Jon Love, CEO KingSett Capital | Success, communication, and building horsepower during a pandemic | 27:00


DA: Hi, I’m David Abrams, and I want to welcome you to this edition of the Tenant Experience Network Podcast. I want to welcome today’s guest, Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital, a leader in the commercial real estate industry, who took time out from his vacation with his family to talk with us today. In this episode, we will learn about Jon’s journey to his current position at KingSett with over 13 billion in assets under management. We will tap into his thinking around working in the moment as one of his keys to success, and get a glimpse into what is top of mind for Jon as he continues to navigate through new challenges and emerging opportunities. We’re excited to be sharing this podcast with you. So make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. So now, I’d like to welcome Jon to the show. Jon, really glad you could be with us today. I’m looking forward to our conversation. How are things?

JL: Great. David, nice to be here.

DA: Awesome. So let’s start with your journey. Tell us about your path to your current position at KingSett Capital, and how you got started. Walk me through that, please.

JL: Well, after graduating university, I started as a retail stockbroker, did that for five years. It was a terrific training ground, because it taught me how to communicate with other people, how to sell, how to express, formulate and express ideas. I then started with Oxford, and I started as a leasing manager, then a property manager, then a development manager, city manager, regional manager, and ultimately became president and then CEO, and did that for my last 11 years at Oxford, selling Oxford in 2001 to OMERS. And then after a six-month sabbatical, I started KingSett in the spring of 2002.

DA: Wow. And the rest is history. Now, I don’t want to date you, but I think Oxford, your career there began in 1980, which means you are celebrating your 40th anniversary.

JL: Yeah, how ’bout that? Actually, I’m celebrating my 43rd anniversary to my one and trophy wife.

DA: Well, even more important. That’s awesome, congratulations. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? Are there any unique skills that have helped you to become as successful as you are?

JL: Well, I wouldn’t say I possess anything that is unique, or frankly, complicated. I think the secret in building a business is, I really think comes down to building relationships. Every business has to provide a solution to its customers, and what we do is no different. And understanding what a customer needs, and in our case, there’s different stakeholders, understanding what they need, and delivering a solution to them is sort of the core tenet. And it is fundamentally all about relationships, because relationships enabled me to assemble the capital, assemble the people, and assemble the broader ecosystem around KingSett that makes it operate.

DA: Right. Really interesting. Any advice for someone wanting to follow a similar path?

JL: Well, I would say don’t try and be somebody else. Most important thing I think a young person can do is focus on the here and now. I can tell you that, often, people are thinking in the future at the expense of executing in the present. And it’s fundamental to get ahead to execute in the present, because I can tell you, the senior people, leaders can all tell those who are contenders and those that are pretenders. And being a contender is someone who’s getting it done in the present, above and beyond the expectations, doing more than just what’s required. And in any office, I can walk in, and you just have a sense of who’s who. So number one would be focus on getting the job done here in the present, and number two is, you don’t know what the pivot’s gonna be. I didn’t start 40 years ago thinking I’d be here today. I didn’t start KingSett 18 years ago thinking we’d be here today. I sort of approach life unencumbered with the strategy. So live in the present, execute, get it done, and you know what? Stuff just happens. And be open to pivot, to take advantage, understand opportunities, because there’s no such thing as luck. Luck is just an opportunity recognized. And the difference between people who are deemed to be lucky and others is their ability to recognize an opportunity and seize it.

DA: Okay. So there is, you do need that moment in time to happen, but your point is, you’ve got to be able to see it to identify it.

JL: I’m telling you, that moment in time happens to people all the time and they miss it.

DA: Right.

JL: Happens to people all the time, and they miss it, because they’re focused on something else. How many times do you go into a meeting and you start talking to someone, and you say what you want to say, and when they respond, all you’re doing is thinking about what you’re gonna say next? Listen.

DA: That’ll work.

JL: God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.

DA: Right. And it is the same thing with, the only way you can seize or understand an opportunity is to listen.

JL: Well, I think listening is probably one of the hardest skills for all of us. There’s a difference between listening for the sake of responding and listening for the sake of hearing, and I think you raise a great point. So what’s the biggest challenge you’re experiencing right now, and how will you overcome it? And I know there are no shortage of challenges right now, but what are you thinking about most right now?

