As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Natwick.
Brian Natwick is the President and Chief Operating Officer for Crescent Communities, responsible for oversight of the multifamily and commercial businesses nationwide. Since 2011, the organization has created an investment and development portfolio of 60 investments (15,000 units and 3.7 million SF of commercial) completed or under construction representing $4 billion in capital deployed. In addition, the team is planning another round of 22 investments (4,000 units and 3.4 million SF of commercial) totaling $1.8 billion in capitalization. With over 25 years of real estate operations and investment experience, Brian oversees all aspects of strategy, business development, capital deployment, and execution of all new multifamily and commercial investments. Brian previously served as President of the Multifamily business and joined Crescent Communities in 2006.
Prior to Crescent Communities, Brian held senior management and executive positions at Centex Construction Company (now Balfour Beatty), Skanska USA Building, and Moss & Associates and was responsible for over $500 million (7,500 units/keys) of multifamily and hotel development. He has provided development services for clients such as Walt Disney Imagineering, LXR Luxury Resorts & Hotels and the Blackstone Group.
Active in the community and industry, Brian serves on the board of the McColl School of Business at Queens University and Apartment Life and is an active member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Urban Land Institute (MF Gold Product Council), National Multi Housing Council and National Association of Home Builders (Multifamily Leadership Board). In addition, he served on the board of Habitat for Humanity Charlotte for six years including serving as board chair. He graduated with highest honors from the University of Florida with a degree in construction management and earned a master’s in business administration from the McColl School of Business at Queens University in Charlotte. Brian and his wife, Holly, reside in Charlotte and have three children.
Crescent Communities is a nationally recognized, market-leading real estate investor, developer and operator of mixed-use communities. We create high-quality, differentiated multifamily and commercial communities in many of the fastest growing markets in the United States. Since 1963, our development portfolio has included more than 59 multifamily communities, 21 million square feet of commercial space and 60 single family master-planned communities. Headquartered in Charlotte, Crescent Communities has regional offices in Washington, DC, Atlanta, Orlando, Nashville, Dallas, and Denver. Our multifamily communities are branded NOVEL by Crescent Communities.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in construction management and spent the first 10 years of my career working with some of the largest general contractors in the world. During that time, I gained a tremendous amount of technical experience, but most of all was exposed to the importance of people and leadership skills. Many of those years were spent building resorts for Disney, which inspired me to expand my horizon as a real estate developer. I later went back to MBA school to learn more about finance and business before entering the real estate industry 15 years ago.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have made plenty of mistakes (I call it “failing forward”), especially early in my career. One of the biggest mistakes I made was relying on email to communicate. I found that form of communication helpful to share information, but highly impersonal and ultimately ineffective to find solutions, and better yet, build relationships. After “failing forward” many times, I found myself simply sitting across the table and having a conversation to solve problems, and I learned it also built relationships which created future opportunities and fueled my professional growth.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many mentors in my professional career, but two that stand out are Bob and Scott Moss. Scott and I attended college together at the University of Florida and were fraternity brothers (ATO). One summer, I asked Scott if he could help me network and find an opportunity to work during the summer. Little did I know that his father, Bob Moss, was the CEO of one of the largest general constructors in the US–Centex Construction, now Balfour Beatty. That “relationship” helped open the door for me to earn an opportunity beyond graduation. After college, I accepted a full-time job with Centex, and after five years, Bob Moss later endorsed me to attend MBA school at night while working full-time. I will never forget the phone call from Bob on a weekend…he simply said, “Go for it.”
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I joined Crescent Communities in 2006 as a Development Manager, and in 2011 Todd Mansfield joined our firm as CEO. Later that year, I pitched a growth business plan to Todd and the Board and was later given the opportunity to lead our multifamily development business as President. In 2012, Todd and I — along with our senior leadership team — decided to rebrand the company and establish a mission and core values. After a detailed and thoughtful process, we landed on “Build Community, Better People’s Lives” as our mission and developed four simple core values: Do What’s Right, Be Curious, Innovate Always, and Deliver Excellence. We fundamentally believe that a purpose-driven organization leads to better results, talent, engagement, retention, and most importantly, enjoyment.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
There are two examples that come to mind regarding leading in uncertain times — one during the great financial crisis (2008+) and the other during the great health crisis (now). Both situations are very different in terms of challenges, but leading in uncertain times is the same in a few simple ways including setting a clear and simple vision, encouraging regular communication channels, active listening with empathy, setting a tone of confidence, and supporting a culture of family first and excellence.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I have questioned progress in the face of adversity, but I have never given thought of giving up, it is just not in my DNA. My motivation comes from my faith at church, family at home, and friends at Crescent Communities. I have a deep drive to excel and deliver excellence, especially when the odds are against us and time is about to run out.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Composure — remember that everyone is watching you and looking for leadership.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Engagement is fairly easy if you put in the work. It all starts with communication. With consistent and clear communication, relationships can be forged. After relationships are established, trust is built at a very high level. With communication, relationships, and trust in place, the ultimate state of success is attainable…commitment. Commitment to the mission, vision, and team can boost morale and inspire people to deliver excellence.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
You must be timely with the delivery and maintain empathy throughout.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The future is always unpredictable — use that uncertainty to evaluate the alternatives.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Family first is our motto at Crescent Communities. We believe that family at home and at work always take priority.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Be reactive versus proactive — always think ahead
- Tactical versus strategic — lead with vision
- Chaotic versus composed — everyone is watching
- Uncertain versus confident — make it happen
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
One of my favorite books and quotes is, “Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty.” It is all about the importance of investing time in relationships and being ready for future opportunities. During these turbulent times, preparation is essential to take advantage of opportunities that will be revealed on the other side of difficulty. There is always recovery after a recession, but it rewards those that are prepared with deep, meaningful relationships. The goal is to thrive and not only survive.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Create a winning culture that produces exceptional outcomes. We thrive on positive energy and take time to celebrate key accomplishments.
- Set a clear and simple vision backed by thoughtful strategy. Every five years we create a long-term strategic plan to help guide our annual business plans.
- Inspire team to accomplish the impossible. In everything we do, we challenge the status quo and ask ourselves “why not”?
- Empower leaders to create sustainable / repeatable success. We recruit the very best talent, invest in meaningful professional growth, and trust our leaders at all times. This formula retains our leaders and yields positive results.
- Lead with confidence, composure, and humility. As many of my mentors remind me often… “remember that everyone is watching.” When we win, we simply “hand the football” to the referee” versus spiking it or doing some silly dance.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
- “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” — Walt Disney
Many Walt Disney quotes are relevant to our team, brand, and story at Crescent Communities — they all have a relentless pursuit of excellence.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Crescent website: www.CrescentCommunities.com
LinkedIn Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/brian-natwick-69514116/