March 14

My MIPIM 2015 posts – all together now.

Day 1 – Memories

Just a single glance at the overstuffed diary makes me feel a little anxious. I work out that this is my 19th MIPIM, and that we were in another century when I first started my annual pilgrimage to the Croisette.
Things were very different back then in 1996, when my target market was out in force and you couldn’t move for bankers.

Back then for me it was all about real estate finance, though we called it property finance then and many a long lunch was spent on the beach, widening my network and wearing my drinking legs. You could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a UK property conference then and most of it could be found packing the Martinez after midnight.

It’s much more sober now and another glance at that diary shows me that I’m still befriending the bankers, with meeting after meeting cramming the day. I have, traditionally left long gaps between events, giving myself driftabout time and if I’m honest, a chance to hot foot it to the Rue D’Antibes for a little r’n’r in the form of retail therapy, but not this year.

And the bankers these days are not entirely dissimilar to the ones we used to play with in the late 90s. For a while, the specialist lenders were few and far between, the events of 2007-8 throwing a nuclear bomb into the industry. But it has regrouped, even if it’s more fragmented these days and the old timers are wearing new clothes.

And lawyers are still coming to MIPIM though few have their own stand these days. I was reminded of the stand I organised back in 1998. I took two trainees out to help man it. One of them was a chap called Richard Williamson. I have a photo of him, prostrate, on the floor of the stand, somewhat the worse for wear after a night on the tiles with a bevy of Irish bankers. Richard knew how to do MIPIM and did it large. He died this year, tragically early. MIPIM won’t quite be the same without his larger-than-life presence and he’ll be greatly missed. I shall be toasting his memory at every cocktail party I attend. He’d have wanted it that way.

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Day 2 – Real Estate Blind Date

Day two and I’m making notes. There is no point in taking someone’s business card for you to just forget who they are as soon as you get back home. This year the diary is full of meetings with people I have never met before. I realise as I am waiting in various assigned locations that I have no idea what they look like. Next year, I vow to make sure that I put a photo of them next to their name in the diary. LinkedIn has been a lifesaver in this maelstrom of real estate Blind Date.

The simplest way of remembering what it is your new contact actually does is to write it on the back of the card (which is fine as long at it is not some strange colour, or texture) or dictate something into your phone. Simples.

Yes, again I change people’s lives with the simple knowledge that their iPhone contains an highly accurate voice recognition capability and that Siri isn’t simply for telling you the weather in Ibiza or where you might find a bar open after five a.m within a ten minute walk.

Obviously, my wide ranging knowledge of tech is more interesting than my wide-ranging knowledge of property to most people but there has been old-fashioned networking going on as well.

My first meeting is with a quantity surveyor who is also involved in a new fund which will have a value of circa £1.2bn. They’re looking for big-ticket stuff, obviously. My partner Valerie is walking past arm in arm with Harvey Soning and the rest is history.

The next meeting is with newbies who do not know that you need a pass to get into the Majestic bar and who are half an hour late for our meeting, which is a hanging offence for my CEO. Then on to the obligatory lunch on the beach where half of my clients seem to be at various hosted tables and I have to avert my eyes from the rear ends of the great and good because you have to go past the urinals to get to the ladies’. I do enjoy a close relationship with my clients but there’s a limit.

Then onto two cocktail parties. Tip: if you’re going to have a tripartite cocktail party, make sure that your name is outside the event. Also, try to make sure that there is at least one person on the door meeting and greeting so that your guest i.e. me is not left wandering round the room looking for someone they know, feeling completely excluded and leaving after fifteen minutes. Not everyone has the balls to barge into little clusters of people having lively conversations.

The Lloyds Bank party is much better and a lesson in how to do it, the hosts very visible and doing what they should do i.e. introducing you to people who might be helpful for you and your business. Top marks and a nice segue into a not-so-quiet dinner at Le Voilier for clients and contacts, a restaurant so loud that I may be hearing – impaired for the rest of the trip. I forego the obligatory post-prandial foray into The Martinez, as I wish to be able to walk unaided onto the plane home.

Onward and (mostly) upward.

Walk the walk

Walk the walk

 

Day 3 -What kind of hell is this?

Forced to wake up at the ungodly hour of 8am to attend a breakfast I wonder what sort of sadist thinks that 9am on the Thursday of MIPIM is an acceptable start time. I tweet this. When I get to the restaurant, the subject of Twitter comes up and my host follows me. I come clean. Rumbled on Twitter. Given the positively allergic reaction most property boys have to Twitter, I thought I was safe but there is now no hiding place. It is the end of days.

