discuss what happened during those 40 years, what the future holds, and what his advice would be for any young unknowns setting out to replicate his success.
I hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. I would also encourage you to spread the word about this podcast—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Without further ado, here is Sandy Shindleman:
[to Sandy] Sandy, thanks so much for taking the time.
Sandy Shindleman: I’m always happy to please.
David: Let’s get started by having you tell us a little bit about who you are. I think most people have an idea, but who you are and what you do.
Sandy: My name is Sandy Shindleman. I’m in the commercial real estate business and agriculture business in Manitoba. I’m from Portage la Prairie, that’s where I was raised, that’s where my family had small business interests. That’s who I am.
David: Awesome. One thing that jumped out of me there, I didn’t realize that you’re actually in the agriculture industry as well. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Sandy: Agriculture is the roots of our family business. From when my grandfather came here from what was then Russia, now Ukraine, he went out in order to supplement living, went out to the country and bought one cow and led it back into town, etc. Over the years, that led to us operating a feedlot; being cattle buyers and looking after those that raised cattle in around the Portage area, and helped them consolidate their cattle and cattle buyers.
David: All right, okay. So your grandfather started that and was basically buying and selling livestock. Is that right?
Sandy: Yes, I think on a small scale. I did not get a chance to meet my grandfather, unfortunately.
David: I see. Okay, and then your father continued that?
Sandy: Yes. My father and uncles continued in that, and eventually buying a feedlot in Portage la Prairie and a pasture at High Bluff, just east of our ranch-type place. That’s the agriculture part. Subsequently, my brother has bought some more farmland and very interested in advanced agriculture and working with top quartile farmers and bringing technology from other places in the world and concepts to help our industry here.
David: Fascinating. Is it still mostly focused around the livestock, or is it also…?
Sandy: No more livestock.
David: I see. No more livestock at all.
David: Okay, interesting. If I understand correctly, you got into commercial real estate quite young. You started Shindico when you were quite young. Is that right?
Sandy: Yes. I guess Shindico was started when I was about 16 years old.
Sandy: Largely to feed cattle.
Sandy: Yes, custom feeding of cattle and finishing of cattle. Then always with a keen interest in the real estate industry, got licensed when I could, and was able to acquire a couple of small holdings in Portage la Prairie that I managed and used, etc.
David: Why were you so attracted to the real estate industry?
Sandy: It seemed like an easy thing to do. It seemed easier than carrying a bag of potatoes or a bag of flour or standing in a in a pen or shoveling feed or loading cattle.
David: That was like you saw an opportunity to basically kick things up a notch in terms of what…your family before you had already set up a lot of groundwork in business, and you saw an opportunity to jump into real estate and to leverage that into something that you saw as easier.
Sandy: No. My family wasn’t so overly interested in…my mother always had an interest in real estate, in housing and things like that, and along with my uncle, built a hotel in Portage la Prairie. But my interest was certainly just interested in the industry and interested to see how far I could go in that industry.
David: Obviously, your brothers are very entrepreneurial as well and involved in business as well. It sounds like you guys were all encouraged in that direction from a young age. Is that accurate?
Sandy: We never got any verbal lessons, but we all got the chance to go with my father to work, probably from the age of three or four. We certainly were at his knee, and filled shelves and learned to cut meat and learned all the…
David: So you were working hard during all your childhood and teenage years, which is another reason you wanted to get into an easier industry.
Sandy: It didn’t seem like it was that hard initially, but it wasn’t something I wanted to continue doing. I didn’t think I was particularly as good at it as perhaps my brothers were. So I started to focus on a new industry.
David: Interesting. Are you the oldest of your brothers?
Sandy: No, I’m middle boy.
David: Okay, got you. So you started Shindico when you were 16 years old, with an eye already at that point toward buying some real estate.
Sandy: I was doing different things. I had an arcade, different entrepreneurial things. I was a gold and silver buyer. I had a pool hall.
Sandy: Things of that nature. I was interested in older cars. I was buying cars and sometimes selling them as well, before I got my real estate license. I didn’t get my license until I was 18.
