17 February 2011

A Great Love Story

 I am a big fan of the WNYC radio show “Radio Lab.”  Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad are master storytellers. This particular show first aired on January 25, 2011, but I came across it again on Monday.  The story I speak of is the third item in the podcast, and is referenced by the show editors as:
Finally, we turn to a very different kind of lost and found: a love story about running into a terrifying, and unexpected, fork in the road.

Radio Lab is a great show, so I recommend that you listen to the entire show, but I suggest you pay particular attention starting at about the 40:00 minute mark.  It’s only about twenty minutes of your time and I think anyone that listens will be rewarded with a beautifully told story.

HoCo Blogtail Party, Southeast Style

The every-so-often Howard County Blog Party made its first appearance in Savage last night at the Ram's Head in Savage Mill. The event brought out about 30-40 people who were gregarious and lively. Thanks to everyone I met and I look forward to seeing you all at the next one.

14 February 2011

This Company is Getting Harder to Like

I really don’t like doing back-to-back blog posts on a single subject, but the chatter about Howard Hughes makes it difficult not to say something.

Recently I posted about the lack of a replacement for former GGP/HHC Vice President Greg Hamm.  Since then I have come to find out that there have been other vacancies at Howard Hughes.  Specifically the Chief Financial Officer position became vacant on January 31, 2011.  This did not come as a surprise to Howard Hughes, because the CFO was actually an interim CFO that was intended to leave on that date.  It was spelled out in the documents that formed the company back in November.

Instead of conducting a search and installing a new CFO by the January 31st deadline, the Howard Hughes Board of Directors has installed Mr. Grant Herlitz as the CFO.  The board should be familiar with Mr. Herlitz, in that he is also the President of the Howard Hughes Corporation.  This news report indicates Howard Hughes is “conducting an executive search for a permanent Chief Financial Officer.”

Tonight, we hear of Howard Hughes activities in Houston, TX.

Executives with The Howard Hughes Corp. held a high-dollar launch party last week in Houston, complete with plenty of glitz to impress their new business contacts.
...Walls were covered with crushed velvet drapes. Large posters with historic pictures of Hughes were sprinkled throughout the space, each of which contained information on the legendary Houston-born entrepreneur.
Music from the 1920s set the scene, and cocktails flowed freely.
...David Weekley of David Weekley Homes was heard to say: “I didn’t know they had developer parties anymore.”
...Picture an ice sculpture, lots of beautiful flower arrangements, steak sliders and made-to-order stir-fry. Open bars surrounded the room. A dessert buffet beckoned in the back. And live musicians entertained as guests ate dinner.
Decorations included several small replicas of Hughes’ Spruce Goose airplane made specifically for the party.
...Howard Hughes executives who spoke included Grant Herlitz, president; and David Weinreb, CEO; and Peter Houghton, vice president of master-planned communities and general manager of Bridgeland.
It was Houghton’s idea to throw the party.
“The good ole days are back, folks,” Houghton told the crowd. 

I don’t know if they intend to take this party on the road, but I gently suggest that they accomplish something before they start celebrating.

10 February 2011

Columbia still waits at the docks for new skipper to arrive.

These days, I don’t know anyone outside of Texas that understands what is going on with the Howard Hughes Corporation. Born out of a bankruptcy settlement, the corporation exists as a monument to potential; vested in a few master-planned communities and a handful of underperforming malls ripe for redevelopment.


Shortly after forming the corporation, senior management has made a number of moves that indicate Howard Hughes intends to make the most of this potential; and sooner rather than later. Throughout the country, Howard Hughes has shown their intent to move projects forward.

Sadly, one member of Howard Hughes’ senior development team has been fired during this initial push. Wordbones, wrote a great piece on Greg Hamm last week.  Greg Hamm oversaw operations here in Columbia, Maryland and did what I believe was a very good job of working with the community, local activists, and the Howard County Government as the Downtown Columbia zoning and General Plan amendments moved through the local legislative process. What makes his work all the more commendable is that he weathered an almost constant change in management above him at GGP. The man who hired him, Tom D’Alassandro IV, left GGP within a few months of Greg’s hire. Soon after, the GGP board of directors and senior leadership underwent many changes. It was only after exiting bankruptcy, and yet another round of leadership changes did the company fire Greg.

When the news broke that Greg was leaving, the newly formed Howard Hughes Corporation stated that they would find a replacement for Greg “within a month or two.” When I read that, I circled today on the calendar. It has now been two months.

The purpose of this blog post is not to inveigh against Howard Hughes about broken promises or failing to live up to their word. Rather, I suggest caution and provide the following analogy as they work through their selection process:

I look upon Howard Hughes Corporation’s Columbia dilemma as similar to an America’s Cup yacht race. A few years ago, Greg Hamm arrived here and put together a crew that successfully navigated through, and won, a Challenger’s Cup. Now, it is well within the rights of the yacht owner to remove the captain at any time, including after winning a Chellenger’s Cup. However, if such a move is made, the boat owner better bring in a new skipper that has already won a cup. Don’t bring in somebody that has won in Olympic Class racing or Open Ocean racing. Only a skipper that has already won the cup would be viewed to have a chance.

So I say to Howard Hughes, with respect, it has been two months. Bring in the new captain; and make sure this person has the requisite experience. Someone that has a resume long on greenfield single-family home development or office park development will not have the skills required to manage Columbia downtown development.