I was the honored recipient of a dinner that took place for my 30th anniversary at CWS last week. The dinner was organized by my wife with some help from CWS. I usually don’t read a prepared speech when I have something to say in public but in this case, I thought it was worth the time and effort to collect some of my thoughts so that I could communicate them in an organized manner and to memorialize them. After all isn’t one of the great purposes of life to make wonderful memories? We don’t want to sleepwalk through life and remember very little of what we did because so little of what we did was inconsequential. It reminds me of the wife’s lament in Angel from Montgomery when she asks:
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say?
Come to think of it that actually is me sometimes! It’s not that I don’t remember what happened or every day was the same monotony, it’s just that I don’t always want to talk about it. I digress.
I was thinking about my 30 years here at CWS and how the essence of what we do is relationship investing. We invest but not impersonally through the purchase and sale of inanimate stocks and bonds. We buy real businesses which house people and access the funds from people with whom we have relationships. We deeply care about using their capital (as well as ours) and our skills to make a positive difference in their lives. And we have done a pretty darned good job at doing this profitably over the years. We have been able to be successful because we have so many hard working, loyal, and talented individuals who have invested their lives in CWS. The longevity here is really quite amazing and speaks to our culture, respect for people, and long-term orientation. I know I could not have stayed in one place for 30 years unless I felt invested and valued and generated a good return on that investment. I love being invested with others who care so deeply about our company and making a difference for those who entrust us with their money.
For some reason as I was thinking about what to say tonight, I found myself thinking about the song Helpless by Neil Young. There’s a powerful line early in the song that really resonates with me and my growing up at CWS. Neil is thinking back fondly on where he grew up in Canada and he says that “all of my changes were there.” This has been the case for me at CWS. Every major change I’ve experienced since becoming a young adult has taken place while I’ve been at CWS. I had just turned 22 when I started working here and less than two years later Roneet and I were married.
She rocketed ahead in her career at Nordstrom while I sort of did my thing at CWS. If you know Roneet, “doing my thing” doesn’t cut it with her. So I had to start doing more of her thing! Off to business school, I went on a part- time basis at USC, then we had Jacob, I then got my CFA, I started moving up a bit in the company, Ariella was born, and then I was the man as Roneet stopped working.
Not all change is perceived immediately as good, however. This is especially true when you’re young and lacking in perspective. This was the case when Jacob had his tremendous health challenges at age two as well as with my mom, Roneet’s mom, and the passing of my father 19 years ago last week. Up until that point, we had led pretty charmed lives. We soon realized, however, that life will inevitably throw us curveballs so if we wanted to make it in the major leagues then we were going to have to learn how to prepare for them and be able to hit them.
From the bitterness of life, we can come to appreciate and savor its sweetness as well. We have been so blessed to have had glorious experiences whether it be hanging out at home together and relaxing and being silly, to spending four very interesting years in Los Angeles with Ariella, to seeing the world, and to interacting with some incredibly interesting and successful people.
Talk about changes. When I started at CWS the company only owned manufactured housing communities that had a value of approximately $250 million and our investors were comprised primarily of salt of the earth people like school teachers and engineers. Today we own over $4 billion in apartments and we’re interfacing with billionaires. And what I what I greatly appreciate is that I don’t think we treat them very differently. I learned from Bill and Steve, and now this has carried on with Mike, that everyone is worthy of our respect and we should treat them how we want to be treated, whether they are very wealthy or not.
The major change in my career was going from being a property analyst to an executive to now a published author and hopefully an internationally published one soon as well in China. I was in Vistage then went to YPO and now WPO which is now known as YPO Gold. I started off somewhat thin and then became heavier and now I’m less heavy as I understandably am now more focused on health as I start approaching the other side of the mountain. Jacob has worked at CWS and while Ariella has not, she proved to me she understood the essence of what we have been trying to do when she one day spontaneously came up with the tag line:
That almost brought tears to my eyes.
