Important Career Lessons from Bryan Koop, Executive Vice President at Boston Properties
When was the last time you walked into a large office building? Maybe a restaurant at the top of a skyscraper? How about an apartment complex? Enter Boston Properties, one of the United State’s largest real estate development firms you probably have never heard of, but whose impact on the urban development scene is unparalleled. At a bird’s eye view, Boston Properties’s business model is simple: build excellent buildings that cater to the needs of their clients. But digging a bit deeper, Boston Properties’s role in real-estate development is so much more.
Boston Properties was founded in 1970 by Mortimer B. Zuckerman and Edward H. Linde in Boston, where it maintains its headquarters. According to bostonproperties.com,
“Boston Properties is a fully integrated real estate investment trust that develops, redevelops, acquires, manages, operates and owns a diverse portfolio of primarily Class A office space totaling approximately 48.4 million square feet and consisting of 164 office properties (including six properties under construction/redevelopment), five retail properties, five residential properties (including three properties under construction) and one hotel.”
Not only does Boston Properties own a vast portfolio of real estate, but they also offer in-house real estate management services and have a proven record in building Urban and Suburban Office buildings, some of which are build-to-suit projects for the U.S. government. The company is a powerhouse, and it shows in its vast real-estate portfolio.
Be that as it may, my interview with Executive Vice President Bryan Koop was not necessarily about the types of buildings or the impact that this mall or hotel had on improving the community. Though those aspects are the lifeblood of the company, the biggest takeaways were the life and career lessons one could take from Mr. Koop’s experience. Below are a few key lessons to learn from Boston Properties and Mr. Koop, starting with a problem businesses have had since the dawn of time: competition.
When asked about how one can differentiate themselves from the competition, Koop directed my attention to a thesis created by author Simon Sinek called “the Golden Circle”. For Sinek, there are three major questions a company should be able to answer about themselves.
The first question: What? What product do you sell? What service do you provide? For Boston Properties, this “what” is selling the best quality building for people to use.
The second question: How? How do you make your product? How do you provide your service? Building the best buildings requires the best locations. Boston Properties only builds in five major US “growth” cities: Boston, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Los Angeles and builds buildings so they last a lifetime. If you’ve been to The Shops at Prudential Center in Boston, you will understand what they mean by “high-quality design and materials. The Shops boast white marble flooring, large bright windows, and an indoor tree conservatory, reflecting the taste and emphasis on quality built buildings within Boston Properties.
The third and final question: Why? Why does your company do what it does? The core belief, mission, drive. Not money or material things. It’s easier to build a Volkswagen Golf in a factory-built for the production of cars. It’s better if that factory is suited to the specific needs of building a Golf. It’s best when the factory is built in a way that allows Volkswagen to more efficiently manufacture the Golf. This notion, that great buildings can allow great companies and great people to flourish, is the “why” behind Boston Properties. They value their customers by giving them the best space for them to flourish. The best companies are defined by their ability to answer this question of “why”. It’s what sets you apart from the competition, and it’s what will bring customers to you. “What”, “How”, and “Why” are a large part of competitive organizations. But for the individual person, success is better honed through a solid foundation of beneficial character traits.
Character traits can be a person’s biggest asset or biggest liability. We all know the classic “good” and “bad” traits for a business owner to develop, but when asked what the most valuable trait for a business person to have, Koop’s unexpected answer was “life-long learning”. Most people learn for the first twenty-five years of their life, maybe thirty, progressing through K-12 education, maybe going on to college and graduate school. By around twenty-five, the majority find a job in their industry and learn the ins and the outs. Age thirty-five or forty roles around and people decide that they have “learned everything they need to learn”. They stop learning and continue with life. The point where they give up learning is the same point where they begin losing value in the workplace. Life-long learning is the ability to continually educate yourself on how you can improve your craft and how to respond to new trends in the business world. The business world is not a stagnant pool, but an ever-changing ecosystem that requires adaptable people to manage it. “In times of great change, the learners inherit the earth”.
Where being a life-long learner is an asset, a lack of social intelligence is a liability. Being able to sell yourself to others is a skill that is invaluable in any industry, but specifically to real-estate development. When trying to break ground on a new high-risk venture, Boston Properties needs the person that can communicate their ideas in an effective and charismatic way to get where they need to go. When it comes to character traits, consistent learning and seamless social intelligence are huge drivers of success. But the development of those traits can be tricky for some. How can I become more socially intelligent if I have no idea how to start?
For the solution, Koop described two forces that drive change in your life: books and people. Books teach concrete ideas and compound our knowledge about the world. People take the knowledge we find the books and apply it to the real world. Books and people also open our eyes to better ways of doing things and force us to change our habits. To change your traits requires immersion in great books and great people, and great people were in abundance in the life of Bryan Koop. One such person was a charismatic professor Koop had back in college.
A young business student at Texas Christan University, Bryan Koop sat listening to his favorite professor lecturing about Real-Estate investment. What separated this professor from most was how he could take his own Real-Estate ventures and connect them to his lessons. While outside of class, this influential professor was busy building a Real-Estate portfolio of his own. On top of this, it was his charisma and social intelligence that quickly sparked a great interest in Real-Estate for the young Koop. Fast forward to graduation and this same professor was able to open Koop’s door to his first job at an office development firm in Houston. The great effect this professor had on Koop gave him his career and it ties into how individuals can change tomorrow by making the right decisions today. His story brought about a larger conversation about what an average high schooler today has to do to be better prepared for the future. In the past, going to college and getting a higher degree was generally the responsibility of their parents, dictating what path they would take. Whether that path be a high school diploma, a college degree, or graduate school, the parents often took the majority of the responsibility deciding what was right for their child. In contrast, young people today need to take responsibility for their education and do what is best for them to grow.
But how do you find the path that’s right for you? For the answer, Koop directed me to NYU Professor Scott Galloway, who claims the key to finding your passion is doing what you excel at already. Koop expanded on this. The students in school that love math also happen to be good at it. This is no coincidence. You rarely encounter a student that is bad at a subject that also loves the subject. The same goes for finding a career path. If you are good at a particular thing, make that thing your career, and that thing will become your passion. “Like the heart, the brain goes where it is appreciated. The same can be said for personal skills and strengths”.
Bryan Koop clearly found his passion through his work, but developing that passion and finding it took time. High school is a great time for exploration of passions but many students strive for success based on grades rather than learning mastery. But to Koop, your GPA doesn’t pay any dividends later in life. Sure, it may get you to a good college, but that only goes so far. Learning pays dividends, develops you as a person, and makes you more valuable in the business world and in life. This is one of the lessons that you can implement today. Take that cooking or art class even if it might drop your GPA by a bit. The learning that you receive is far more valuable for the future, broadening your horizons to areas you may have never thought to explore. Koop wasn’t an amazing student in high school, or at least that’s what his GPA said, but he never let that discourage him. Boston Properties and Bryan Koop show us that great things are possible when we are constantly striving to be the best versions of ourselves. It’s that tenacity of spirit that allows them both to fulfill great construction projects across urban America.
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