I recently watched segments from the 10/15/14 WCBS 880 Small Business Breakfast: “Thinking Big” With Bruce Ratner, held at The Carltun, an event destination in East Meadow, Long Island.
Ratner's comments are often bromides, to be sure, but it's remarkable how many of them seem questionable when you look closely at the record. And a follow-up article will address some contradictions elsewhere in his speech.
In the below segment, Ratner talks about how live content is key. "The number one arena in the world, O2, is in London, it has no professional team." That's not necessarily a prediction for the Nassau Coliseum, though, because Nassau ain't London.
(At the time of the talk, Nassau was supposed to get a minor-league hockey team, but that's fallen through.)
Ratner also explains about the "local" food in Brooklyn. "You can't have 50 different cooks in an arena," he says, "so we license the recipes, they get a percentage... we actually cook their food... so it's great advertising for their program." Unmentioned: the cut is low.
In the below segment, Ratner talks about networking, and a key tactic.
"When I went into business, I was almost 40 years old, I joined everything," he says. "If I needed to get a company as a tenant, I'd look up, where is that CEO a member of, I'd go to that event."
He recommends that aspiring business people "try to get on boards," whether they be local community groups or charities. "It all of a sudden gives you credibility... I always make sure that every single day I have a lunch, breakfast, or dinner with somebody that will help my business or charity."
In other words, it's always about the results. Ratner's firm has practiced very strategic
Persistence, relationships, and truth-telling
In the below segment, Ratner shares some professional advice.
"I'm very persistent," he says. "I'm certainly not the smartest, certainly not the best, but I am persistent. I never give up. I think that's probably the most important thing."
Well, yes. Except his company got out of the modular business it tried to revolutionize and sold 70 percent of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park (except the modular tower and the Barclays Center operating company; the latter was sold separately).
"I don't think I've ever done a deal where I don't have a good relationship with the person I'm doing the deal with," he says. Except some deals result in rancor and lawsuits, such as the modular deal with Skanska or the Nassau Coliseum development deal with Blumenfeld Development Group.
"There are so many cases--in fact, there are cases where I'll sign a term sheet to make a deal, and we never do the final papers, we just do, this is binding, and we just sign it," he says.
Or, some may recall, in November 2004, a deal with Pace University foundered after Ratner, despite a signed term sheet, asked Pace to pay the sum promised but accept less space, given rising project costs, as the New York Post reported.
"If you don't have a personal relationship with somebody, the documents do not mean anything," he says.
That's a rather astounding statement. Does that meant that any deal can be torn up? And even if you do have a personal relationship, maybe it doesn't last.
At 4:05, he says, "I really mean this, whenever in doubt, tell the truth. And I mean that, really. Just tell the person what the problem is. If you have to change a deal, just tell the person... Don't try tricks."
Well, even the New York Times reported in September 2012 on "his reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms."
Remember Ratner's 2008 Daily News essay declaring 2018 as the new "anticipate[d]" completion date of Atlantic Yards?
Seven months after Ratner's appearance in the videos here, some guy warned about Ratner's unreliability.
Knowing your limits
In the below segment, Ratner talks about working within your range of expertise.
"I think I sometimes dream maybe too big," he says. "The second thing is maybe to never step out too far what you do. So if I'm a real estate developer, say, of residential and office, in the city, and all of a sudden, I decide I'm going to go do suburban hotels, that's a pretty big step out."
Wait a sec. Doesn't buying a basketball team and building an arena qualify too? What about launching a new modular business?
"Make your dreams reasonable," he says. "The second thing is making it real... The most important thing for my success is not the me word, it's the we word."
Wait--they've laid off lots of people in the past year or so.
"The most important thing about [deputy and successor] MaryAnne [Gilmartin] is she's a lot better than I am," he says. Better at what?
Nassau Coliseum's future
In the below segment, he talks about plans for the Nassau Coliseum, which he was about to renovate.