Friends & Colleagues,
SCOJ84. 84 weeks #InTheD. This week I went back and read a few early Saturday Cup of Joe newsletters. I realized that somewhere along the lines I started just summarizing the articles. In fact, my dear friend Michelle, an attorney in Detroit, recognized the same thing and rightly brought it up. I’d like to get back to my original intent a bit more. Saying something that matters. As I work to get more interesting and entertaining, I’m finishing up a busy week. My role at work has changed slightly and I’m doing more directing and delegating than before. This means more people and more time leading people. I’ve had to work extra hard on time management of my own day, inbox and priorities to make it work. A great lesson and one I’m enjoying learning. More to come on that.
One interesting event this week here in Detroit was the groundbreaking on a new building that will include residential, office space and retail and will be the tallest in the city. The tower at the top has a viewing platform as well. What makes the building even more special is that it will be built on a site that formerly held one of Detroit’s great buildings and historic department stores — Hudson’s. In fact, Joe Hudson attended the groundbreaking on Thursday. Bedrock Detroit, the developer, debuted a video that chronicles the site, click here to watch it. I am always interested in “big days” around Detroit. This one was sparked discussion throughout the office. One topic that keeps coming up in Detroit is whether we’ll be able to keep affordable and diverse housing options as the downtown develops. It’s a very Detroit thing to do to immediately find the reason why the newest addition or project won’t succeed or should be improved. At the same time, many in the city are used to being either taken advantage of or missing out. If we don’t ask these questions now, when we can influence the outcomes, it could be too late. I’m glad people are talking about it. One of the best parts of the Family of Companies is the willingness to take on any question and address issues or improvements quickly, directly.
Too often I write about the real estate or mortgage markets in broad strokes. It’s interesting to me to look at the big picture, the national narrative. In reality, however, real estate markets are complex especially when looking across national economic trends or places where a few miles can make all the difference in the home values. From personal experience, we sold our house in Connecticut at a time when the national news was reporting a seller’s market. USA Today recently ranked metro Hartford as one of the nation’s top 5 buyer’s markets. In Central Connecticut, we experienced that buyer’s market. Now, we live on the East Side of Detroit a few miles from Grosse Pointe, Michigan which is the epitome of a seller’s market. Houses sell quickly and above asking price- now and probably forever.
It seems to me that the complexity and unpredictability of certain markets and houses will only become more dramatic. For instance, The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published a study of just how complex the real estate market is in metro Philly. The city and certain suburbs are hot markets where bidding and competition is fierce and the next suburb over or just across the state line in New Jersey, the opposite is true. Though the speculation among real estate agents quoted in the article was generally vague, apparently the towns that reflected urban-like settings, strong schools and public amenities are seller’s markets even if the house itself is lacking. My takeaway is that the communities fitting the description of the favorable Philly suburbs (in Philly or anywhere else) will continue to become increasingly competitive and dense as those who can afford it move in.
Included this week:
· Of Interest — Consumer data tracking never really bothered me
· Walk the Talk — Banking one of the industries struggling to find data talent
· Not-Yet-A-Millennial minute — Oracle funds charter school on campus
· NextBelt — Will corporations end up ruling the world?
· Quirky Story — “I spent my second mortgage on bitcoin.” No sympathy here.
· Today’s Thought, the Quote and bonus
Of Interest: Where do you fall on the data privacy spectrum? I’ve often wondered why everyone is so concerned about so-called “online monitoring” when most of the activity is news, social media and shopping. Simply the principal of the thing? Google knowing your Amazon purchases or Facebook knowing your celebrity gossip habit?
I’ve often been casual about tracking & monitoring when it relates to my shopping preferences or internet history. Doesn’t bother me. What concerns me has always been that algorithms will be used to upcharge me for products or services I’m in the midst of comparing. Take airline tickets for example. I’ll often open three or four tabs in order to compare certain flights, airlines or itineraries before purchasing. Occasionally, the ticket prices will increase while I’m mid-search, mid-decision. The ability for companies to take advantage is my concern. Specifically taking advantage of fair market value.
At the same time, it’s never bothered me if I thought I could benefit or profit. If a company, browser or credit card wanted to pay me or reward me in exchange for my online or shopping activity, I’d definitely consider it. I’ve often wondered if I could launch a competing web browser to Chrome or FireFox that would reward consumers for transparency and data. Get paid to surf the web.
This week Uber announced a credit card that attempts to mimic that arrangement. Uber is a hard company to trust right now, but I wonder if they are onto something here. Exchanging higher rewards and cash back for consumer data. Bloomberg even speculates the company might be willing to lose money initially just to get people on board. Consumer data becomes more and more valuable. Companies, including financial institutions, will get more creative (and desperate!) to compete.
