Mike Turner
Mike Turner, Company President, Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.
 

In these blogs my colleagues detail the parts of their career that engage them, and hopefully convey some of the passion each brings to their job.  And while most would probably deny it, be embarrassed even to admit it, most do bring a good deal of passion to what they do.  It is part of my responsibility to bring the various strands together, provide the tools, and channel that enthusiasm in a way they find fulfilling and that allows them to grow professionally… the better to serve our clients.  It is also important that we are profitable.  Training is expensive; and we have to continually invest in information technology (IT) so that we have the tools to capitalise on our human resources.  We also have a moral obligation to contribute to organisations who help others help themselves, and commit 1% of our gross turnover, about a tenth of our profits, to Oxfam, The Salvation Army and Amnesty International.  This all probably sounds clinical but working with intelligent, creative colleagues help solve clients’ real estate problems is exciting and usually great fun.  It is also very satisfying to hire a new recruit and then observe them grow professionally.  It is wonderful as well, to see them develop their personal lives and to feel that, in some small way, to have contributed to that journey.

The Challenge

Running a company whose main assets leave at the end of every day is a hell of a lot more difficult than I thought it would be when Verna and I founded Turner Drake in 1976.  Had I known then what I know now, I doubt whether I would have had the courage.  Still fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and it has been and still is, an exhilarating journey.  What makes it worthwhile is people: colleagues with whom you share the lows as well as the highs; clients whose faith and loyalty is humbling; and suppliers like Barb Hill our programmer, still there after thirty years and at least two attempts to fire us.

Despite our Newsletter, web sites, mailouts, seminars and Geneviève’s efforts with social media, we find that most clients have a one dimensional view of Turner Drake.  If they deal with a Division such as Property Tax, it is assumed that this must be our real face.  As a consequence I get countless letters saying “The reason I use your company is Gxxx of your Property Tax… Valuation… Counselling… Lasercad®… Brokerage… Economic Intelligence… Planning… Division, he/she is wonderful”.  It’s very flattering but somewhat frustrating. Part of the problem, I think is that we are all used to choosing a firm based on the expertise of a single individual, usually its principal, in a fairly narrow field … or if we chose a company with a broad range of expertise we expect that depth will have been sacrificed for breadth.  So how can we offer such a strong bench (as one client put it) in seven different areas of real estate?  The short answer is that we do not have seven silos each selling their service under a single brand. Every member, of every Division, has to go through a common, seven-year training program which includes experience in each Division … irrespective of whether they have a post graduate qualification in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or Planning.  We prefer to hire direct from university (up to three years’ post graduate experience is acceptable) and then cycle each professional trainee through a choreographed program comprising twenty seven Training Modules, the University of British Columbia’s Diploma in Urban Land Economics (DULE) and Bachelor of Business in Real Estate (BBRE) degree, and mentored On the Job Training.  The objective of this common training platform is to give every member of our professional staff, no matter their speciality, a broad understanding of the depth of expertise available.  It involves a lot of sweat and tears but it works because it forestalls tunnel vision.  Every member of our professional staff can spot early in the assignment if and where other specialist expertise can contribute to solving the problem.  As a result we are able to cost effectively resolve problems in a manner that maximises benefit to the client, rather than spinning wheels, arriving at a sub-optimal solution, or building a mountain out of a mole hill.

Never Look Back:  Never Give Up

My formative years were spent in the United Kingdom during the 1960s.  Change was in the air:  youthful frustration with the status quo was everywhere; offshore pirate radio stations, satire (That Was The Week That Was), womens’ fashion (colour and the mini skirt), music (Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al), sexual liberation (The Pill), theatre (Tom Stoppard), drugs … it culminated in Margaret Thatcher’s free market revolution in the late ‘70s early ‘80s.  The status quo was repeatedly unmasked for what it was … a sham, a benchmark of the past, not a guidepost to the future.  As a consequence I have always distrusted the status quo.

Running a business always requires that one looks forward:  the past cannot be changed, only the future represents opportunity.

Spotting change and sifting trends from tremors so that the firm’s scarce resources can be deployed, rather than squandered, is the sine qua non of any successful management strategy.  I am constantly reminded that every business is just one week away from disaster no matter its size, just look at BP’s Gulf of Mexico fiasco:  a couple of fools decimated one of the world’s largest oil companies, cost $40 billion and disrupted tens of thousands of lives.  In retrospect some of our successful decisions were obvious … our decision to embrace Information Technology in 1978 and focus on database development rather than analysis because we correctly realised the latter would be ubiquitous and cheaply available; our early and enduring commitment to real estate education and training; our embrace nine years ago of Geographic Information Systems; and now (I hope) Planning with an economic rather than a physical focus.  Our aim is to create a set of synergistic skills, underpinned by a common training platform, cemented by an ISO 9001:2008 Quality System. Those are the building blocks, but what trends will define the future?  These are my predictions:

  • Municipal and provincial government departments and agencies in Atlantic Canada will increasingly fail to deliver services to taxpayers at an acceptable level and cost.  With few exceptions, most are sclerotic, insular, decision adverse and fiercely resistant to change.  Time has already passed them by … they are now decades behind the private sector in the use of information technology, staff training and education.  Many are burdened with salary expectations and pension commitments which a declining working age population cannot possibly fund.  Eventually service delivery will be transferred to the private sector but the powerful civil service unions will prevent this migration until we are beyond the point of fiscal return.  In other words, this will not be an incremental process … it will be precipitated by financial collapse, and only after we have burdened future generations with intolerable debt.
  • Firms will continue to consolidate.  Unless ownership control of their real estate assets is critical to their core competency the trend of renting, rather than owning, will continue, and tenants will increasingly seek professional representation for their lease negotiations.
  • Firms that consider ownership control of their real estate assets critical to their core competency, or who view it as an investment opportunity over which they can exert direct control, will increasingly recognise the complexity and interdependency of real estate services such as acquisition, leasing, disposal, planning, market intelligence, property tax abatement, valuation, counselling, space measurement … and will seek complete solutions rather than attempting to solve the problem themselves by selecting from a menu of potential answers.
  • Consumers will continue to be better educated and informed, and hence more discriminating buyers of real estate services.  They will be less willing to accept the supplier’s “brand” or its employee’s qualifications at face value.  They will require that advice be grounded in data rather than digestion (gut feel), that expertise be demonstrated by competence, training and education not just longevity, and in a world of heightened scrutiny they will demand integrity.  As always they will seek suppliers who bring passion, creativity and reliability:  solution seekers not problem finders.
  • Atlantic Canada will continue to transition from a resource to a knowledge based economy. Property ownership will become increasingly international.  Provincial borders will become as irrelevant as the politicians, civil servants and special interest groups who attempt to preserve them.

Company President Mike Turner reveals his exclusive outlook on the company he started nearly forty years ago, and shares his behind-the-scene perspective on running a successful firm.