The Podium – ULI Americas Awards for Excellence Special Mention
Learn more about 2023 ULI Americas Awards for Excellence Special Mention, The Podium (Spokane, Washington).
In the latest installment of the Q&A segment in the NEXT newsletter, Americas NEXT is featuring Ossie Airewele and Ash Lawrence. Airewele is on the ULI Toronto Management Committee and is chair of the midcareer ULI Curtner Urban Leadership Program. Lawrence is co-chair of the 2023 ULI Spring Meeting Host Committee, a global governing trustee, and serves on the Americas Executive Committee. Both are based in Toronto.
Ossie Airewele is an Associate at BDP Quadrangle, Architects, Interiors and Urbanists. He has international experience in some of the world’s most globally established cities; Liverpool, London, Toronto and most recently, New York. Airewele’s experience covers a range of public sector and private sector programs and clients. He is a licensed UK Architect where he has worked as a Project Director on University projects, including the School of Sports Science and Psychology, a 5-star Research Excellence Framework facility in Liverpool, he worked as an Associate Director for a private sector FTSE 50 firm providing professional design services to local / city level government supporting as Design Lead in the delivery of their education program and community services. Before moving to Toronto, he was a strategic design advisor for the central/federal government level on design and construction strategies for the delivery of future estate programs. In Toronto, Airewele is a Project and Design lead for BDP Quadrangle’s most prestigious projects including a masterplan in the Golden Mile region in East Toronto and a new Office development in the city’s downtown Garment District. Ossie is a member of the ULI Toronto Management Committee and a Chair of the Curtner Urban Leadership Program.
Ash Lawrence is Head of Private Capital at AGF Management. He originates strategic investments in alternative asset managers to increase AGF clients’ access to strategies in real estate, private equity, and private credit. Ash has 20 years of private alternatives experience in global markets, including 16 years with Brookfield Asset Management where he most recently led the firm’s Canadian real estate business. Prior to that, he worked at a real estate company managing development strategies and the financing of municipal infrastructure projects. He also worked as an engineering consultant, developing infrastructure, traffic planning, and parking solutions for real estate and government clients. Ash earned an MBA from the Rotman School of Management and a Bachelor of Applied Science, Civil Engineering, from the University of Waterloo.
Q1. ULI: So many of us in real estate fall into the industry and, hence, commercial real estate (CRE) professional organizations. How did you get involved with ULI?
Ossie Airewele (OA): When I moved to Toronto, I was very keen to re-establish the kind of network I had in the UK, but also to really try and quickly absorb some of the critical local issues affecting design, construction, and urbanism. Our studio is also very much involved in ULI and so it was a very natural fit for me to get involved, initially as a committee member of two programs, then as program chair, and now on the Management Committee. ULI’s global network has led me to provide support to one of our studio colleagues in Asia in the creation of ULI and WLI in India. It has also helped BDP further establish itself in New York City, which has been a great support in the development of our new studio in New York which opened last year.
Ash Lawrence (AL): I originally came across ULI in my first profession as a civil engineer. In my later years at university, I joined as a student to gain broader market knowledge around the development world. When I graduated in 1999 and got my first job, I worked for a firm that was heavily involved in real estate development on the traffic and transportation planning side and shifted my student membership to associate membership. At that time, I was not as involved, largely consuming information online or through the UrbanLand magazine. When I left civil engineering and returned to school to get my MBA, I let my membership lapse. A number of years later in 2014, when I was back in the development/real estate industry while at Brookfield Asset Management, I rejoined ULI. When I returned to Toronto in 2018 after working in New York for a couple of years, I joined the Toronto District Council’s Advisory Board and then in the run-up to the planned 2020 ULI Spring Conference in Toronto, I became more involved through sponsorship activities. (That Toronto conference fell prey to COVID, however, we are ready to go in Toronto this year!) From there, my involvement in ULI expanded and now includes being a member of a product council (Global Exchange Council), a Global Governing Trustee (GGT), and a member of the Americas Executive Committee (AEC). As a member of the AEC, I also sit on the Nominations Committee and the Networks Committee. All that being said, if I were to meet my younger self 20 years ago, I would suggest getting involved much earlier. The benefits of knowledge exchange and general networking cannot be underestimated!
Q2. ULI: What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on over your career in real estate?