Walk the Talk: Thanks to tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google, data scientist is considered this year’s “sexiest job.” When I found out that some data scientists are making $1M/year at tech companies, I understood why. It’s not necessarily about output, per se, it’s about potential. The unknown is so scary that everyone, including the smartest companies in the country, will overpay for the promise of certainty. According to The American Banker, “[i]f you privately ask bank CEOs what their top competitive concern is, they won’t mention another bank. They would mention Google or Facebook. It is the Tech Five, not the bitcoin startups, the robo-advisers or mobile-only banks that scare them.” So if the “Tech Five” will pay that much, and the banks are that scared, what happens next? Banks have to decide between buying up the ideas before they get too big or too expensive or ponying up the big bucks to lure talent aware from Silicon Valley.
Whatever-younger-than-millennial-is-called Minute: Oracle announced the opening of a charter school on its corporate campus. This led me to wonder — what if the next generation of schoolchildren attend Facebook High and Amazon Tech? What would what mean for their opportunities? How would we navigate the tension of equal opportunity in a world where living near a tech headquarters meant a substantially superior, free education? Americans complain about the state of public schools. Many of our proudest and oldest communities have some of our worst schools, Detroit included. Yet, tech money is not a silver bullet. We cannot rely on corporations to solve everything…or can we?
Next Belt: Thinking about relying too much on corporations, the old adage applies “as much as things change, things stay the same.” Cities especially second and third tier cities have always relied on major companies bringing corporate offices, factories, distribution centers or other functions to an area to create jobs, tax revenue and opportunity. One major role for the mayor of any major city is to create an environment that attracts economic development and growth to the region. Trulia published a list (you know how much we all love lists) about the best places to live near “new” company headquarters. 2 things stand out. Mid-size to large cities are the future and people will get creative about where and how they live nearby. There are enough “cool” places in and around America’s midsized cities with character and enough people willing to participate in remaking a town’s story that people will figure it out. My guess is places that are part suburban but feel urban (or are suburban but close enough that younger professionals can still claim some urban attachment). Bring the jobs and it will work itself out has always been general public policy. As corporations launch charter schools, auction off second headquarters, and create infrastructure like shuttle bus routes or employee housing, the approach is changing.
“Value pick” cities like #NextBelt cities, Charlotte, Atlanta, Austin and Orlando (find out what Debbie Hoffman already knows, by clicking here) are banking on the fact that we’ll figure out how far we want to commute, what style home we’ll buy or rent, and where we’ll take our kids. Our generation will invent or remake what we cannot find. Even if your institution or organization doesn’t have the flexibility to move or improve regional infrastructure the way a billion dollar tech companies does, how are you positioning your marketing & messaging to reflect the changing world? What can you do to make small improvements — remote hours/days — or lean into these urban/suburban changes with your product mix, messaging or brand?
Quirky Story: What investment, if any, would you use a mortgage to finance? How sure would you have to be of success? Apparently, at least one regulator is concerned that people are mortgaging their homes to buy bitcoin. Not sure the regulator needs to be that concerned, honestly. If someone is willing to articulate to their lender the purpose and intent of their loan, they are likely responsible enough to take this risk. I would not advise it but I don’t think it’s up to the OCC or FinCen or CFPB to stop bitcoin-guy from mortgaging his house to free up more cash to invest. We’ll never totally eliminate winners and losers in markets. Concerns over someone mortgaging their home to buy bitcoin fall somewhere between believing an urban legend (i.e. one person does not make a market trend) and losing the forest for the trees (i.e. believing the regulator is responsible for every consumer’s poor choices).
Today’s Thought: Be intentional. Early this week, I had a conversation with one of the senior leaders at the company about how to operationalize “be intentional.” One way I thought we could challenge each other would be a simple — “did we do this on purpose?” The point is to confirm with colleagues and coworkers that the company is doing the right thing. Or at least the thing the company intended to do. Sometimes, as leaders, we just have to ensure that we are ensuring we follow up. “Be intentional” seems too formal. “Did we do this on purpose?” seems too easy to misunderstand or be taken as sarcastic. But the point stands that however we can confirm that decisions are being made proactively, with intention, will improve accountability and performance.
Quote: “Generic questions always blow it.” — Brian Grazer
Bonus Content: Conversation between Jeff and Mark Bezos at Summit 2017. The first 10–11 mins or so are family memories and background, so if you cannot devote time to the whole video, skip ahead.