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The Real Estate Philosopher


The “Best” Books to Read for Building a World Class Real Estate Organization

Jun 4, 2018

This article contains my thoughts on which are the ‘best’ books to read in order to build a world class real estate organization. 

 
As a philosopher I am supposed to think – of course – that’s what we philosophers do.  However, when you really are honest with yourself, you admit that most thinking is built on the thinking of others.  You learn something and then you apply it to something else or you build on it, or, just maybe, you break away from what you learned completely.  In any case, without belaboring this too much, a good philosopher is not too proud to learn from others.  And I will certainly admit that many of my greatest ideas in the real estate, legal and marketing worlds (my three worlds) were outgrowths of ideas that had been thought up by others, and my contribution was to perceive how to modify these ideas so that they would apply to my business or the businesses of my clients or those I was teaching.
 
So I read a lot.  And my hobby is reading on the two most critical elements of building any successful business, as outlined by Peter Drucker, who points out pithily that the two key ingredients any business must do effectively are to:

  • Innovate

  • Market

in order to “create” customers. 
 
With this backdrop, I thought it might be useful for me to set forth which books I think are the best for someone trying to build a world class organization in the real estate world, whether one is building things, servicing others, marketing real estate assets or doing pretty much anything else.  So here goes – this is my reading list for success in the real estate world:
 
General Business and Management:
 
Peter Drucker’s compilation called simply Management.  This is not easy reading, but every word is – for me at least – like catnip to a cat.  Who else could explain the purpose of a business in a single sentence: “To ‘create’ a customer”. He is truly the father of this science of “management”.
 
Jim Collins’s two incredible books, Built to Last and Good to Great.  For many years this was required reading at my law firm.  Indeed, I don’t think I would have a law firm without them.  His adage is both prophetic and instructive that it is much more important to figure out “who should be on the bus” than to figure out? where the bus is going”.  How many times has my business model changed along the way? Answer: many.  Accordingly, I could never have succeeded without my incredible partners and teammates who were on the bus with me and who took those changes in stride and indeed saw them as opportunities.
 
Michael Porter is one of the great thinkers on competitive advantages.  Although he has written many books, I think the easiest way to distill him is through Joan Magruder’s book, Understanding Michael Porter.  Porter is probably most famous for defining the Five Forces that determine competition in an industry; however, the single phrase that has dictated my law firm’s success is the statement that “strategy is deciding what ‘not’ to do.”  Without that phrase from Porter, how would I have concluded that my law firm’s success in competing with bigger and stronger law firms would depend on our becoming The Pure Play in Real Estate Law?
 
And then just read all of Patrick Lencioni’s books.  He is a genius in assessing human interactions and how to manage them effectively and positive.  And, to boot, he gives you his brilliant thinking through enjoyable and metaphorical stories.  If you are running a team – whether as a CEO or a team leader – you will benefit from his books, and you will benefit a lot. 
 
Marketing and Sales:
 
Seth Godin’s easy-to-read and powerfully counterintuitive Purple Cow is perhaps the best marketing book of all.  He illustrates so simply that it is more important to Stand Out, like a purple cow, than just about anything else.  In this vein, I ask you, how many real estate philosophers are there?
 
Tilt, by Niraj Dawar, is also a superb marketing book.  Among other things, Mr. Dawar points out that victory in the business world no longer goes to she who ‘does’ things; instead, victory goes to she who ‘markets’ things.  This lesson is kind of a bummer for all of us over-achievers, but like it or not, this is a fact of life.  Drucker knew that of course, but Mr. Dawar makes this point very effectively in his book. 
 
Blue Ocean Strategy, by Kevin Kaiser and David Young, is notable for its creative thinking that the last thing you want to do is “compete” in a “red ocean” (where it is blood red due to competitors clawing at each other for market share).  Instead, say the authors, you should swim away to a blue ocean where there is no competition and do something completely different. 
 