JL: You know, I think the biggest challenge is taking an organization of 120 people, working in 120 different places on their own and sustaining that collective vision. This is no way to build a business. It’s like we’re holding our breath. And we’re doing the best we can. I’m communicating extensively with everybody. We’ve got webinars, I send out a note several times a week, I do all sorts of things. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to build and create when you’re holding your breath. And the digital interface, as much as people say working from home may be important to them, it’s sure not gonna be a way forward for us, ’cause I need my team together, I need the energy of that team together. So the biggest challenge is figuring out when and how we can move back together again and get on with things. From a business perspective, it’s a communication story. Communicating with every stakeholder around the compass, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we see, what we think. And in the cloud of a crisis, which was really, peak panic was early April, and you don’t know peak panic until it’s over, and so you can look back and say, “Well, that was peak panic.” But in the cloud of a crisis, it gives rise to almost any kind of prediction on the rainbow getting a voice that it wouldn’t otherwise get, and that’s a very unsettling thing, particularly when you’re isolated and you’re not with your teams. And in many cases, people were isolated on their own. So, communication’s the biggest challenge. Getting our teams back is a challenge, and we’ll be patient, we’ll wait until the government says, “Okay, now you should do that,” that’s fine. And we’re prepared for that day, whether that’s tomorrow, or in a month, or, I don’t know, a year, or whenever it is, doesn’t matter. But that’s the biggest challenge we’re facing.

DA: I agree 100%. I think that this has been an incredible experiment. Those that have already come out and declared that this is the new way in which they will work indefinitely I think are very naive. I think they’re going to regret those words. I think we’re gonna find that people absolutely need to come back, want to come back. I think great companies, great products, great businesses have been built, but I think the reason why we’ve been able to sustain through this insane period of time is because of all that capital that was built up prior to this, literally a closure over the course of a weekend. And I agree with you, I don’t think it’s sustainable. I don’t think, when I look at my own company and I know how we want to be, and how we want to be with each other, we’re getting it done, but we’re not doing the best that we could be doing, and we can’t wait to be back.

JL: And may I make an observation, if you’re in a six-person team and one is working from home permanently, how long is it before it’s a five-person team?

DA: Right.

JL: So, I think work from home will have a primary place in flex work. I think that you’ll see more and more modified work arrangements where people have some flexibility, whether it’s a childcare issue, or whether it’s a commute issue, and Monday to Thursday, they’re in the office, and Friday, they’re at home doing administrative duties or whatever. I mean, I think it’ll give rise to all sorts of different combinations like that. But the permanent work from home, it’s unimaginable to me how you build a relationship to somebody when you have to schedule it.

DA: Right. Yeah, we’ve had that same problem, the notion of scheduling. We often, spontaneously, would just share ideas, we’d share thoughts. And I know that our co-founder has repeatedly mentioned to me that he takes notes on pages all across his desk at home, and then doesn’t find the right time to actually share that, discuss that, move into a conversation about that.

JL: You know, I’ve said several times, you can’t schedule spontaneity.

DA: Right, agreed. So, if I gave you an extra hundred thousand dollars, now maybe in your role and your position, I should make that an extra million dollars, but what would you do with it right now? How would you spend it? How would it help you through this crisis?

JL: So if I had an extra hundred million, because that’s really what you meant, I would use that primarily to build horsepower to look forward for opportunities. It’s early yet to see opportunities, because we’ll have to see the shape of this recovery, and how it looks, and see where there is opportunities. I think in Canada, it’s entirely possible that there really aren’t any opportunities, ’cause there’s, it’s not obvious there’s any stress yet. But that too can change. So, if I had a hundred thousand, I don’t know what I would do, if I had a hundred million, I would make sure I have the capacity. And I should say, in all of our fund strategies, we have over a billion dollars of uncalled capital. So, we have a lot of horsepower to which to address opportunities, should we see them.

DA: Right. Okay. So, I’d love to just get a sense of any resources, mentors, colleagues, books that have really helped you along your journey. We don’t get there alone, and there are just so many inputs, and I’m just wondering, where does the most influence come from for you?

JL: So, I’ve learned so much from so many people, because, you know, again, I think I tend to be a relatively good listener, particularly an observation about me. And it starts with my mother and father, the first manager I had at McLeod Young Weir, ScotiaMcLeod, lenders I’ve dealt with, business partners I’ve dealt with, bosses I’ve had. I’ve got a whole list of sayings that really resonate with me, and really have shaped how I think and how I have conducted myself. So, and these people don’t come in one suit size or one role description. And I should add my wife! All the people around us will share insights all the time, if we’re prepared to listen to it. And it is those moments where you are most stressed or anxious where you often, someone will come up with something kinda golden, and you walk away and say, “That’s pretty interesting.” I’ll give you just two soundbites. One is, when I started at ScotiaMcLeod, my father, after a month, said, “How’s it going?” I say, “Well, you know, it’s a bit slow,” because they teach you about the markets, but they don’t teach you how to sell it. He said, “Well, do you have an idea? “When you see someone, you should have an idea.” Well, that stuck with me my whole life. Because young people today are told they’re supposed to network, but they’re not told what that means. And so the message for young people is when you see someone, you should have an idea. You should have an opinion on a piece of news, you should have an idea of something you wouldn’t otherwise see, just something. And for me, that changed everything. In my early Oxford days, I was struggling on a business issue with a counterparty, and I said, “I don’t understand why they don’t understand!” And of course, the impetuousness of youth, surely I was right, right? Anyway, so my boss at the time, wonderful guy, very patient, wonderful guy, he said to me, “Jon,” he said, “communication is the responsibility of the sender.” And wow, boy, that was a lightning bolt. Anyway, I’ve got three dozen of these that have shaped how I think, how I act, and how I respond.

