The shopping center industry lost a legendary figure in June. Albert Sussman, the consummate entrepreneur and former executive vice president of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), died at the age of 88. His accomplishments merit our reflection.
Known as “Mr. ICSC,” Mr. Sussman was hired as the association's first employee in 1958 and spent the next 28 years working to boost membership at home and abroad and launch education programs. What started as a small band of developers has since grown into an international association with more than 48,000 members representing a variety of retail-related disciplines in 77 countries.
Of Mr. Sussman's many innovations, the decision to include deal making in an open forum as part of ICSC conferences was among his boldest strokes. “When I first came to ICSC, there was great debate about whether this was a good idea,” recalls John Riordan, who joined the ICSC staff in 1982 and succeeded Mr. Sussman in 1986. “People were hesitant to do business in a trade-show environment. Al knew deep down that way of doing business would prove over time to be extremely efficient and cost-effective,” adds Riordan, who retired from the association in 2003 and still serves as a consultant.
But how could Mr. Sussman be so sure developers would do business in the open? “He and I were at a funeral one time,” Riordan recounts, “and some guys were over in the corner with plans spread out for a shopping center. They were doing a deal.”
Persistent, creative and highly persuasive, Mr. Sussman never wavered in his belief that the exchange of ideas was the lifeblood of the industry. He was constantly looking for new ways to grow the organization. “As successful as ICSC is today, it had some lean years in the 1970s when the shopping center and real estate industries were in recession, and membership plummeted,” says Norman Kranzdorf, one of the founding members.
“Al insisted that we should all stick to the format of holding meetings and conventions, and things would come back,” adds Kranzdorf, the former president of Amterre Development who later founded Kranzco Realty Trust.
In his 20s and fresh out of law school when he entered the shopping center industry in the 1950s, Kranzdorf immersed himself in the business. “The thing I learned most from Al was stick-to-it-iveness, to keep grinding away. There are no shortcuts in the business, and you have to work hard to get ahead.”
Mr. Sussman was a graduate of The City College of New York, served in the army during World War II and came to the association with considerable experience in public relations. “Albert Sussman had this special quality — people would do almost anything for him,” Riordan says. “For several years after I took over, if I needed to reach someone I would say that I was Albert Sussman calling. It was a good technique.
“Mr. Sussman possessed an extraordinary personal character,” says Riordan. “He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he cared about ICSC. It was his baby, it was his life.”
The current generation of shopping center owners and developers, and those to come, owe Mr. Sussman a debt of eternal gratitude.