David: Okay, interesting. Were your siblings also pursuing that stuff with you, or was that just you going out on your own at that point?
Sandy: No, not initially. They pursued their education. One brother stayed helping my father in the livestock, at grocery industry. I was the one that had the opportunity to go out and see if this worked.
David: Interesting. It definitely seems like it has worked. What were the steps at the beginning? It sounds like you got your real estate license when you were 18. It sounds like you decided to…before that, the business had a lot of different interests, and you’ve decided to focus towards the real estate industry. Is that accurate?
Sandy: When you’re in a larger community and compared to High Bluff or Portage la Prairie, this is a larger community in Winnipeg. You have the ability to specialize, to make a living. You can specialize.
Sandy: You can be in media without having to also sell televisions.
David: I see. You had a bigger market, and you were able to go after whatever specialization.
Sandy: I originally thought that I would be in the ag sales business, that I would concentrate on agricultural sales. Then there were some foreign ownership restrictions, and that was the main buyers at that time. I placed in Manitoba. It was difficult, certainly for an 18-year-old to have credibility selling grain farms, when in fact, you’ve never even worked on one.
David: Right. I imagine there was a credibility factor in real estate as well, though. How did you get around that?
Sandy: There was, but I just wasn’t aware of it. It was just a small…perhaps some naiveté. I just thought it was regular rejection. I didn’t realize that rejection that I would’ve faced, would’ve likely been tied to a perceived lack of experience, which for the most part was a truism. Obviously, I didn’t have experience.
David: Right, right. The naiveté that you have there is an interesting pattern that I’ve seen in some other successful entrepreneurs is that they didn’t know that they weren’t supposed to be doing what they were doing, so they just did it.
Sandy: That’s for certain. I think it might have been more difficult had I grown up in Winnipeg, where you see long established families and organizations that are in these industries and have been for generation two or three, and seem destined for those to continue forward. There was nobody really in the commercial side of the real estate business at Portage la Prairie when I went into it. In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone that spends full time doing it today, 40 years later.
David: When you got into it, when you were 18, eventually you moved into Winnipeg and focused on the market here. Was that at the same time, or much later?
Sandy: No, approximately the same time. I enrolled at university and was a student on a part-time basis. But all the same time, interested in the real estate business and learning about the real estate business, driving around and looking at all the real estate, and talking to whoever would talk to me, which certainly wasn’t established people but other people, I guess, on the fringes at that time.
David: At this point, I think Shindico has spread into a lot of different aspects of the real estate industry. Explain to me, starting out–business-model wise–were you basically looking for a property to buy and selling it to someone?
Sandy: No, no. We were never somebody who was a flipper of a property.
Sandy: We were investors when we had the capital to be investors, and we never forgot to work for whoever hired us. If someone hired us to sell, that was our number one focus, maximizing the return to the seller. If somebody hired us to buy, we were out there looking for the best deal. If somebody asked us to lease their space, we want to do as good a job as possible for that property owner. If a tenant wanted to be represented, then we would get very deep into their business, and try and find out what makes it successful. Once we learn that, try and find the best location for their business.
Actually, the reason that we became developers, in hindsight, is that people don’t want to give you a chance when you’re new. If I could’ve sold the investments that I initially developed or had partners when I initially develop there, if someone would’ve let me develop them for them, I probably would not have developed so much for myself.
David: I see. Interesting.
Sandy: Sometimes, if your idea is don’t get traction, but you believe in them and you find a way to do it, your dentist helps out. A family friend, who used to shag golf balls for in the summer, helps out and gives you a chance, then you never forget that. You work hard, not too many distractions from work. That’s what I was brought up with, right up to prize work more than success, which is, I think, different. As long as our nose is to the grindstone, that was viewed to be a success.
David: Right. I guess there are two questions that jumped out of me from that. How did you go about getting those initial customers when your credibility was low, and when you maybe didn’t have a lot of capital to work with and stuff like that, and a lot of connections in the industry? How did you attract the first few people that would believe in you, or that you had convinced to believe in you?
Sandy: The first investor was my dentist and his brother-in-law.