The thought of the breakfast put paid to nocturnal activity of the doing it large kind as I shun the hordes at Bar Roma and give a wide berth to the BNP Paribas do. But don’t feel sorry for me as I’ve had a spectacular dinner at Gaston Gastounette courtesy of the legend that is Bryn Williams of DTZ and whose hospitality I’ve been enjoying for nigh on 15 years.

Not quite as eventful as the DTZ dinner at which I discovered that a mass defection was about to take place from my previous firm to the firm of the lawyer opposite. I hoped he didn’t notice me choking on my starter. They hadn’t quite announced that internally.

I might have enjoyed dinner more had I not also been there for lunch, with one of the very finest teams of residential lenders, the boys at Commercial Acceptances (does that work, Nic?) whose idea of a gin and tonic is one containing a minimum of four shots. They know how to entertain. Sitting next to 2 potential new clients, obviously, most of my conversation revolved around food.

It would be lovely if I could have one conversation which did not start with “so, when did you get here?” “So when are you leaving?” This is the MIPIM equivalent of a chat up line and is the classical opening gambit. I am crafting a more memorable opening line, in between teaching people how to get the best out of their iPhones (yes I am still doing that) and changing their profile pictures. I am taught a new word by an Investec banker. “Whatevs” is so last MIPIM, we are now all “ceebs”. You have all heard of the expression CBA*, I am sure. This is for when you cannot even be bothered to say CBA and now when some misguided soul asks you whether you are going to the breakfast presentation about global wealth organised by someone who thinks 8am is an acceptable time for breakfast, you have your answer.

And I’d love to stay and chat, but I have two lunches, three coffees, a cocktail party and dinner to get through. Laterz.

*can’t be arsed

Someone's got to do it

Someone’s got to do it

Day 4 – It’s all over now

Apologies for lateness today. Anyone at MIPIM will understand why. Frankly, you’re lucky to be getting a blog at all.

It’s the last day and I see groups of men standing on street corners with suitcases, quietly waiting for their taxis to the airport. They replace the night-time corner-dwellers, pneumatic women in towering heels, looking for another kind of pick-up altogether.

There’s a sleazy underbelly to MIPIM and it’s not pretty. A walk along the Croisette after midnight is a journey through the dark underbelly of the property industry. You’d think that these days, the thought of being captured on someone’s mobile phone camera might be a disincentive to fun and frolics, but some of the dinosaurs here are still partying like it’s 1999.

Ignore those who tell you that there’s only one letter difference between networking and notworking; like everything else, you get out what you put in. And time and again, the meeting that you drag yourself to because you have to, even though your brain is bleeding from too many drinks/late nights/boring conversations/timewasters/pests is the one that turns out to have the real opportunity, the seriously interesting information and if you’re very lucky, the new client. Very often, the one you think is THE ONE turns out to be full of the proverbial and the quiet one in the corner is the one that delivers.

Never forget to follow up, even with the longshots. At this point, I think I’ve got three or four that are hot to trot and a host of others who may be also-rans.

And I’ve been mulling over the oft-repeated phrases; any/all of these could be found up and down the Croisette, day and night:
• We’re at the top of the market, it’s downhill all the way.
• The market has a way to go yet and we’re confident that prices will hold, due to lack of product whatever happens in the election.
• Mansion tax won’t have any appreciable effect under £3m.
• Mansion tax will ruin the market under £3m as prices are depressed from above.
• PRS is the new big deal and you should get into it.
• PRS is all tied up now between the big five and you’re too late to the party.

All are agreed that a notable feature of MIPIM this year is the absence of Russians. A prominent feature of the event for some time now, the large Russian stands, with their obligatory Amazonian hostesses have all but disappeared. Or so I’m told. Notwithstanding that I did actually have an official pass to the exhibition (yours for a bargain €1750) I didn’t use it, other than to get into otherwise inaccessible hotels and yachts. Oh, say the organisers, but there are all the conferences and the talks and all that precious information.

Indeed there are interesting talks but I’ve never yet met anyone who has actually been to one. Who wants to be in an airless conference hall when the sun is shining, as it has been, all week.

Who was it who said that the sun shines on the righteous? Must have been an agent.

A typical MIPIM scene

A typical MIPIM scene