Brand Warfare, by David D'Alessandro, I read long ago, and then again more recently.  The point I took away was that there is nothing more important for the CEO to focus on than her brand.  Nothing at all.  Warren Buffett points out that a brand permits a company to sell its product at a higher price for an extended period of time (not an exact quote).  If you are a CEO and aren’t thinking about your brand and how to make it stronger, you are missing a major boat.  Notably, your brand doesn’t just apply to customers – it applies also to the talented people that will either join your company or join your competitor instead.
 
How to Master the Art of Selling, by Tom Hopkins, is a masterpiece.  He doesn’t spend the first 75 pages telling you what he is ‘going to tell you.’  He just tells you how to sell stuff.  Boy did I learn a lot from him.  Before I picked it up, I thought I knew just about everything about marketing.  I mean, for heck’s sake, I just wrote a book on marketing that will be published later this year.  But when I read his book I felt like a schoolboy being schooled.  If you have to sell or market things, you should buy this book.  It is out of print and hard to get though. 
 
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, by Carmine Gallo, is notable for the theme that one should have a “passion statement” that is short and to the point and evidences the thrill and passion you have in what you are presenting, marketing or selling.
 
The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dickson and Brent Adamson, is also very useful.  Their point is that the prospect is usually tired and bored with sycophants kissing her ass as they ply their wares; and, what makes the CEO sit up and take notice is someone who clearly is no pushover – someone who has ideas that might be of use – someone who will (at last) challenge the CEO intellectually.
 
General Lessons:
 
Simon Sinek blew me away first with his Ted Talk and then with his book, Start with Why.  His point is that the ‘why’ is inspirational, and he is right.  If you can’t answer the question ‘why are you in business,’ then you have a serious problem.  For us it is our hedgehog, which means that we truly care about our clients and colleagues.  Without a ‘why’, then ‘why’ should anyone of talent join your company and stick around? 
 
Also, if you are kind of a math guy (and if you aren’t I think you should be), consider reading The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow.  It gives you a come-uppance that you “might” not be nearly as smart as you think you are and a math-based way of evaluating what you and others are doing.  And don’t worry even though there is ‘math’ all over the book, it is easy and fun to read and understand. 
 
And whatever you do, one should read – and re-read – Dale Carnegie’s incredible book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.   I had some trouble coaxing, manipulating, begging, and even bribing my daughters (when they were teenagers) to read this book, but even though it came from their Dad, both of them admitted it was one of the greatest books they had ever read.  And Warren Buffett is said to have read it numerous times, and he hasn’t done half bad.
 
Along the way, it won’t hurt you to take 45 minutes to read (or probably re-read) Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach.  If you are down and need to be inspired – or maybe just could use a reminder as to what is important – there is nothing like reading this book.  I don’t know if I have read it more or less than 50 times, but it is close either way.
 
Okay – are these all the great business books I have read?  By no means, but these are the ones that have helped me the most in forging what I hope will be a lasting and successful law firm business in the real estate world.  I hope this is helpful to you as well.

 

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As the Chairman of Duval & Stachenfeld – a law firm in mid-town NYC known as The Pure Play in Real Estate Law – I am inviting you to join The Real Estate Philosopher™. This will consist of my thoughts and also thoughts of friends and colleagues.

It will not be published in any traditional media – it will go only to friends of our firm. The purpose here is very simple – to put forth thoughts in the real estate world that are different, provocative, and challenging of accepted wisdom. Hopefully, nothing said here will be mainstream thinking.

You may be wondering how I am qualified to write on these topics since I am “just” a lawyer. However, I have an unusual place in the real estate world. As the Chairman of The Pure Play in Real Estate Law (one of the largest real estate law practices in NYC), I interact with an incredible number of real estate players. This ranges from small real estate shops with nothing but a gleam in their eyes, to some of the largest real estate institutions in the world, and everything in between. This gives me a unique and global perspective and allows me to act as an amateur philosopher in the real estate world. This has always been my hobby and it is what I love doing.

Regards,

Bruce Stachenfeld
a.k.a The Real Estate Philosopher™

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