EDENS CEO On Skating To Where The Retail Puck Is Headed

Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS
Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS

Jodie McLean joined EDENS straight out of college after meeting the real estate investment firm’s founder, Joe Edens, through an independent study program while at the University of South Carolina.

“In 1990, I joined as an analyst for two years and then I figured I’d be on my way back to business school.”

Instead, she never left EDENS. She spent as much time as she could with the founder, learning the ins and outs of the business. “I would meet Joe almost every morning at 5 a.m. at the coffee pot and he’d say, ‘Why are you here early? What are you working on right now?’ I’d manufacture reasons for me to be there early. It led being able to learn a lot from him directly.’”

McLean rose through the ranks at EDENS and as she ascended the ladder, the company’s real estate portfolio went from $250 million in assets to its current size of $6.5 billion in assets. “I was really focused in transactions and building the portfolio,” she says. By 2006, as President, she spearheaded a shift in the company’s mentality from being purely transactional based to a focus on building communities. The company owns and operates a number of high-end retail developments, stretching from the east coast to Texas.

Helping the company realize its full potential eventually led her to getting promoted to CEO in 2015, which is where she’s at today. Chief Executive got a chance to speak with McLean about the challenges of retail in the retail industry, the power of diversity in the C-Suite and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

What are some of the challenges you are facing on a day-to-day basis as CEO of EDENS?

Well we’re in the retail industry. And so our biggest challenge right is that the consumer, our community members think at the pace of the Internet. And that speed isn’t going to slow down. So their attention span, the speed, the thoughts, their needs or demands are moving at a pace that’s faster than ever. So how do we make sure that we are skating ahead to where the puck’s going, not always just chasing it.

We spend a huge amount of time thinking about what our role is in community versus I don’t want to say easy, but much more controllable things, such as the physical point. Physical point obviously is always on our minds, but really trying to stay ahead and understand the consumer’s mindset is probably our biggest challenge day to day.

How do you deal with the challenges of retail turnover and “skate to the puck” as you said?

First and foremost, we think primarily about how our community members want to spend their time. What we find is people’s pocketbook follows their time. So we can go on and on time. I don’t think that we are really competing against the center down the street or competing against Amazon. We are competing against whether you want to spend time with us or go on a hike. Do you spend time with us or are you going to go to the movies, go to Hamilton? How do people want to spend their time?

I think that’s first and foremost to us. We think about that a lot and how we design our places. Are they designed in a way where you want to spend your time? We think about the lifestyle of our community members. And as we merchandise to that, have we merchandised our community members to [spend a lot of time with us]? That’s the challenge. That’s where we start.

I would tell you that none of our leasing team, our development team, none of them have a job to fill spaces to lease the spaces they have. Their job really is to think about what is that right merchandise mix. It’s inspiring people to want to spend their time with us.

I know you are a big believer in gender diversity in the C-Suite. Talk to me about your philosophy in this area.

Obviously I highly believe in diversity. I think the reason that the best results come from diverse teams is because it results in diverse thinking and approach to opportunities. For me, the pathway has been really through incredible sponsorship. You go through a period of your career where you’re being mentored, which means you get great guidance and feedback, but then moving into sponsorship, where you have people who are willing to put their own reputation on the line for you.

There are a few things we need to do. The questions, the discussions, the dialogue we have around diversity need to be had with diverse people in the room. This isn’t just an issue for women, this is an issue for all leadership… to be sitting in a room collectively and discussing [the issues] because I think the results speak for themselves. Diversity drives better results.

Do you have a specific initiative you have enacted at EDENS?

We are intentional about talking and addressing these issues. As far as recruitment and hiring goes, we absolutely have policies in place regarding our policies around the pool of candidates that we’re looking at. You wind up hiring a very diverse workforce when you have diverse pool from which are pulling from. So ours have to do more with diversity of the candidates. And then when someone gets to EDENS, we always align them with a mentor, but you can’t just put people together. They have to be really natural relationships. What we found is that forced mentor programs typically aren’t as successful. We go for something that’s more organic.

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