Shopping Centers Today

OCT 2018

Shopping Centers Today is the news magazine of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)

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W 42 S C T / O C T O B E R 2 0 1 8 ashington Prime Group wants its shopping center general managers to quit worrying about xing leaks. Well, perhaps not entirely — but for years many of these general managers tended to view themselves as property caretakers whose role it was to handle the routine operational tasks, like mak- ing sure leaks got xed. Washington Prime CEO Louis G. Conforti insists that the rm can no longer a ord to conne itself to such a narrow approach, and neither can the industry overall. Since taking the helm of Columbus, Ohio–based Washington Prime in 2016, Conforti has embarked on an energetic overhaul of the property management division. Conforti wants the company's general managers to do more than focus on operations; he wants them to think and act like people who are in his shoes: that is to say, like chief executives. And he is taking steps to empower and motivate them to do exactly that. "Many GMs were, quite frankly, operations directors," Conforti said. "I want my GMs to behave and act like the CEOs of companies." In this, Conforti is in good company. As the retail landscape shi's and consumer preferences change, some of the country's largest shopping center owners and third-par- ty managers are rethinking the role of the general manager. To be sure, the operations function is still a key part of the job description at many rms, but leasing, marketing, programming and other duties have taken on increased importance. "When I was a general manager, you had to be a general- ist," said Karen Raquet, CRX, CSM, a director of retail property management at JLL. "You [still] need to under- stand each department that you are overseeing. [But] it's now transitioned into GM on steroids. œere is an expecta- tion that you're not only a great manager, but you need to be a great leader and a participatory leader. Can you motivate and lead the team in a changing environment? Can you focus on the big picture, yet dive into the details in each department?" Washington Prime, for its part, has gone back to basics. œis year Conforti and members of his newly assembled senior property management team worked together to conceptualize the ideal general manager — what they are calling a "goodwill ambassador." œeir denition is based on a proprietary list of about a dozen desired traits. œis is "a person who appreciates the demographic constituency in which their asset is situated and is less focused on the traditional role of an operations director," said Conforti. He or she should be proactive in terms of identifying leasing, sponsorship, programming and common-area- activation opportunities — activities that add dynamism to a shopping center, says Conforti. "Why not have the people who live, work and play in an area," Conforti said, "be responsible for local and regional sponsorship and leasing opportunities? I've got some of the best leasing and sponsorship professionals in the world, [and] yet, do they come across that local cra' brewer or leatherworker? Kinda, sorta." Washington Prime has assembled what Conforti calls a SWAT team of 10 existing general managers who embody the rm's goodwill ambassador ideal. (Some members of this team have since been promoted to regional vice president.) Team members have been traveling around the U.S. to mentor general managers and are working¥to develop resources for them — including a menu of sponsor- ship-driven events and common-area installations that can be replicated across properties. "What a general manager needs to understand is that corporate works for them," said Conforti. And general managers are "the lifeblood" of the company, he points out. Over the past several years, CBL Properties, too, has placed a renewed importance upon its general managers. Among other things, the company dissolved a layer of regional managers specializing in property management and other disciplines, reassigning many of them to other roles within the company. œe move has empowered general managers by creating a ¦atter organizational structure, according to Stephen D. Lebovitz, CEO of the Chattanooga, Tenn.–based rm. CBL created the regional-management layer when it made a substantial number of acquisitions and needed help with property integration, sta training and other tasks. Since then, the company has streamlined its portfolio through dispositions, and has consequently begun to see the regional layer as setting up an unnecessary bu er between the corporate o¨ce and the general managers, according to Lebovitz. "We have always believed that general managers are the CEOs of their properties and have a responsibility to run a business within our business," he said. "Over time, that [focus] had gotten watered down." œe closer connection between the corporate o¨ce and the general managers is especially critical now that CBL is redeveloping several former department store spaces. "œese [redevelopment] projects are based on local demand," said Lebovitz. General managers work closely with the corporate o¨ce on major leasing decisions, he says. If there is an opportunity to, say, add a hotel at a given property, then general managers are in a good position to know what price point makes sense, based on their local market knowledge, argues Lebovitz. "We look to the local team to help us with these [types of ] questions," he said. At CBL, the job of general manager is also more sales- oriented than it used to be, and GMs and their teams now play a big role in temporary leasing, sponsorship programs,

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