DA: And I’ll bet you’ve provided that role for many, for others, and perhaps even on occasion when you’re not even aware. I’ll share with you one story. I actually saw you one day on the subway. You got on. We hadn’t met yet, so I didn’t know you at that time, but I recognized you. And I saw you connect with another individual, and I think he might have been a very early employee at KingSett, a very young and new employee. And the way in which you engaged with him and talked with him, and gave him voice, it was just really interesting to see that. And I think that approachedness on your behalf was really just interesting to witness. So I suspect along the way, you’ve been doing that for many, many others as well.

JL: Well, you know, I mean, I always think that relationships go two ways. And if people are kind enough to engage with you, no matter what your age and stage is, you respond in kind. And, I love the subway. I love the subway for a few reasons. I mean, I can afford a car, actually, but I find the subway more efficient. But I also find it, it’s a social experiment. And, I can make almost anyone smile on a subway. And when it’s really crowded, and you’re tight with people, that’s when it’s the most fun, I don’t know.

DA: Well, you did make that young man smile, that’s for sure. And I can tell you that I’ve said to my team, I actually, believe it or not, I miss the commute, I’m missing the subway commute, because it is so real world, it is so real experience. And just coming from upstairs to my downstairs office, it’s not cutting it. And I can’t believe I’d ever say that.

JL: Yeah, well I think also, for most of us, the commute is a good transition of head space, from home to business. And you sort of try to process and leave those things at home, and then try and wrap up and get your mindset for work. And not having that, as you say, walking down the hall, or whatever you’re doing, it seems like, I must have gone for 70 days, I felt like I was working all the time every day, and that’s just unhealthy. So, trying to figure out how to have breaks, and we’re pushing our people, you gotta take your holidays, and holidays, you gotta turn off the appliances. And this happens to be a non-appliance week for me, and you’re the exception. And I’ve got a whole herd of grandchildren out there that will go tubing as soon as we’re done. But it’s important to have that break from work, and, you know, I put on a shirt, and then I’ll go back to whatever I was wearing before.

DA: Yeah, no, I agree. For me, it was very much, I know you’re at the cottage, and the transition from city to cottage, that drive for me is what creates that space to allow my mind to shift from regular work life to a more relaxing work life, and for me, that commute was doing the same, so we’re on the same page. Can you share any details about something new that you’re working on, either you or your team, that you think our listeners might find interesting?

JL: Well, we’re pushing down the road on the Northview acquisition, which was announced in February. And some people might say, “Well, that timing was a little bit imperfect.” But the fact is, the multi-residential asset class continues to perform. And there’s a number of conditions that have to be completed, but as soon as those conditions get completed, we’ll move forward with that. We’re working on all sorts of plans to make our buildings safe, and productive, and so on, which is all underway. I’ve gone to see our malls that are open. I was in Saskatchewan last week, where we have the City Center Mall in Regina, Saskatoon, and you know what’s interesting is, I think retail will be the sleeper. The story’s better than you might think. Traffic is 60, 65% of what it was same time a year ago, but they’re all shopping. So, I went around and talked to store managers, I talked to six different store managers. “How’s it going? “How’s your supply chain? “How’s your employees? “How are your sales?” And they’re pretty upbeat. And everybody is beating their COVID reduced budget, COVID reduced. So, it’s a little bit, the story’s a little bit better than people think, and I think that’s encouraging. I mean, retail’s a relatively small part of our business, but it’s just as a broad observation. We’re also working on a whole series of ESG initiatives, and we were delighted three weeks ago, on World Environment Day, to announce Scotia being carbon zero, which is actually a pretty cool achievement. And we’ve got a whole variety of other things that we’re doing at the same time. So, we are trying to move the needle.

DA: Fantastic. So, here’s sort of the question you need to look inward, and I know you mentioned earlier, you don’t feel you have any special or unique skills, but if you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

JL: I’d have the ability to change politicians’ minds.

