Recently, ICSC has adopted the acronym “EARN” to provide a quick review of the major benefits and programs of the association: Education, Advocacy, Research, and Networking. But to my mind, there is another important activity in which the association—or more accurately its members—routinely engage: mentoring college and university students. Despite the demands of making deals, running companies, and sustaining careers, I find that, when asked, ICSC members are virtually always willing to take time to mentor students. This generous impulse was on full display at the recent ICSC Florida Conference, August 18-20.
The Florida meeting, with 3,000+ attendees, is one of our largest annual conferences. In the dog days of summer, members converge on the Gaylord Palms and Convention Center in Kissimmee to learn best practices, hear from association leaders, and, of course, do business. As the staff member serving ICSC’s student membership and higher education outreach programs, I organized a number of conference opportunities to deepen the experience of the 100 or more students and university faculty and staff who attended the convention. For instance, 10 Florida university programs in retailing and real estate were offered complimentary exhibit space on the trade show floor, to raise awareness of their academic programs, connect with alumni members of ICSC, and more. Students were also treated to a networking reception with about a dozen industry professionals leading conversations on different aspects of the industry.
But, it was the one-on-one mentoring appointments that were, by far, the most well-received offering made to ICSC student members. Over the course of two days, nearly 30 industry leaders, representing the broad spectrum of career paths within retail real estate, offered an hour or more of their undivided attention to speak with young people, in 20 minute private sessions. The conversations were informal and organic, guided by the students’ interests, career objectives, and level of professional experience. In the conversations that swirled about me, I heard advice on securing internships and jobs, thoughts on the possibilities of graduate school, suggestions relating research projects, and tips on making the most of the Florida meeting. I noted that several students were offered opportunities to “shadow” members at working meetings, while others pored over construction plans for shopping redevelopment projects. Many mentees benefited from the natural synergy that professional conferences provide, with their mentor introducing the student to associates and colleagues who might have particularly beneficial insights for them. In one case, a fresh-faced University of Florida undergraduate beamed about a potential autumn internship that might be in the works, all due to one of his mentor appointments.
As one who is untutored in the ways of the business world, I gauge my professional success on these moments of connection, revelation, and encouragement. When I see a bashful 20 year old, attending his first professional conference, absolutely bloom with optimism about his post-graduation opportunities, I am not only grateful for my own role in the organization and its commitment to higher education, but my faith and admiration of our members is absolutely buoyed. One might not necessarily think of retail real estate moguls as likely candidates to nurture young people, but in the case of ICSC, I see it happening again and again, no matter the meeting, location, or current performance of the economy or industry. As I wrapped up my work last Tuesday, I spoke with one of the women who has participated in this effort for several years. With certain pride, she re-counted the roster of young people she’d met over the years and about the post-conference support she happily gave them, “paying it forward,” as she described. In many cases, she identified these young people not as mentees who sought her counsel, but as professional colleagues with whom she now works. And, with that bit of nostalgia, I packed up my laptop and back-pack to head back to New York knowing that our members are not just interested in Doing Well, but committed to Doing Good, too. So on behalf of our outstanding students who attended this year’s Florida meeting, I extend a warm and sincere thanks to our 2013 mentors:
Steve Althoff, The Sember Company; Victoria Anthony, Kimco Realty Corporation; Rod Castan, Courtelis Company; John Crossman, Crossman & Company; Kimberley Friedman, The Jaffe Corporation; Laura Gonzales, BBVA Compass; Justin Greider, Crossman & Company; Craig Kopko, North American Properties; Kimberly Lamb; Jeremy Larkin, NAI Miami; Whitaker Leonhardt, HFF; David Moret, Continental Real Estate Companies; Sue Murphy, P&M Consulting; Brad Peterson, HFF; Lenore Reynolds, Bruce Strumpf, Inc.; Susan Ross, Federal Realty Investment Trust; Judith Schumacher, Anderson Moore Construction; Dale Scott, Hawkins Construction; Ted Starkey, Wells Fargo Securities; Chuck Taylor, Madison Marquette; Kathy Ward-Darrin, Butler Enterprises; Michael Weinberg, HRR; Katy Welsh, Hunter Real Estate Brokerage, Inc.; and Patricia Westerhouse, Casto.