As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Pink.
Michael Pink is the founder and Managing Broker of Chicago-based MAP Real Estate Inc. and has over 35 years of experience exclusively representing commercial office tenants by providing real estate brokerage and consulting services to both tax-exempt and taxable organizations.
Pink personally provides end-to-end lease representation to businesses & nonprofits and has completed over 900 transactions in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Those transactions include renewing an expiring lease, leasing or subleasing new office space, buying/selling condominium office space/buildings, expansions, contractions, ridding surplus space through renegotiation and/or subleasing. He is committed to negotiating the best possible transactions that save his clients money throughout the term of their lease, while affording them the best space of their choice.
Since 1985, he has been a member in good standing of the Chicago Association of Realtors®, the IL Association of Realtors®, and the National Association of Realtors®.
He is deeply committed to community building. Pink founded Investing In Communities® as a philanthropic program in 1995, and has donated $550k+ of MAP’s commissions to a wide range of nonprofits that are chosen by MAP’s clients. IIC has since become a separate nonprofit social enterprise of which he is the leader.
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?
My entrepreneurial streak started early. When I was in 4th grade, we moved downtown from a northern suburb and I handed out leaflets in the 40 story apartment building where we now lived, offering dog walking and shoe shining services to the other tenants. In high school I had two part-time jobs and told my dad I no longer needed the allowance he generously gave me each week. Years later, I still feel the pain I inadvertently caused by depriving him of the pleasure he got from giving me my allowance. Until I was 18, I had the outrageous privilege of spending summers in northern Wisconsin. I gladly worked around the house doing gardening work, mostly so I could be with my dad, but also to earn $2/hr. He died 10 days after I was 19 and that had a profound effect on the rest of my life. A few years after attending two small cluster colleges at UOP in Stockton, CA, in the 70s, where I got a degree in University Studies (because I was too interested in too many things), I moved to Albuquerque to found an industrial fastener distribution and used-machine-tool company with my brother. Our customers for 95%+ of what we sold were the uranium mines and their contractors. When the Three Mile Island disaster happened, we went out of business overnight. In 1985, I moved back to Chicago, where I’d grown up, and became licensed in real estate, specializing in “office tenant-rep”. I started MAP Real Estate the next year and have run it ever since, with my business partner and wife of 33 years. I really had not wanted to run my own company, after the business failure in Albuquerque. But circumstances conspired against my being able to find and learn a craft from some wonderful mentor. Nine years later, Sharon and I unwittingly turned our “normal” for-profit into a social enterprise, by starting an experiment that involved giving 10% of our gross to charities chosen by our clients, in a way that was license-act-compliant. The insights we gained over the following 13 years led us to believe we could one day build something much more powerfully good and that is Investing In Communities®, our nonprofit social enterprise. We made that choice so we could come to work to help ourselves and at the same time help others.
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?
Well, it’s ironic, rather than funny. We thought that if we gave money to our client, for whom we had provided valuable services and for which they paid nothing, and asked them simply to give it to a charity of their choice, that they would do so. We’re pretty sure that three times, out of around 70, our client kept the money!
We learned that was a limitation of the way in which our client-directed/broker-funded philanthropy program could be improved upon.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I found Negotiating Rationally to be quite useful when I was beginning to learn my craft. It may sound like a “duh” thought, but it validated the intuitive approach that I began with and have come to see over the course of 900 client projects to be the best way in which to achieve the results I owe to our clients.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Initially, my purpose was to have a small business with my partner, to whom I had just gotten married. In our 9th year we decided to be in business in a way that would result in benefit for the world every time that we helped ourselves. We had really no idea how to go about what we later came to call doing business doing goodsm. Seriously, I was very conflicted over the idea of mixing doing good with making money. Was it seemly? Was it polite? Was it even generous? Part of the reason that we chose to give 10% of our gross, was so there could be no mistake that we were doing as much as we could. Could we even afford to conduct our experiment? Was I a pretender at philanthropy? Was this legit? I got over all of that. I find my life more enriched than I can articulate. I feel a sense of self-pride, for the past quarter century to have done all that I can do. I once heard Bernardine Dohrn. I was moved by the admonition to not just get excited about something and put some effort into it for a while, but to do all that you can do. I have been doing that and I intend to keep that up until my “departure”. I’m actually in a big hurry now. Having just turned 65, I’m pretty sure my seat is closer to the exit.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Doing business, doing goodsm. That perfectly describes what we do at MAP and what I would like other businesses to do.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I don’t want to be argumentative, but use of the past tense is, sadly, premature. I continue to benefit from the good luck not to have contracted Covid and neither has any of my family members. Around the end of March, I found it difficult to maintain my sense of humor. The thought of losing that scares something out of me that I will not spell. Over the last six weeks or so, I’ve gotten into a pretty decent rhythm. One of the things that I try to do is be nice — just plain nice. When I go for our nearly daily four mile walk, I say hello to as many people as I can. It feels good to say thank you to the mail carriers. It feels better than it usually does to take a bouquet to our elderly neighbor. It feels terrible to see on the news how disproportionately Covid is affecting non-white Americans. It feels worse than I can articulate to see what happened to Mr. Floyd. The casual hand-in-the-pocket nonchalance of the officer that kneeled on his neck is evocative of Nazism. The participation of the other three officers, of the Nazi Party.