David: Okay. So that wasn’t hypothetical.
Sandy: The first partnership was with a family that was going after the same asset that I was, and we agreed to partner. That partnership has lasted 35 years, and continues to this day.
Sandy: Baby steps. Then other people who were friends of mine eventually saw that I was going to work hard and I was going to see the asset succeed. Some of them went with me. But it was always just as hard to get the investors that want to do the deal in those days. So I had good relationships with the banks, good relationship with the trust companies that used to be in business in those days. I was able to borrow money, watch my expenses and work very hard to minimize them. Do a lot of things myself, write the leases, design the building, etc. That helped.
David: Was it basically just you in the early days or did you have a team pretty early on?
Sandy: A few years later, my brother joined me.
David: Got you. Okay. Then it was just the two of you, or did you have some employees at that point?
Sandy: By the time Robert got here, I might have had one or two.
David: Got you. Okay. That was about 40 years ago now, right?
David: Okay. Wow. It’s been pretty steady growth would you say on those 40 years, or were there events that have…?
Sandy: I think lumpy growth because of recession, because of high interest rate environments. I think it was lumpy growth, but when we could grow, we did. When we had to pull our wings in, we did and just kept working hard.
David: What kind of opportunities came up in the 40 years that you were able to capitalize on that helped spur the growth phases and the lumpiness?
Sandy: I’d learned many things from observing my father in a different industry. I learned how to be a low-cost provider, but with first-rate quality. The meat that we sold was the very best and finished with wheat and barley, and not just hay. We sold our steaks demonstrably for 20 or 25 cents a pound, less than Safeway did.
Sandy: Because we felt we had to, I suppose, to attract buyers and to attract volume. By learning to be a low-margin provider as opposed to low-cost, we were able to get a lot done rather than waiting and having protracted negotiations that really slowed down the volume of what you were able to create. We’re low-cost providers, but high-value providers.
David: Right. I think any business owner would agree that if they can reduce their operating expenses, they’ll do it. But what were the keys for you to be able to be a low-cost provider with high value?
Sandy: The high value became of knowledge, of getting education that others were not getting, of going out and seeking classes and courses, etc., that others didn’t need to because they had either entitlement or breeding or something that they did on entree. I had to build my own entree, spending more on technology, not having a very large personal overhead; it was close to zero. I didn’t need to support my cottage, my condo, my jet boat or anything else. Not that there’s anything wrong with those that do aspire and did aspire to that, but I certainly had a lot of time and I was able to put a hundred hours a week in. Do that for 10 years, and you’ve got 25 years’ worth of experience.
David: That’s an insight that you learn in terms of being able to capitalize on growth and keeping a low burn rate. You mentioned there were recessions and things like that. What were some of the other challenges that sprung up over the years and contributed to the other side of that lumpiness?
Sandy: Great lender relationships help move it somewhat, and great tenant relationships; realizing that when you hold property, the tenant relationship might be 20, 30 or 40 years, and not 20 months. There’s a lot of the lumpiness you can’t impact. You can’t impact bank rates, interest rates. You can’t impact difficulty with civics, which has a big impact on the real estate business everywhere in the world. Winnipeg not, in any way, being different than that. When it gets tough in one market, we had the ability to move to other markets. We were happy to have the investment and the tax base because at the end of the day, we see the glass is half full, perhaps others might see it as half empty.
Every time we build a building, we’re employing a lot of people to make that building. We go out of our way to support local trades, etc. As soon as we build that building, the municipalities and cities that we’re building it in have an annuity. They start taxing it whether you’re making money or not. We don’t build buildings to be vacant. It happens, but we certainly want people to be working in them. Those people that are working in them are buying food in restaurants and grocery stores, buying clothing and eyeglasses and hair kits in retail premises, using the services of doctors and lawyers and accountants who are in office buildings, buying insurance. As a result, we’re building a wider tax base.
