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Unsolicited Advice, Judgments and Opinions.

“There is no good reason for a retail company and an office company to be housed within the same company.” I read this proclamation in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.  It was made by one Alexander Goldfarb, an analyst with the firm Sandler O'Neil and was prompted by the $18 billion market cap real estate company Vornado's decision to possibly spin off its strip center retail real estate portfolio, which would leave it with primarily office assets. I thought to myself:  Who is Alexander Goldfarb?  What are his credentials?  How does he know what’s best for Vornado?  More important, his comment struck a deep chord inside of me as I’ve noted how our society is so quick to pass judgment on others, or to give unsolicited advice, me included I’m embarrassed to say.

With a bit of research I discovered that Mr. Goldfarb joined Lehman Brothers after his schooling where he became a REIT analyst.  For those of you readers who may not know, that means that he mostly sat in an office, looked at financial statements of publicly traded real estate companies, and tried to determine which were good and which were not.  Since leaving Lehman he has performed the same functions at UBS and now at Sandler.  All told, Mr. Goldfarb has analyzed REIT’s for 11 years.  It seems that he’s never actually bought a piece of real estate, financed one, managed one or leased one.  And yet, he feels comfortable speaking with such certainty and, perhaps even more absurd, he somehow feels comfortable passing judgment on one of the real estate’s true legends.  Maybe worst of all, in this upside down world we live in, his opinion is given enough credence to move investors to either buy or sell shares of stock.

Steve Roth is the Chairman and CEO of Vornado.  Mr. Roth began his career acquiring and operating properties in 1964 and founded the company now known as Vornado.  Until 1997 when Vornado acquired 4 million square feet of office properties through its purchase of the Mendik Company, Vornado’s experience, as well as Mr. Roth’s was predominantly in the area of retail properties, and in particular strip centers - the very same asset that Mr. Goldfarb is suggesting that Vornado should not own.  Is anybody getting the joke yet?  Mr. Roth is a self-made billionaire, by the way, with much of his worth invested in Vornado stock.

Now, as I juxtapose these two very different backgrounds I ask myself: “Who’s judgment would I trust in doing what is best for Vornado, Mr. Roth’s or Mr. Goldfarb’s?”

I’m not really writing this to pick on Mr. Goldfarb, who is probably reasonably competent (but probably not always), or REIT analysts (who also can be competent at times but should probably have more actual hands-on real estate experience).  My point is that we are all too quick to impart our opinions and to offer advice to others, often unsolicited.  I have been as guilty as anyone, and maybe (much) more than most.  It is one of the negative qualities that I’ve continued to work on personally to overcome.  When my kids call me “Mr. Know-it-all” it hurts, and is my reminder that I need to re-double my efforts.

There is a very famous speech given by Teddy Roosevelt that is often referred to as “The man in the arena.”  This speech is brilliant, and whenever I read it I am deeply moved.  I won’t reprint it here, but I would say that everyone ought to know this speech.  It is among my couple of favorite collection of words, and I am sure everyone will find it inspiring and on point.  Basically, the message is to do more and criticize less.

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