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An Oxford Education: Michael Turner Shares His Strategies for Success

Michael Turner, EVP and global head of real estate for the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) and president of Oxford Properties Group (OMERS’ real estate arm), exemplifies real estate success. He oversees Oxford’s global real estate business, which comprises approximately $47 billion of assets under management and 2,200 employees in Canada, Europe, the U.S., and Asia.  

During a fireside chat at the Global Leaders in Real Estate Summit, Eric Diamond, EisnerAmper partner, interviewed Turner to learn some of his secrets for success. iGlobal Forum, in partnership with EisnerAmper, sponsored the summit, which was held in October at the Sofitel New York. 

What is the number one reason Turner attributes to his success? He mentions a career trajectory of “luck.” But luck, of course, only takes you so far. Turner had plenty of tips for others seeking to progress in this sector:

  • Figure out where you can be great. According to Turner, that’s Oxford’s business model. “If we don’t believe that we can generate sustained competitive advantage, we just won’t go there,” he noted. Consequently, Oxford isn’t eager to enter the biomedical, senior housing, and data center markets, but continues to strengthen its presence in the office realm, along with multifamily and industrial properties.
  • Attract and retain the best talent. Oxford divides its business into four categories: capital investment, capabilities (leasing, management and development), co-investing, and culture.  The latter refers to human capital. “Even though this business is bricks and mortar, it’s all about people,” Turner said. “And if we can attract and retain the best people in the business, then we have a fighting chance to do a pretty good job.”
  • Invest in gateway cities. Another component of Oxford’s strategy is to invest in large, liquid markets that attract capital and talent. Gateway cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Sydney fit the bill. New York, for example, has served Oxford well. The company is Related’s joint-venture partner in Hudson Yards, and it is currently redeveloping the St. John’s Terminal complex in Hudson Square.
  • Staff locally. Turner stressed that the real estate business is a local one: “We get information advantages by having great people who are on the ground in the communities.”
  • Develop the new; recycle the old. Although new stock is a major component of Oxford’s portfolio, the firm also repositions older assets to address the preferences of office occupants around the world, many of whom have “a bias toward the new.”
  • Embrace technology. Turner is very excited about the role technology is going to play in Oxford’s business. He described technology as “a tool for us to scale our business globally in an otherwise purely analog real estate world.”
  • Focus on service. The real estate business is a service business, Turner emphasized. With this in mind, Oxford refers to “customers” rather than “tenants.” Added Turner, “In our industry, we talk a lot about capital, and we forget that there are actually people that come with these buildings.”

And last but not least:

  • Work hard. Hard work helps convert short-term luck into long-term success. “You have to be prepared to work harder than anybody else,” concluded Turner.
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