Darren Sloniger | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Darren Sloniger

Background:  

Darren Sloniger is president and chief investment officer of Marquette Cos., a real estate company based in Chicago. He’s been spending a lot of time in Houston recently as the project manager for the Catalyst high-rise residential development downtown next to Minute Maid Park, home of the World Series champion Houston Astros baseball franchise. The 28-story, 361-unit luxury apartment tower features five floors of amenities, including a large gym and pool deck and the city’s only rooftop dog park (complete with washing station). Its grand opening is in early April and is already a third leased.

The Mistake:

Probably one of the biggest mistakes I made early in my career was not telling people when I made a mistake. I would keep it to myself and try to solve it before I let anyone know. About 30 percent of the time it worked and 30 percent of the time it didn’t and went really south.

During the downturn, we were doing a bunch of land development and we had a group that had a deal under contract with us. They reneged on the contract and walked away from the deal. We felt like we were at such a good cost basis that we could go out and get another buyer in there at the same or even a better number.

But what we didn’t understand was lurking in the background. The buyer was a single family homebuilder and that market was rapidly deteriorating. We couldn’t find anybody else to buy it. By the time we brought our investors in, it was too late to do anything.

As soon as you make a mistake, let everyone know and help them understand the gravity of the situation.

The Lesson:

As soon as you make a mistake, let everyone know and help them understand the gravity of the situation. Enroll them in the solution. There are a lot of different ways to approach a problem, and when you have investors and partners, you need to not be a hero and say, “Hey, I solved it.” You have to be transparent and make everyone a part of the solution.

As a developer, there are a hundred things that can go wrong. The little stuff can be solved quickly. But if there’s anything that’s substantial, you have to let people know pretty quickly and work together rather than in isolation.

There was a development project where the deal was getting significantly delayed and we needed to approach the bank for an extension. I brought my partner in on that and he had a strong relationship with the bank. As a result, he was able to get an extension with no cost. That was a real benefit.

The biggest lesson in business is to approach everything with humility because when you look at the fragility of any deal or really the market, things can go wrong at any time. You can’t seek to have ego in it. If you have humility, it can make for great authentic leaders who are able to get more done. The lone ranger mavericks who are playing to their egos rather than build a team? They don’t do as well. They might do great once or twice, but that’s the personality type that gets taken down.

Read more about the Catalyst development on Twitter at @CatalystAptsTX.

Photo courtesy of Darren Sloniger

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