DECONSTRUCTED: Real estate summit

Three property pros proved speed isn’t necessarily the best tactic for reaching the top – and is ill-advised on the way back down. PERE Magazine September 2010 issue

If today’s real estate markets have shown real estate professionals anything it has to be that getting to the top first, in the quickest possible time, isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sometimes taking your time, doing things slowly and thoughtfully, can get you to exactly the same place – often with better results. The skill is in aiming high and getting there in a healthy enough state to enjoy the ride back down.

It’s a lesson several private equity real estate pros understood particularly well this summer.

For Hodes, Weill Associates’ co-founder David Hodes and Willett Advisors’ Howard Margolis reaching the 5,895-metre (19,334-foot) summit of Mount Kilimanjaro was a journey where speed would have resulted in failure.

“You walk very slowly and very carefully,” said Margolis, who invited long-time friend and hiking enthusiast Hodes to accompany him on the trip, intended to mark Margolis’ 45th birthday and raise money for the charity, Focus on Tanzanian Communities. Indeed, the pair said the oft-repeated “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly) phrase of the Swahili porters’ was a constant reminder that speed was not important.

“You train yourself physically for the challenge ahead, you do more cardio, carry weighted backpacks, do as much climbing as possible, but you cannot train yourself for the mental part,” added Hodes, whose previous best climb was 14,000-feet in Colorado.

It was the final eight-hour, 4,300-foot ascent to the Uhuru summit that proved most gruelling for the two men though. “You really appreciate the effects of altitude on your system when you’re climbing to the top,” said Hodes. “It impacts your memory, your appetite, the passage of time. It’s amazing what goes first.” Margolis recalled that altitude sickness hit their group of 10 climbers “like a hammer. Even when you do stop it’s hard to catch your breath.”

Like all cycles though, what goes up must come down and for Hodes and Margolis that meant an eight-hour hike down from the peak of the Tanzanian mountain to the next base camp at 3,100-metres or 10,100-feet.
After 32 miles trekking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and back down again (via the Umbwe route), Hodes and Margolis have been awarded summit certificates from the Tanzanian government – and an appreciation of pushing themselves to the limit. “If I ever did it again, I would definitely take a different route,” Margolis concedes.

Like Hodes and Margolis, Patron Capital’s Keith Breslauer agreed the descent was often more important than the ascent. As Jon Krakauer explained in his account of a failed expedition to Mount Everest: “Any fool with enough determination and equipment can get to the top of Everest, but it takes skill, experience and luck in order to get down alive.”

A regular rock climber, in July, Breslauer climbed the face of the Old Man of Hoy, one of the most famous sea stack climbs in the UK, with a 449-foot sheer face of red sandstone. “Pushing yourself like this physically and mentally keeps you well-balanced in life and in your job,” he confessed, before adding: “Aim high and you will achieve.”

But of course, you must also keep plenty of energy in reserve to safely descend. As Hodes wrote in a journal he kept during his and Margolis’ June trip to Mount Kilimanjaro: “While we might have made it to the top, the mountain reminded us it could still kick our asses [on the way down].” Just like real estate investing, then. 

To find out more about the charity Focus on Tanzanian Communities go to