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It’s not at all difficult to hearken back to March 2020, when the pandemic first hit the U.S. I can recall gathering some things from my office. I would need those things while working at home for a month, I figured.
Just a month.
Well, we all know how that turned out. How a massive global crisis took millions of lives, upended millions of others and altered life as we know it. And for a large part of the business world, things will never be the same. That was the sentiment expressed to Forbes in February 2022 by Ragu Bhargava, CEO at Global Upside, a global expansion technology and services company.
Bhargava asserted that COVID-19 “revolutionized the workplace” and “served as a massive wake-up call,” in that it underscored the need for flexibility as it pertains to remote work. Others, like Deloitte managing principal Jason Girzadas and chief futurist Eamonn Kelly, have expressed similar sentiments.
They see further disruption ahead as a result of various factors, not the least of which is continuing innovation, and concluded that between now and 2030 businesses “will likely have to change even more frequently, more rapidly, and more dramatically than in the past.”
As a result, they added that business leaders would do well to “break with previous orthodoxies and mindsets to imagine, experiment and scale rapidly in new opportunity spaces with a renewed focus on our societal and environmental impacts as well as our profits.” They should “act boldly, in ways that are neither comfortable nor familiar.”
What they didn’t mention was that there is a high likelihood of another pandemic, which will no doubt roil all our lives that much more. But the greater point is this: Leaders need to be agile and adaptable because we live in an ever-changing world.
I have always prided myself on those qualities — on being prepared for whatever challenge comes down the pike. Nobody could have predicted the pandemic, much less how long it would last or how deeply it would affect our lives. But what we could have done was be prepared to make whatever adjustments the situation required.
I guess the lesson is, rather than make yourself crazy trying to predict future events, which is absolutely impossible, I would focus on knowing that some disruptive event, some Black Swan event, is going to occur multiple times over the life of a company. As a result, it’s crucial to have an infrastructure, a culture and an ability to react to those events, whatever they may be.
I believe our firm has handled the fallout from this crisis as well as is humanly possible, and some of it was because we were set up for this. It’s kind of what we’re built for — change and agility. And secondly, we got lucky. The multifamily sector has been remarkably resilient. You can’t remotely live. You can’t live and sleep on the internet. You can shop that way. You can work that way. But you can’t go to bed at night or open your refrigerator on the internet.
Occupancy rates have remained high, throughout the pandemic, and there has been ample rent growth. In fact, an usually high number of people stayed put and renewed leases. Turnover, an expense for everyone in this sector, went way down over the last couple of years.
As a result, I wouldn’t say the pandemic has been difficult for us, in a business sense. We have adapted and persisted. We have worked remotely and met via Zoom and continued to thrive.
Unlike the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when the markets froze for a time and it was difficult to execute transactions, access to debt and equity throughout this crisis not only remained uninterrupted but increased.
Additionally, I have returned to the office, at least part of the time, as have others on our team. I have also resumed travel to our properties in Tennessee and Texas. And while there is nothing like an in-person meeting from a socialization standpoint and an idea-exchange standpoint, Zoom remains a valuable tool for us and others.
Only recently the organizer of a meeting in the Chicago area suggested we gather virtually after she had struggled to coordinate the schedules of all involved. We had 100 percent attendance.
The lesson, again, is that change is constant. Business leaders, whether in the multifamily sector or elsewhere, need to understand that and remain agile and adaptable. While there is no telling what curveballs life will throw you, one thing is certain: They are headed in your direction. As a result, it always pays to be light on your feet.
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Michael H. Zaransky is the founder and managing principal of MZ Capital Partners in Northbrook, Illinois. Founded in 2005, the company deals in multifamily properties.