Every time you see a building going up, you should know that if you’re in an apartment, your landlord has to pay that much less of the tax bill in the city of the mass expenditure. If you live in a home, your piece of the overall tax burden is lessened. If that building did not get built, if the house does not get built down the street, if a garage is not allowed to be added, then their assessments do not go up and their share of the tax bill either stays the same or reduces. You can either have a bigger tax base, more people paying, more property paying, or you can have a bigger tax bill. Not always do people get it. Most often, people in the smaller jurisdictions can see the direct relationship or correlation. So when politicians want to spend money, the good ones find a way to expand that base, so they don’t have to take it from fewer people.
David: I see. Basically, by investing in infrastructure, what you’re pointing out is that when there’s more infrastructure, that incentivizes or that causes growth in the tax base. If the overall collection in the municipality stays the same, would mean reduced tax burden on every taxpayer.
Sandy: Right. I don’t even think that it has to be correlated so completely the infrastructure spending. I don’t think often that needs to be. Sometimes it means getting out of the way and let private sector or somebody else put the buildings up.
David: Right, I see. I understand. In that case, the municipality is still involved in zoning and stuff like that, but not necessarily in any of the actual expenditure.
Sandy: Right. They may pave the way to make a more vibrant community, giving people more options as to where they may live, where they may work, where they want to purchase things and what living standards they want and what opportunities. Shutting down development…we’re in a world now that is very interested in intensification and densification. In other words, going up. That doesn’t mean you don’t go out, because out helps pay the tax bills as well for the infrastructure that governments want to spend in the inner cities, etc., money they want to give to people in the inner cities. It didn’t work so much for Stalin, of telling people where they needed to live, how they needed to live, what goods and services they could buy and where they could buy them. Choice in a laissez-faire society seems to have worked pretty well when it’s accommodated.
David: Do you think there’s a middle ground though, between Stalin and incentivizing inner city building?
Sandy: I don’t think that that’s a continuum. Incentivizing, there’s nothing I could ever do to stop it or slow it down. My opinion really doesn’t matter. All I hope is that they let things happen elsewhere, so it’s not forced.
David: I see.
Sandy: It can be incentivized, it can be encouraged, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of other taxpayers or job creators, in my view.
David: Fair enough. Jumping back a little bit to the description you said when you encountered recessions or challenges in the market, you were able to check out other markets, right?
David: I can definitely see how that would have helped Shindico weather the storm. When did you start looking into other markets outside of Winnipeg or outside of Manitoba?
Sandy: First of all, I started outside of Winnipeg.
David: Right, in Portage. Okay. Portage la Prairie.
Sandy: So it was not difficult. When you’re from a market and you deem to be successful in the market, people will adopt you and you can be one of their own. But I’m not from Winnipeg. I didn’t go to school with people in Winnipeg. I didn’t play hockey with people in Winnipeg.
David: By the time you came to Winnipeg, you were already expanding into a new market. You already learned some lessons about expanding into a new market.
Sandy: Winnipeg was a new market, actually. Winnipeg was a new market. I think geographical diversity helped because you’re dealing with decision makers. We’ve had incredible success in building community in Portage la Prairie, in Selkirk, in Winkler, in Brandon, in Thunder Bay, in Sault Sainte Marie, in Regina, and other places. I use those as a list of small places. Big places might not have needed me notwithstanding we’ve done business there. It did give us the opportunity to have that diversification, to be able to see new ideas, to adapt those new ideas, design features, etc., and to keep what we were doing in Winnipeg, which has been our home base for a long, long time, keep them current.
David: Starting in Portage la Prairie and moved into Winnipeg, and then started exploring different markets from there. How early on would you say that you were exploring the Selkirks and the Reginas and the Thunder Bays?
Sandy: I think Selkirk was probably the third deal that I did.
David: Wow. Pretty much right away.
Sandy: The first two were change overs and rehabs, of former grocery stores and turning them into retail centers. One with a partnership and one with my brother after that.
David: I see. Interesting. I know that you’ve done business in several bigger markets as well outside of Winnipeg. What was that like? Did that present different challenges than doing business in new markets that were smaller? What did it look like when you went into a big city that already had a lot of existing players?
