Zicklin Leadership Series — Bruce Ratner
by Lemuel Morrison & Tex Morgan
On May 4th the speaker series started with an introduction by Frank Fletcher for Mr. Ratner. He is the CEO and Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) and has led the firm as a prominent developer of urban real estate. He is recognized beyond his firm with a long career in the public and private sectors.
Professor Donald Vredenburgh joined Mr. Ratner on the dais. The format was a question and answer session. Below are the comments that these correspondents thought most relevant.
What is it like to be a leader in real-estate development in New York City?
BR — You must be comfortable with chaos — not necessarily in the strict sense. The world is always changing and something always happens. I found that being flexible is really important in a leader. Can you move quickly and change with the circumstances? Avoid the bureaucracy that stops your progress.
Is it your view that leadership differs among sectors?
BR — There are many different types of leaders (e.g. Patton or Mother Theresa) across different organizations. It’s less about the organization and more about the needs and the circumstances. We sometimes confuse success with leadership. What’s really important is knowing yourself. Know what you’re good at and what you’re terrible at. As an example, Steve Jobs is a great leader, but horrible with people. Surround yourself with people how have the qualities you don’t so that you mitigate those downsides.
Has your leadership style changed over the years?
BR — Exposure to all kinds of people is critical. With good luck and meeting people and knowing incredible people. Go out of the way to meet as many incredible and obscure people as you can. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely person — maybe someone sitting across the table. It’s about a lot of exposure and serendipity in meeting people. If you don’t know, get it from the expert and try to learn a little about everything; I’m sixty-six and I’m still learning something new every day! I want the people that work with me to have an idea of what the other people do, so I try to expose them to it.
It’s also about making a lot of mistakes. Heartache, disappointment, failure will teach you more than success. Even the stories of others and how they met adversity and what happened.
What can an organization do to encourage good business ethics?
BR — It starts from the top. Ethics is an issue of culture. That comes directly from the executives and people who run the company. Lectures turn people off. Leading by action sets the tone. At FCRC a balance between life and work is strongly encouraged. The job is important, but friends and family come first. When people recognize that work is not everything, they become less susceptible to temptation and making poor decisions. Moreover, a culture of fairness further creates an environment where people can make good decisions.
Environmental sustainability — How do you perceive it?
BR — First of all, FCRC develops a lot in the City. Building here is the most environmentally conscious decision you can make. The footprint with the density and great public transportation is so much smaller than developing where you need much more space and require cars.
As for efficiency, it’s a business decision. Reducing heat and energy loss goes straight to the bottom line. Other decisions like LEED are trade-offs between costs and demand.
When you hire, do you have some tips?
BR — Hiring right is one of the most important things in a company. Being a good people picker and/or being lucky to have excellent people makes the company great. Fit and culture are important. He doesn’t hire on experience he looks for those who have a wide breadth of activities and interests. It’s important to have opinions and creativity.
Do you have suggestion for business school that have a real-estate program?
BR — Aside from all the usual material, dealing with the media is an important topic — especially in today’s world. Knowing how to work with blogs and social media is becoming very important.
Ralph Blumenthal — Talk a little bit about publicity and public affairs?
BR — Getting the message is hard, but there are three components learned from Bess Meyerson and Henry Stern. 1) Do something of substance. It makes it easy to talk in earnest. 2) understand your readership and the reporters. 3) Be transparent and competitive.
Many thanks to Mr. Ratner for taking the time to speak and share candid opinions. Of course our appreciation to Mr. Zicklin who made this possible and all the staff who hard make it happen.