And let’s not forget Roneet as she has played an instrumental role in helping to plan our annual investor meeting (AIM) the last couple of years. She will tell me that she’s coming into the office for an AIM related meeting expecting an excited reaction from me and I usually tell her I’m not available or I will schedule a meeting outside of the office. She asks why and I tell her that I’m nervous when she’s around and fearful that she may recommend that I be fired. She is one tough cookie.
So all of the Carmells are invested in CWS beyond our financial reliance. And this has now expanded to friends and family who have joined the CWS fold over the last few years. These include my in-laws who I’m so delighted were able to attend, despite the hard time I give them. I think as Tracy Hayes will attest, I tend to give the people I love the most grief. So you should take it as a compliment. Roneet still hasn’t come around to that way of thinking yet.
At the end of the day what has been one of the great joys for me is to have been able to work with people who I have come to deeply admire and trust and appreciate and who have helped make me better. I have also realized that I can also pretty much be myself here and, whether you like it or not, you have been witnesses to my metamorphoses. Now maybe some of you would prefer that I hide my authentic self but the genie is out of the bottle and I appreciate that you have accepted my quirks and oddities. And from my perspective, I love knowing your nuances and seeing them on display. For an inquisitive and curious person like me, I find the flaws and idiosyncrasies far more interesting in people than bland predictability.
We have been able to enhance so many lives together in a very meaningful way. It has been immensely fulfilling to have played whatever role I have in helping to make a difference in the lives of our investors, our employees, and our residents. We have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in returns for large numbers of people. And those dollars have helped fund the education of children, charitable causes, vacations, early retirements, home purchases and remodels, medical needs, just to name some of the major life impacting categories.
The company was founded by partners and that mindset and way of operating the company has not changed because it has been so effective. I want to thank Bill and Steve for being such gentlemen and mentors in business and in life. You are really tremendous inspirations in terms of how to live very fulfilling lives. You have worked hard and played hard and given back. I particularly want to thank Steve for having the faith and trust in me to bring me into the fold as a partner and doing the same for Mike as well. It has truly been one of the great honors of my life to have had the opportunity to learn from both of you and to know that I am being heard and valued. There is such a spirit of cooperation and first doing what is right and what is in the long-term interest of our investors and company that I have every confidence that the right decisions will be made over time to propel us forward to take advantage of opportunities and to avoid land mines that can cause great harm.
I particularly want to thank Roneet who has had to put up with a lot from me over the years. I guess my genial disposition and sense of humor haven’t always made up for falling short in demonstrably showing my appreciation and love for her as she has deserved. And while I know I haven’t always lived up to my end of the bargain, I know you have. You have always been there for me through thick and thin. You have been about investing in life and relationships fully by committing your boundless love to those who need you and who you need in return. You have been about being a devoted wife, mom, friend, daughter, and citizen. You have been committed to not leaving anything on the field when the game is over. Living life without regrets.
You knew I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I put my talents to their highest and best use and you were right. Fortunately, CWS was the place where I could do just that and our lives have been enriched in so many ways as a result. And I really have you to thank for doing all you can to get the best out of me. I apologize for being such a slow learner but you really are a divine gift and since I knew when I married you I was marrying your entire family, the same goes with them too. You have shown me what loyalty is and how one is there for family no matter what.
Jacob and Ariella, I am so blessed to have you as my kids I know I may not always be fully present and my mind may be wandering off thinking about my third child Libor some of the time, but please do know that I love you very much and all I want is for you guys to find your bliss, tap into that spark of joy and creativity, cultivate and invest in deep and meaningful relationships, and live your lives authentically. I only hope that you can find a life partner like I have in your mom, business partners like Steve and Mike, and an avocation which asks the best of you and for which you want to give your best and can inspire you to take on new challenges, grow, and expand your horizons.
I will leave you with this even though it can be construed as a shameless plug for you to read my book someday, other than the chapters about you. In it I cited four aspirations that I hope you can actualize yourselves as you continue to evolve:
Live with purpose
Think with clarity
Act with character
Grow with courage
I look forward to the next 30 years together!