Sandy: You realize your pecking order. Not that you can’t improve it, but it’s not going to be given to you. That was no different in coming to Winnipeg. Nothing’s ever going to be given to you. As a matter of fact, people are more interested in restricting your progress than helping you, which is an unfortunate-ism. But in bigger markets, we were able to partner with people with different product types. We were able to learn best practices, things that could be used here, now or in the future. We’re involved with partners in a smaller way in the design-build business in Toronto of mixed-use, which is condominiums, urban with retail components on the streets. That’s something we’ve been very interested in. Although it’s very difficult to do here, it would be very welcome here, I believe. But the zoning and the difficulties of achieving that beautiful urban growth, really can’t be done anywhere out of the downtown.
Sandy: For the existing population, I would like to see that on Corydon or in Academy or in Grant or near Pembina or something like that. Nobody’s really able to succeed in getting density that can afford the design.
David: I see. So it’s not necessarily a problem with zoning, but it’s just that there’s not enough…
Sandy: It is.
David: Okay. It’s not a question of residential density; it’s a problem in zoning?
Sandy: No, no. Zoning, that restricts your density and your ability to do more elaborate design or innovation, because you always seem to have to be a block off or half a block off. That adds a lot of volatility and risk to the decision.
David: Right. It makes sense. Interesting.
Sandy: Even Toronto has a fair amount of zoning as of right. If you have a property on an avenue, you’re allowed to go the height of the distance between your front property line on the street and the front property line on the street across the street. If you have a 90-foot right of way you can go 90-feet high. You get a 69-foot right of way, 69-foot high. Beyond that, variances can be sought and obtained for something that represents a good design or meets a demand.
David: Interesting. This is going to change course a little bit again, but I would be curious to understand. At this point, my understanding is that Shindico is a developer, a broker, manages tenant relations and a few other aspects of the real estate industry. Can you explain what the revenue model look for all the different pieces, and how they fit together for Shindico?
Sandy: They all fit together, especially to smooth out any volatility in market conditions. First and foremost, we’re a property manager, which means we’re on the ground. We live with what we build every day. We live with our relationships every day. We have the best people managing those relationships and fostering those relationships. That is the property management business.
We also are asset managers. An asset manager has a few of the characteristics of a property manager and a developer. What that is, is that at a level where you’re managing assets for somebody else, it could be a pension plan, a family office, a public or private company of any kind, and you are focused on a different type of reporting and a little bit more of a comparative basis, very aggressive we are with software innovation. We have spent millions over the years, customizing and adapting software and reporting, so that we can report like any public company can. That has always been very important to me. That has been a quest that’s 20 years long, and it grows every day.
Our brokerage business, which is a separate business and it’s behind locked doors, as a matter of fact, is where some folks represent tenants, in office, in industrial, in retail situations. Some are representing landlords, either selling land to developers, going through that process. That is that piece of it.
In the development business, it’s one where we have marketing and design. Certainly, my brother and I and two or three others spend a fair amount of time on that, on the hands-on basis, with only management of some of those other functions. There is a synergy that works.
David: When you say that the brokerage aspect of it is behind locked doors, what do you mean by that?
Sandy: It’s secure in that they can represent the needs of their clients.
David: I see. So there’s a bit of a firewall between that and the rest of the business, because there could be a conflict otherwise.
Sandy: There could be perceived conflict. You’re never going to want or allow a conflict, but people can get service, that undivided attention. Nobody’s competing with the development side or the asset management side. So we’re not out taking somebody’s property management from them. We’re not out taking their asset management. We’re earning what we can, doing what we can, and it’s not mutually exclusive. The brokers put more tenants in other people’s buildings than they do in ours.
David: In terms of the reporting capabilities in the asset management side, did you just mean reporting as a public company in the asset management division, or in the entire company you’ve got the reporting capabilities?
Sandy: The entire company.
David: Okay. Is there a consideration or has there been a consideration to make Shindico a public company, or are you purely interested in the ability to report that way?
Sandy: No. It’s just for our reporting.
David: Got you.
Sandy: We’re not interested in operating a public company.
David: In terms of the asset management, basically what that means is that when people invest in the asset management side of things, they basically have an ability to get returns on the property that’s developed?
