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Landmark Links October 17th – “It’s Another Day In Which To Excel”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family over the past few weeks and that has left me basically no time to blog.  For those of you who don’t know, my father in law passed away on October 1st unexpectedly and I have been busy both grieving and helping out with the estate issues that accompany such a tragic event.  Today’s blog post is a bit different from the normal Landmark Links fare – no funny pictures or goofy WTF headlines about the latest Florida crime wave – just a tribute to a member of my family and also a good friend.

There is an old saying in the commercial real estate industry that old brokers never retire.  Sadly, I’ve become all too aware of this over the past few of weeks.  Just a few short months ago, I was honored to attend a 40th work anniversary at CB Richard Ellis for my father in law, Ted Snell.  A lot of old friends from his time in the industry showed up to share old war stories and honor a man who had been a fixture at CBRE going on 4 decades.  Ted and his wife Nancy moved out to Newport Beach back in the late 70s when Orange County was in the beginning of an epic growth spurt.  As the story goes, Ted showed up in the lobby of the CBRE (then called Coldwell Banker Commercial) office in Newport Beach and basically refused to leave until they gave him an interview.  His persistence paid off when they offered him a job (if memory serves me correctly he was the first broker hire who wasn’t a USC or UCLA grad).  Mrs. Links and I brought our two young daughters to share in the moment of what their “Papa” had accomplished in his storied career. 

On October 1st, Ted passed away surrounded by his family in the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack a few days earlier.  For anyone who has never lost someone they love unexpectedly, the days after are both grief-stricken and chaotic.  Funeral and memorial arrangements need to be made, estate and financial matters need to get dealt with and most importantly of all, you need to be there to comfort your family.  To be honest, the last three weeks are already a bit hazy in my memory and could have just as easily happened a year ago (I’ve read that this is a fairly common human response to traumatic events).  The traditional way of honoring someone in writing is an obituary and Mrs Links wrote an excellent one that detailed Ted’s life as a family man, successful commercial real estate broker and prolific youth sports coach in our local paper.  Today, I want to take a bit different approach.  While time on earth is limited for each of us, the lessons and wisdom that we impart to others during that time potentially lasts much, much longer.  Today I want to share a simple but critical lesson that I learned from Ted in the time that I spent with him:

Trust Your Gut – Ted’s work persona could best be described as an old school broker’s old school broker.  He was a big, physically imposing presence with an even bigger personality.  Ted was far from computer literate, relied on business cards or memory rather than Outlook or his cell phone for contact information, and understood how the internet worked roughly as well as I understand nuclear physics.  However, he made up for this the way that the best old school brokers do: by forming deep relationships with clients from the top to the bottom of an organization and relying on good old fashioned gut instinct.

Ted was somewhat infamous among his family and co-workers for making snap judgments about people and he often drove his kids nuts by drawing quick conclusions about their friends or potential significant others.  But here’s the thing that they would reluctantly admit – he was almost always proven correct.  Ted was as good at making quick character and personality judgments as anyone who I have ever been around and it served him well in his career since it allowed him to quickly assess who he wanted to pursue business relationships with.  He was an absolute master at reading the subtle cues that people give which mostly go un-noticed.  It also made good business sense. Some of Ted’s best clients were relationships that went back decades and those relationships often started with his ability to read a prospective client. These were the type of relationships that were there in good times and bad. As anyone who works in an industry with unpredictible cash flow like commercial real estate brokerage knows, there’s a lot to be said for that and it often starts with ones ability to assess character. 

I recall that Mrs. Links made me a bit nervous about this talent before I first met Ted several years ago.  It was a very short first meeting since we were running an errand at the time and I remember asking her how I did a few days later.  His verdict?  Something along the lines of “that guy is driven” – in other words, I passed.  I’ve been called that before but wondered how he was able to make such a judgement in a few short minutes.   Did this habit make him come across as the world’s friendliest person initially? Was he best buds with everyone or did everyone liked him instantly?  Of course not, but that didn’t seem to bother him at all which was part of his charm.  Some of my favorite stories at his memorial were about the dichotomy between his often gruff persona and the fact that he was basically a big teddy bear once you got to know him.

The lesson here is simple in theory but complicated in practice: it’s a basic social convention to give people the benefit of the doubt when you first meet them.  However, that shouldn’t mean that you ignore often-subtle cues that can provide an insight as to someone’s personality and or character in a relatively short period of time.  On a personal note, I worked on a couple of projects recently where my partners and I suspected that something might be amiss but continued to push forward anyway – both ultimately went nowhere.  In both cases, we would have wasted less time if we had trusted our gut instinct initially rather than telling ourselves that everything would work out.  Ted was the master at this and it’s a skill that I find myself wanting to improve upon.  

The quote that I used as the title to this post was a mantra that Ted repeated to his kids constantly when they were growing up.  It’s a perfect catch praise for someone who had the guts to drive across the country to a place where he knew no one, show up unannounced at one of the world’s top commercial real estate brokerages demanding an interview and then go on to a storied 40 year career.  He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.  Rest In Peace. 

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