As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Winston Fisher.
Winston C. Fisher directs the company’s financing/investing activities, property acquisitions and dispositions, and oversees all new development initiatives. With experience across a broad range of transactions, Mr. Fisher leads all financial analysis, due diligence, project capitalization efforts and joint-venture partnerships for new and distressed real estate projects. His active participation in the company’s development projects includes serving as CEO of AREA15, a first-of-its-kind experiential and interactive retail, dining and nightlife complex. In addition, he manages the Fisher Brothers; investment portfolio, including asset allocation, risk management and investment manager selection and holds the position of Chairman of Lionheart Strategic Management, which provides financing on transitional assets.
Mr. Fisher is the Co-Chair of the NYC Regional Economic Development Council, and serves as a Trustee on the Citizens Budget Commission. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York. Mr. Fisher also serves on the Board of the Realty Foundation of New York, and is on the Board of Trustees at Syracuse University, and the Horace Mann School.
Involved in a number of philanthropic activities, Mr. Fisher is on the Board of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and has been active through Team Intrepid Fallen Heroes in participating in extreme sports to raise funds to support our U.S. wounded troops. He also serves on the Board of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Prior to joining Fisher Brothers in the Spring of 2000, Mr. Fisher worked as an analyst at JP Morgan Chase. After successfully completing his tenure at Chase, he joined Heller Financial working in Private Equity Acquisitions Finance and Asset-backed transactions in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Syracuse University, class of ’96.
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?
When I graduated from Syracuse, my father wouldn’t let me begin my career at Fisher Brothers. He wanted me to gain experience elsewhere before making the transition. I started out as an analyst at JP Morgan Chase. Then, once I started at Fisher Brothers, my father made it clear that my name was mud when I walked through those doors and that I would be on the bottom of the barrel. He had an incredibly high standard of all his employees and I was no exception.
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?
The most important thing I’ve learned is to always be clear and measured both in person and over email. I think this is a critical skill for business leaders. Lessons in email etiquette are very important. You don’t have to be bombastic, be clear to get your points across, you don’t want to cheapen who you are, tone is everything.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I really love The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. It’s an older book about how everything is interconnected. I found it to be very impactful.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I’m the product of Richard Fisher. It was ingrained in me that no matter what I do, this is a business, this is a company. Our vision is one of excellence and all of our employees are held to that standard. What I have found to be crucial is that you have to discover who you are. I’m not trying to be my father or the past generation, but I do take the lessons from previous generations and use them for the future. I’m constantly striving to make our business more sophisticated. The first generations’ accomplishments were unbelievable. The complexity of the company today is so much greater than when we started. Take a look at Vanderbilt who was in the steamship business originally and then pivoted to the railroad — that was gutsy! It wasn’t necessarily obvious that was going to be the dominant form of transportation. Being savvy enough to act before anyone else is key.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I think it’s critical to keep moving forward. If you possess an insatiable desire to keep pushing forward, you will succeed. I believe that stagnation in any industry is fatal.
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?
COVID-19 has been wildly disruptive to everybody. It’s injected dislocation and anxiety into our everyday life in an already uncertain and scary world. It’s also hard to get good information that we can trust without the media being undermined because of politics. What has been interesting to observe throughout this time is how COVID-19 has accelerated trends so rapidly. Normally, you could look to the future and see things coming and even have time to prepare, but we’ve accelerated at least 10 years forward, violently.
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?
Fisher Brothers owns and operates commercial, residential and retail developments. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had hospital-grade air filtration, we are embracing new technologies like hands free elevator functionality and amenity technology like desk side food delivery. We rapidly adapted to state and federal COvid-19 guidelines and implemented social distancing protocols within our buildings. As we reposition some of our properties, we’re thinking about current trends. We’ve partnered with Kastle Systems to upgrade our COVID-19 tracking technology and we’re rapidly adapting to the newest health and safety protocols to keep people safe and informed. Just this month we opened AREA15. Despite the pandemic and the impact it’s had on the economy, we made a strategic bet on the experiential economy and have leased over 80,000 square feet of space within the complex in the last six months. AREA15 is a platform for entertainment experiences. I believe connection is the future of real estate and can be a commodity. As we saw retail’s demise accelerating, the idea of gathering and creating a district that is infused with creativity is what people are hungry for, especially in the current moment. People want a chance to forget.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus 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?
Everything has to start with safety. We’re big believers in balancing engagement with safety, but also understand the importance of live interaction. How can we get people back to work to collaborate and spur watercooler creativity? What we need now is to establish balance in our lives between work and home and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy eating.
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?
Cheap financing is available for the right project which will open up a whole host of potential opportunities in the market. We’re also seeing liquidity in the system which is tremendous.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I don’t think it will be as dramatic as people say. Technology and business practices are adapting so there is a seamlessness between the office and home, which allows for greater flexibility and geographic mobility. The work from home phenomenon is profound. People are fundamentally social and working from home is the opposite. A dark side I can foresee is more monitoring programs from companies to keep an eye on how your time is spent at home. Most people don’t want to hear that but that’s likely what will happen. That’s one of the challenges to keeping up productivity.
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?
We just opened AREA15 this month and have already signed over 80,000 square feet of leases in the past six months. Fisher Brothers is going to expand from traditional real estate operator to include hospitality and will continue with our efforts in our hospitality amenity platform @Ease. On the financing side, our debt platform is very active and is growing. We’re optimistic.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
You can’t be scared of new ways of doing things. Creativity, out of the box thinking, acceptance of how tech can be embraced and disrupt industries. Figure out your key internal talents. Sticking with 20th century models is ineffective and will become obsolete.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I always think back to what my father Richard Fisher told me, “Your name is mud when you come to Fisher Brothers. You’re here to work. It’s business first.” That has always stuck with me. Fisher Brothers leadership has always maintained high and exacting standards for everyone. It was tough, but when it comes to business, I firmly believe that.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Check out AREA15, follow on social, LinkedIn.