1st Annual NREI Leadership Awards are a Broadway smash

OUR READERS' CHOICES FOR BEST OF THE BEST IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE FOR 1997 ARE HONORED IN NEW YORK.

As National Real Estate Investor prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary of publication in 1998, it has been some 10 years since the commercial real estate industry was as alive and vibrant as it is today. And yet, the landscape is so rife with deals and activity that it's always nice to digest what has happened in recent times and then take the time to honor those who have achieved great deeds.

There's no question that some in the industry might question why on earth NREI created its own awards program, but the answer is really rather simple.

Until now, we believed that no other awards program was serving the leaders of the industry in a truly credible manner. We're not talking about the usual high-flyers or individual honors that are occasionally bestowed on top-level executives. In fact, we weren't looking to create a glamour competition. And we weren't going to do our own secret, closed-door voting, looking at our advertisers first and what was really happening in the rest of the industry last.

What's the benefit in that? Where's the service journalism? And where's the credibility in the eyes of you, our readers?

We knew we weren't going to launch this program unless we could do it right, so when we had the opportunity to link up with one of the most highly regarded real estate organizations, the Urban Land Institute (ULI), we jumped at the chance. We thank the ULI for their support and help in accommodating our special awards reception on Friday, Nov. 7 during a pause in their annual meeting in New York City at the New York Hilton & Towers.

Now on to the awards.

Our Methodology Here's how we tackled this project. First we decided to award firms rather than individuals. That at least would take some of the ego out of the process and recognize teamwork.

Then we created 10 categories of winners, based on a cross-section of property types which parallels our coverage every month in the magazine (Hotel, Industrial, Multifamily, Office, Retail and Seniors Housing), plus the multi-property disciplines of brokerage and finance (which has always been one of NREI's core strengths). These categories include Top REIT Firm, Top Wall Street Firm and finally the big-magilla Top Deal of the Year (announced, but not necessarily consummated).

We then turned to our 20-member Editorial Advisory Board, which recently celebrated its first year of service for us. We sent each board member a lengthy listing of the editorial staff's top 10-15 nominees in each category, and asked the members to give us their feedback.

Not surprisingly, nearly everyone responded with valuable commentary on our choices. We then settled on a listing of the top 10 nominees in each category and created an official ballot.

But to whom should we send the ballot? Again and as throughout the process of the awards program, we asked ourselves what would make the most sense from a credibility standpoint. What would give us the truest picture of the movers and shakers across the American real estate scene?

The ballot was broadcast faxed to a list of 700 of the Urban Land Institute's top executives across the country, to our Editorial Advisory Board and also to 2,500 of NREI's readers, including the titles of CEO, chairman and president. In all, some 3,200 ballots were faxed to key decision-makers in the real estate industry.

Recipients were asked to fax back the completed ballot to a dedicated fax number. By any measure, the results were impressive. And to ensure complete accuracy, the ballots were tabulated by hand (thank you Karen Edwards and Lisa Dumey!), and double-checked by the editorial staff.

Trends and troubles Abe Lincoln was certainly right when he said something to the effect that you can't please all of the people all of the time. And frankly, we unintentionally overlooked many nominees for our ballot. But then we're only human. Really.

Not surprisingly, then, we had a number of write-in votes. Of particular note were write-ins for Bear, Stearns and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette for Top Wall Street Firm. There were also a number of write-ins for Insignia/ESG for the Top National Brokerage Firm.

Now the real estate industry being what it is -- an ego-less society always operating within the bounds of reason (ha!) -- we wanted to pay particular attention to any voting discrepancies (i.e. ballot-box stuffing). In other words, we really tried to limit the voting to only one ballot per firm.

During the vote tabulation, we encountered a number of ballots with the same fax-identification line at the top of the ballot, which indicated multiple votes from the same firm or a network of firms. In those cases where it was obviously apparent to many of us that multiple ballots were being entered by the same firm, we disregarded that firm's voting category on the multiple entries. This seemed only fair to us.

Here's how the top three vote-getters in each category tallied up:

Top National Brokerage Firm 1. CB Commercial 2. Cushman & Wakefield 3. New America International

Top Seniors Housing Firm 1. Marriott Senior Living Services 2. Meditrust 3. Holiday Retirement Corp.

Top Retail Firm 1. Simon DeBartolo Group 2. General Growth Properties 3. Faison

Top Office Firm 1. Equity Office Properties 2. Beacon Properties Corp. 3. Crescent Real Estate Equities

Top Multifamily Firm 1. Equity Residential Properties Trust 2. Insignia Financial Group 3. Trammell Crow Residential

Top Industrial Firm 1. Security Capital Industrial Trust 2. First Industrial Realty Trust 3. CenterPoint Properties

Top Hotel Firm 1. Starwood Lodging Trust 2. Host Marriott 3. Hilton Hotel Corp.

Top Wall Street Firm 1. Goldman, Sachs & Co. 2. Merrill Lynch 3. Morgan Stanley

Top REIT Firm 1. Simon DeBartolo Group 2. Starwood Lodging Trust 3. Equity Residential Properties

Top Deal of the Year 1. Equity Office/Beacon merger 2. Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter merger 3. Starwood buys Westin Hotels

Will we do it again? Good question. And the answer is yes, in a heartbeat. This awards program brought home many a gratifying moment to the NREI staff. In only our first year of presenting the Leadership Awards, we achieved our goal of creating a truly credible program for honoring the leaders in the commercial real estate industry. We hope you do, too.