Sandy: For example, some people have various investment requirements. They typically would like anywhere from 0 to 25% of their assets or up to 40% of their assets, and what’s called alternative investments. Alternative investments would include non-publicly traded assets, infrastructure when they can get opportunities to invest in that, and real estate. We’re looking after only that part of the basket that is real estate. So we’re not involved in handling somebody’s stocks and bonds and equities, or any trading platform. None of that happens here.
David: I see. Okay. So it’s basically a vehicle for pension funds and other…
Sandy: Right, and family offices, as we call them, which are large investors. Just individuals or families who have a focus on that.
David: I see. Okay. Interesting. Out of those different departments of the business that you described, you said that a lot of your attention is focused on the development side and your personal attention…
Sandy: And management. Property management.
David: Okay. Which of those components represents the largest share and revenue or the bread and butter of Shindico, or is it fairly split up between them? Does it change over time?
Sandy: It depends on the year. It depends on the year up. Everyone gets a chance to be a contributor. Certainly, when there’s market uncertainty or there’s the fear of volatility like we have today, where nobody knows what the tax rates are going to be at the provincial, civic or federal levels. When people want to be on the sidelines more, development tends to pull its horns back. It goes more into land speculation of acquiring things to build in the future, but nobody’s in a rush to put up a building that might be vacant.
David: Right. Interesting. Shifting gears a little bit then, getting back to you personally…actually, I don’t know, maybe this isn’t a personal question. I saw online that you’re also the owner of StorageVille. I don’t know. Is that through Shindico, or is that a separate thing that you do?
Sandy: I don’t exactly know the hierarchy of the holdings. It’s the same people though. We are investors in StorageVille. It’s a business that I’ve been interested in for well over 40 years. It took us a long time to get into it, but we do have partners. We did invest in our partners and learning every aspect of that business from the best, at least those we felt to be the best, which at that time were US based. We’ve invested in it. It’s a business that we like. It’s one that, given the right opportunity, we would add on to our investments in that sector.
David: It’s like from the outside looking in. It certainly looks like a great industry to be in. Another question that’s again, deviating a little bit. I’m sorry for jumping around.
Sandy: No, that’s how I think as well.
David: It sounds like your parents were obviously big influences to you growing up. Who are other people that you would consider to be business mentors, or people that you looked up to in your own growth as a business leader?
Sandy: Basically, we had our own wagon train, not unlike Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles. We weren’t part of the mainstream. There wasn’t folks offering mentorship in my day. At least, not to us. At the end of the day, we’re country and pumpkins here in the city. I mean there was not anyone that was particularly mean to us, but everyone had their relationships and they weren’t interested in sharing. I would say generally, we didn’t get much help from others.
David: Wow. Interesting.
Sandy: Which I’d never thought of at that time. I never said, “Well, I better get out of this. Nobody wants me to succeed.”
David: You just went for it. You were working hard, like you said. Did it feel like a slog at the beginning? When you were trying to get started, was it fun and you’re just out there and building this thing from scratch, or did it feel really difficult?
Sandy: Most of the time, it didn’t feel really difficult because I didn’t have any benchmark on what success looked like.
David: During that time, I assume it was your full-time work. Were you supporting yourself with your real estate endeavors from the get-go?
Sandy: Yes. I had the arcade…
David: Okay, that’s right.
Sandy: …the cattle business…
David: You already had…
Sandy: …buying and selling gold and silver and collectibles, trading in the odd car, those types of…
David: What ever happened to the arcade?
Sandy: I closed it and leased it to a paint store.
Sandy: A paint and wall-covering store.
David: Interesting. So you actually owned the property for the arcade?
David: Interesting. That was when you were 16? Eighteen?
Sandy: Sixteen. Yes.
David: Incredible. You mentioned some investing in education. What were some of the important investments that you made there?
Sandy: First of all, being modern in terms of computerizing when nobody was. Acquiring software that was more than VisiCalc, which was a spreadsheet software. Taking classes and traveling and investing in my education in the CCIM program, CCIM.com. It’s an education program, which I’ve been teaching in now for 35 years.
David: Really? Interesting.