DA: Wow. And I’m not sure I should ask the follow on question for that, as to–

JL: Oh, please do, please do!

DA: Which politicians, or how you would change their mind.

JL: Well, I think as a global citizen, I’d start with the reconstruction of globalization, and working together globally, which probably starts with a rethink of how the big five leaders think of each other. Domestically, I think we have to be more inclusive of every region. And what’s going on in Newfoundland, Alberta, Saskatchewan is not constructive for the country. And as Central Canadians, we’re kinda immune to seeing all of that, because our media lives within three blocks of the CN Tower, and our politics rotates between Downtown Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, and whatever. But that’s actually a bad set of facts, because we have a lot of other Canadians, highly talented, in other regions that need public policy looking at what they specifically need, and we have to better address that.

DA: Okay. What are you curious about right now? Anything that you’re thinking differently, in light of current circumstances, that’s sort of got your attention?

JL: Was that one of your questions? Oh yeah, it was too, eh? So, you know, I think we’ll see the acceleration of some changes which are good. I think cash, money cash, cash is dead. So it’s interesting, what impact does that have? I mean, for me, I pay for everything with my smartphone, but what happens to a panhandler? What happens to cubs and scouts that are selling apples on Apple Day, and stuff like that? So, that’s one thing. Second is, the integration of eCommerce with bricks retail, how does that evolve? You know, it’s been evolving for 20 years, and it’s gonna continue to evolve, but I think there’s some interesting changes on the retail front that will provide some great opportunities. I think in residential, there’s been talk about de-urbanization, or other things like that. I think people have always moved in and out of cities, and nothing would change, but I don’t see de-urbanization as a big trend. Probably the biggest thing of curiosity might be who fills the void that the US has left, and what does that mean? Because the US has clearly said, “We’re gonna leave all these global institutions,” and no vacuum remains unfilled. So, is it China? So, will China? Russia? I mean, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem to me that, given a choice, the US would continue to lead the world, but doesn’t look like we have that choice, at least at the moment.

DA: Right, and of course, all of that can change, one never knows. We have an election coming up in the US, and as much as we can–

JL: You know, I think the biggest problem is, no matter who wins in the US, the country will remain deeply divided. And that’s, I mean, what I’ll offer is, the biggest difference between Canada and the US is the division in politics, because while you and I may not agree on, you might be a conservative and I might be a liberal, or vice versa, doesn’t matter, but I don’t dislike you, and we can have a beer together. And we might disagree on policy at the margin and whatever, we always have disagreed at policy at the margin, that’s okay. The tribal politics in the US is unfortunate, and I mean, the UK has also exposed itself to this sort of tribalism, and the resulting Brexit, which is gonna be a mess.

DA: Right. Well, we’ll move on from politics, ’cause that could be another episode. Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out? Our final question. Just, what do you wish you had known way back at the beginning?

JL: I thought about that question, and you know, part of, I’m gonna give you a regrettable answer, I don’t sort of think in those terms. I think that… I was probably more intense when I was younger. But, you know, if you’re not intense, I don’t know, you’re gonna be left on the curb. So, you know, I think if I was to tell a young person what I wish I had known is work in the present. Focus on executing today’s job. And the breaks will come your way, they did for me. And, it’s always difficult to know to go back and say, “Would I have changed something? “I don’t know.” Could I have been more successful? Could I have been taller, thinner, maybe? Thinner for sure. You know, I don’t know. So, those are hard things to ask. But I think… I don’t think, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously, get the job done, be intense enough, and work in the present, and stuff happens, good stuff.

DA: Right. But I think that notion of working in the present and making the most of every moment, making the most of every moment that is right in front of you, that philosophy will hopefully, from your perspective, I think what you’re saying, will lead to, the right things will happen, and will lead to the right opportunities. So that’s a great way to look at things, thank you. So listen, I really appreciate your spending time with us this morning and taking a little bit of time out from mingling with the grandkids. I hope that you continue to take that downtime in your sacred space up north, and I look forward to engaging again in the future. Thanks so much.

JL: Great, David. Thank you for having me on.

DA: Okay, all the best.

JL: Take care.

DA: Bye, now. I want to thank Jon Love for joining us on today’s podcast, and for sharing his journey from early beginnings at Oxford to now leading the team at KingSett Capital, with a portfolio of $15 billion. Great learning for all our listeners, and an opportunity to gain insights into what it takes to be an effective leader. Please be sure to join in again for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts, who all have something to say about experience in the built world and the impact that technology is having on the largest asset class in the world, commercial real estate. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work or live. Thank you.