The summer fellows at ICSC are mostly upper college classmen or recent graduates. We do not all have the same career goals, but we have a shared mixture of concern about and yearning for the future. To help their summer fellows prepare for the “real world,” ICSC provides us with many learning opportunities, including occasional speakers who address a variety of topics. We were excited, but anxious, to meet Michael McCarty, Simon Property Group’s EVP of Development Operations.
Armed with pens, note pads, and cheat sheets with information about the company and the speaker, I, along with four other fellows, filed into the conference room with nervous anticipation. This was, after all, a senior executive of the world’s largest owner of shopping centers. Immediately, Mr. McCarty calmed any tension as he walked in the room with an easy smile and friendly hello. I had been ready to take notes and ask carefully planned questions, but McCarty made the meeting feel more like a conversation between friends, rather than a formal presentation. McCarty spoke about many things: the structure and history of Simon, balancing his work and personal life, as well as general career advice. However, it was the story of how he worked his way up to his current position that had the most impact on all of us.
At 17, in his senior year of high school, Mr. McCarty’s father obtained a new job which required the family to move to another state. Not wanting to leave before his graduation, McCarty moved into his own apartment and supported himself by working full-time at a restaurant, while finishing school. Unable to afford college, McCarty entered the workforce right after graduation, where he was a restaurant management trainee. Before he was 25, McCarty rose through the ranks to be a district supervisor of the franchise and move to Oklahoma City. However, shortly after a tragedy at the restaurant (the murder of several of the employees at the restaurant) McCarty quit and returned to his hometown.
Out of work, McCarty approached two friends he had made while managing the local restaurant, a McDonald’s owner and the local mall manager. After speaking with these men, he was presented with two job offers. The McDonald’s owner offered a management position under him and told McCarty he would have full reign of the restaurant once he opened a second McDonald’s. The mall manager explained that he only had a mall “maintenance” position available; however there was growth opportunity. Although it meant taking a step back in his career, McCarty accepted the maintenance position, and the rest was history. (McCarty humorously noted that the McDonald’s owner never opened a second location.)
The maintenance position was in a Simon mall and eventually McCarty entered the mall manager training program. It was supposed to take 2 years to before he would be assigned a mall to manage, but in only 3 months McCarty become a manager of his own mall. The story’s twist? The mall was empty! Due to a redesign in the mall, there were no tenants scheduled until spring so the mall was going to be idle during the Christmas season. Taking initiative, McCarty found temporary tenants selling a variety of goods; he said one person even sold tires adding, “Any revenue was better than no revenue at all.” Impressed with his creativity and enterprising nature, the leasing department asked him to join their team, an offer that he accepted. He worked his way up, eventually becoming leasing and development executive vice president.
All the interns who attended were surprised and gratified by McCarty’s inspirational story, passion for the industry, and genuine friendly demeanor. Ashante Patterson, an English major at Rutgers University who is working with ICSC’s publishing department this summer, noted, “[McCarty] made the atmosphere comfortable for all of us to interact with him,” he encouraged questions and freely offered advice.
When McCarty was not talking about his story, he was filling the room with his passion for his career. In fact, he defined the difference between a career and a job as the amount of ones self a person is willing to invest in their work. McCarty talked about how he could not help, but have his overflow work and personal life. His daughter, a college student with a NYC retailing internship for the summer, joined the conversation. She agreed that he would routinely hold informal “focus groups” among her friends, gathered at their home, trying to learn the details of their shopping habits and preferences. For Jona Elwell, a Smith College Student working in the meetings department, that was an important moment, “He’s an actual person, not just a working machine.” His family knows that work his an important part of his life, and his daughter presented an amused acceptance of her father’s commitment to his work, company, and community.
Everyone appreciated McCarty’s openness to sharing his experiences, we all found him to be a great role model. Mike Friedman, who recently completed his real estate certificate at NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate and an intern in the Global Trade Expo Department, said, “I think [McCarty] is a good example of if you stay focused and show up for work with a “can-do” attitude and a smile on your face, the sky is the limit.” Davidson College rising senior Christopher Brandt, who is helping with the upcoming ICSC World Summit, was also touched by McCarty’s story and stated, “His poignant story was certainly inspirational, but more importantly, I learned one can gain a valuable point of view from any job (whether one would consider it glamorous or not) and apply it to the field that he/she is working in”. Overall McCarty’s visit is a conversation none of us will forget and for which we will always be grateful.
Written by: Christina Grafstein