Sandy: All that is just the best way to learn is to teach, because if you have any ego at all, and I’m not devoid of it, you want to know your stuff before you stand in front of 40 people.
David: Interesting. What does that look like, teaching for CCIM? Is that everyone gets together in a classroom somewhere a couple of times a year?
Sandy: It’s a classroom. There’s four or five core courses. There’s several elective courses that range from one or two days, including Online Now, which never was at that time. In my day, it was a five and half day course. It started on Monday morning, and finished Saturday around 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
David: The CCIM, if I understand correctly, it’s an international group of commercial real estate brokers. Is that right?
Sandy: Yes. Brokers, developers, financiers, economic development folks, inside real estate departments for people like McDonald’s or Walmart or Walgreens, etc. That’s where we find most of our students, other developers, asset managers, financial people.
David: I see. Okay. I think we’re coming close on time here, and I don’t want to take too much of your time.
Sandy: I’ve got time.
David: I am curious though. We talked about mentors and personal influences, and we talked about education. Are you a reader? Do you read a lot of books?
Sandy: There wasn’t a lot of books. The few books that there were, I read. But they were very few. For sure, you can count them on your hands.
David: Any that jump out as particularly useful, that you would recommend?
Sandy: From the development side, a book that’s hard to get, would be the Autobiography of William Zeckendorf, who was a developer of renown Place Ville Marie, the United Nations, the Brown Palace of Denver Hotel. That’s an interesting one. It’s an autobiography.
In terms of textbooks, I’ve had friends of mine and colleagues who have written some textbooks. Lee Arnold, years ago, talking about real estate investment. There is quite a few, but not all of them are practical.
David: Right, right. I’m jumping around again, but do you think the real estate as a sector, is in trouble in the next couple of years?
Sandy: I think it’s going to be challenging times. Yes. I do think we’ll survive. I think most will, but it’s going to be a challenge. Online is going to have a big impact on the success of retail. It’s a bigger impact every day.
David: I see. So you mean that, because of the impact of online shopping, people shopping habits in general, there’s less of a desire for shopping malls, for example.
Sandy: Shopping malls that act as a social interaction place, I think, will always have a place. Certainly, convenience items and food stuff and things that you want to see will always have a place. But the consumers are very well educated and can be very selective. When you couple that with often difficulty to get entitlements, you can miss a wave if you can’t get your project approved, then there’s never a need for it.
David: Are you saying that the commercial real estate sector, you think is pretty tied to…I mean you think you would know, but I’m asking you because I don’t know. The commercial real estate sector is tied quite well to the retail, in general?
Sandy: There is some correlation, although it’s not a perfect correlation. At the end of the day, there’s a couple of other things going on. There’s some ugly things going on in the world, because of our drop in energy, combined with us being a high tax jurisdiction. Canada is on sale with how much it costs to buy a Canadian dollar for most people. It’s on sale. So you and I look at a farm at $2000 an acre, and that’s $2000 an acre. But to an American, it’s $1268 an acre for a similar production. So there is some arbitrage for people who don’t only deal in Canadian dollars. But the issue is the Canadian retailer or the American retailer was repatriating capital from their Canadian operations. It’s bringing home a Canadian dollar that they almost consider a Peso from time to time.
David: Right. If you were starting right now, if there is a young version of you listening to this, what kind of advice will you give them? Do you think it’s still possible to just…?
Sandy: Yes. I just think that you have to give up on some lifestyle, to get experience because to succeed, you need three or five attributes. You need attitude to succeed. You need experience. You need attitude, education and lastly, attitude. In other words, you can’t succeed without one of the three attitudes, to get the three. I think it’d be very difficult to succeed with only attitude today, which you might have been able to do a generation or two ago. Invest in yourself, invest in education. Walk before you run, don’t run with scissors. Understand that experience is mandatory. You can’t get it at 18, but if you work twice as hard and twice as long and twice as smart, you can get a lifetime experience in under 10 years.
David: Right. Wow. Thanks so much for your time, Sandy. It’s been fun.
Sandy: Anytime. I’m glad that I was able to be of help.