The idea that we will quite possibly not see some of our much older friends again in person is upsetting. So we use the telephone and Zoom. And leave homemade soup or a bouquet of homegrown flowers with their doormen when we go downtown to get mail.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well, as has happened for so many of us, my world has been turned upside down. The biggest challenge is simply emotions in the face of profound uncertainty. And that makes me very lucky. What does the future hold? What does the present hold.? A loved one could die of Covid and that is reality. It’s also reality that the world will go on and probably mostly as we know it from before Covid-time.
As for our business, we have quite a number of client projects that began before Covid. They continue, albeit some of them on a less straight path, than would otherwise be the case. In the last 6 weeks, we’ve gotten new brokerage assignments from clients we had never even spoken with before April.
What will the world of office leasing be like after Covid-time? You might think that my guess should be better than yours. But I doubt it is. Chicago has a more diverse corporate tenant base than any other major US metro market, according to an authoritative real estate information source So the hit here should be less than in those other markets. In Chicago, Class A space was already under pricing pressure during the last half of 2019. Covid is not helping that. It’s expected that the top end of the caliber spectrum, which means the most expensive buildings, will be where the most pricing pressure will happen. The flood of sublease space has already begun. Landlords with whom I’ve recently spoken like the idea better than ever of low transaction-cost deals. Translation: if you can find or stay in space that requires little construction, negotiate hard for favorable lease economics and not necessarily for only a year or two.
What does it mean that maybe 25% of office jobs will remain work-from-home? Maybe it means less space will be leased by both taxable and tax-exempt enterprises . On the other hand, if we need to remain safely distanced at the office, maybe it means that each office employee will require more square feet. For sure, what it all means is that we will make adjustments along the way and we have a long way to go before we know what will happen.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I find it comforting to rely on a scientific perspective and I offer that to my family and friends, as well as to business colleagues and in casual contacts with strangers. Anything else is worse than simply being of no use. It is destructive. Through science, we have learned how to deal with the pandemics in the history of modern society. They end. There is a rational way to deal with them. Take precautions against spreading the pathogen and you will be protected by the same precautions being taken by others. As possible, relax. Do not act in terror or in self-destructive ways, because doing so endangers yourself and others.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
It’s hard to distinguish between anticipation of and hope for progress on many fronts of social injustice, including expanded opportunity in education, healthcare, employment, environmental protection, food security, and housing, among others.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Wouldn’t it be amazingly great if we grow more tolerant, caring, together, happy. The other things are minor in comparison. But for simpler and less complex things, maybe we will increasingly work from home?
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I can’t wait to complete the re-branding of our for-profit, which is how we have made a living since 1986, through the lens of what has over the last 25 years become my life philosophy,“investing in communities.” Think of it as planting trees under whose shade I will never sit. But if we all do that, we will all, always, be able to sit in the shade. And we will continue to build Investing In Communities®, IIC, which is the way in which we can do the most good, for the most, for the longest.
The “re-branding” of MAP should capitalize on the way we have already been doing business. That part isn’t new. The new part is actually telling the world what we are. Our target client for MAP Real Estate is office space users, both tax-exempt and taxable. On the tax-exempt side, we’re really talking about what the world thinks of as a charity. And even nonprofits that are not a “charity” frequently have a related 501(c)3 that is all about charity. On the taxable side, we are talking about for-profits that are somewhere on the spectrum of social enterprise. Maybe they self-identify as a “social enterprise”. Maybe they are “just a normal” company whose leaders and/or employees have genuine philanthropic interests that they engage in in a variety of ways. Point of emphasis: activities that fall under the heading of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are good and genuine, whether or not the prime underlying motivation is to benefit the bottom line. I don’t know if Sister Irene was the first to coin the expression, “no margin, no mission”. But what could be more fundamentally sustaInable than for profitable commerce itself to be the engine for the social sector? Everywhere there is business, there is also the social sector.
IIC will continue to grow, as the best way for individuals and companies to utilize the services of any real estate agent and broker of their choice. IIC is the best way for two reasons. Consumers get our help to identify specialist agents that are appropriate for consideration to handle an upcoming transaction, based solely on matching the agents’ professional experience and expertise with each consumer’s specific needs. And we also empower consumers to support a charity or school of their choice using part of the ordinary commission that will be paid anyway to their very lucky agent. We do this by redirecting, then repurposing referral fees, a common marketing expense that agents across the country prove they are happy to pay to brokers who refer clients to them.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Think before you spend. Always consider that what you want or need might be available to buy from a company or professional whose approach to business is doing business, doing good. Consume that product or service to satisfy a personal or company need. But while you do that, you will also be benefiting others. I’m really just talking more about all those shade trees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It sounds corny, but it might be “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. It’s about living fully, full of care, full of appreciation, and not full of waste. I used to think that he made it up, because my big brother told me those words about 45 years ago. He did not.
My mom, who died in 2016 at 88, started around age 65 to say “hold yourself in readiness,” referring to some of the so-called “joys” of old age. She also said “the only revenge is LIVING life.”
My dad, who died in 1974, said lots of things while driving in traffic. That’s how I learned some of my first short sentences. He treated a doorman with the same respect as a bank president. That was a great way for me to learn how to treat people. He was a wonderful person and, as best I knew, universally liked.
Both of my parents left big shoes to fill.
I’m in a hurry, in part, because I’m 65. So while there’s no way to know how long is left, as I said earlier, my seat’s moved closer to the exit. The other part is that there are too many wrongs that are needless. Helping in any way to change that is really living life!
How can our readers further follow your work?