UM/ULI roundtable looks back at decades of experience
The legacy of many Grand Rapids buildings was built on the friendship of a mayor, a leadership consultant and a real estate partner.
Those three friends, former Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie, Bill Johnson, a leadership development consultant, and Sam Cummings, principal and managing partner of CWD Real Estate Investment, shared their story in a roundtable discussion at the 26th annual University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum Wednesday in the Amway Plaza Hotel, downtown Grand Rapids.
Cummings praised Logie and Johnson’s economic and personal influence, saying besides his own parents, they had been the most important mentors of his life.
Their trust and collaboration is what made it possible for them to accomplish the purchase and renovation of more than 20 downtown buildings during the last 20 years.
“It’s incredible to be participating in Grand Rapids today, because all the stuff we’ve been working on for the past 20 years is coming to pass,” Cummings said. “The city is vibrant. Back then, we were an eight-hour city and the goal was to become 24-hour one. . . . It certainly is now.”
Logie, who served as mayor from 1992-2003, said businesses should not be afraid to take advantage of asking local government for help. Cummings often came to him for ideas and assistance, Logie said, and even if it wasn’t always a great idea at the time, he tried to work with him to make it better.
“I knew one guy who was a development officer who thought his job was to say no to people,” Logie said. “Government can be a good partner, so don’t overlook interaction from city and state government. Don’t overlook the community itself. It can help.”
Many real estate companies fall apart when the founder leaves, Cummings said. A lover of history and Grand Rapids, Cummings said he wanted his Second Story Properties to have a permanent impact on the city. A legacy, if you will.
This is where Bill Johnson came in, Cummings said, advising them on how to lead.
“In business or in life, you get what you reward and you deserve what you tolerate,” Johnson said. “Good leaders all have one characteristic: They have character. Leaders provide a vision. That’s what John did for Grand Rapids and that’s what Sam began to do with Second Story Properties.”
Cummings’ passion, Logie’s enthusiasm and Johnson’s encouragement are what drove the team forward, even through failures. Cummings admits mistakes were made, but that their failures made them stronger and taught valuable lessons.
The fear of failure is a part of Michigan’s culture that needs to be changed, he said.
“In other start-up communities they celebrate failure, but here it’s frowned upon,” he said. “Going into anything, you need to recognize you’re going to fail and the tendency with real estate is they like to swing for the fences every time.”
Johnson said a fundamental flaw of good leaders is they always want to be liked. Thankfully, he said, Cummings and Logie had the courage to trust their guts and make the unpopular decisions.
And Grand Rapids is proof of their success, he said.
“You can’t always be liked. That’s why they pay you the big bucks,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, you’ve just got to be a jackass in a hail storm. You’ve just got to take it. And in the end, you’ll be right and everybody will know you’re right.”