OA: The most interesting projects I have worked on in real estate were pretty modest in scale but represented a huge opportunity for private and public sector collaboration. I worked on a series of feasibility studies that explored the potential to realize the UK’s One Public Estates mission. The OPE program’s mission is to support locally-led partnerships of public sector bodies to collaborate around their public service delivery strategies and estate needs. They help partners to repurpose surplus public estate for housing, regeneration, and other locally determined uses. Through these feasibility studies, we were able to demonstrate the value that private sector investment and development capital could bring to improving services by providing buildings designed to be fit for quality service delivery to meet community needs. These public sector building programs can be cross-funded from the private sector through development opportunities such as the delivery of new homes. We’ve seen similar examples here in Toronto through Regents Park, but it’s those early feasibility explorations that were the genesis for something greater and hold the potential to yield mutual benefits for both the public and private sectors.
AL: I’ve been involved in a lot of different aspects of the real estate world in my career, from participating in development both as a consultant and a developer to acquiring direct real estate and executing asset-level business plans, to corporate real estate M&A and joint ventures. Out of all of that, I would have a tough time picking one project. I’ll quickly pick two. Firstly, I had the opportunity starting in 2009 to work on the recapitalization of General Growth Properties after they declared bankruptcy during the GFC. This was earlier in my career, and the opportunity to be involved in the largest real estate bankruptcy at the time was an incredible learning experience. My role was more on direct real estate underwriting, but the exposure to other aspects of the transaction was invaluable. The second project was when I had the opportunity to work on the recapitalization of a retail mall portfolio in Brazil. It’s an even steeper learning curve when you’re working on a complex transaction in a foreign country! Interestingly, both those projects are recaps – you learn the most when things don’t quite go as planned.
Q3. ULI: What are you most excited about in regard to the future of the industry?
OA: Two things: First, the rethinking of construction as more of a manufacturing process. We can look for commonalities in the way we build and we can achieve the benefits of speed, quality, and cost reduction when those commonalities are applied in large volumes. Like car manufacturing, this can create mass customization, rather than repetition. Speeding up housing delivery is an opportunity as we adopt modern methods of construction.
I’m also excited (perhaps right now more hopeful), about the future of public and private sector partnerships in real estate. These partnerships can create much stronger environmentally and socially progressive outcomes for existing and emerging communities. The One Public Estate initiative that I referred to previously is definitely scalable, and I think that ULI can have a very important role in not just identifying the challenges we face but facilitating how we respond to those challenges through a jointly-considered and mutually beneficial public and private sector lens. This is really just building on what ULI already does so well.
AL: In my current role at AGF Private Capital, I’ve taken a step back from direct investing and am spending more time around how to work with asset managers to help investors get access to private capital strategies more broadly, including real estate, which is one of AGF’s priority sectors. This involves thinking about the different channels, i.e. institutional, HNW, RIA, investment platforms, etc., and how best to achieve that access. One of the exciting aspects of this is the role that technology is starting to play in helping broaden that access, accessing more capital in a more efficient way. This includes everything from technology platforms that act as intermediaries between managers and investors, to the experiments ongoing around tokenization of fund investments, and the technology solutions that are working to enhance secondary transactions for all investors. The impacts of some of these technology innovations will be impactful in a number of ways: increasing access for investors, broadening the range of capital available to real estate managers, increasing the liquidity and efficiency of real estate markets, and reducing the ever-increasing burdens of investor reporting and the regulatory requirement.
Q4. ULI: What are you currently reading/watching?
OA: I rarely watch TV alone, so there’s a broader influence on what I watch! A family favorite has to be Brooklyn 99. I love the characters, the witty one-liners are great, and easy to use in casual conversation with the children, but the show also skillfully addresses serious themes around race, gender, and sexuality. I’m an avid follower of the Luther series, so I recently watched Luther: The Fallen Sun. I’m a bit of a horror movie buff with a slightly dystopian edge. The series From on Paramount+ is also a very recent watch.
In terms of books, I recently read The Joy Experiments which was a gift from a guest speaker at the ULI Curtner Urban Leadership Program. It’s a bit of a conversation about what Cities can be and what we should demand from them. The book inspired this year’s program, “Tackling Civic Challenges with Community Joy”. The mission of the program is to cultivate thought and industry leadership by immersing emerging leaders in the real estate industry in the challenges and opportunities of developing the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.
AL: I’m loving the new season of Succession. I normally try and wait until all the episodes are out so I can binge without waiting, but I couldn’t hold back this time. I’m also going through an 80s nostalgic stage and am watching Miami Vice. The odd documentary sneaks in there as well. I also recently watched the Netflix documentary A Trip to Infinity – that one makes you think in circles for a while.
The last book I read was The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell. The book weaves together the numerous factors (both related to technology and individuals’ personalities), which led to the air bombing strategies deployed during WWII. It ultimately gets to the question of “Was it worth it?”. I tend towards fiction most of the time, but Gladwell’s writing style covers complicated concepts and human behavior in a great storytelling manner and I found to enjoy it.