Developer President (a non-political prediction about Trump)

The inauguration of Donald Trump is the news of the day (or year or century?). I've got very little interest or insight into the political or legislative path his administration will take. But there are some insights I think I do have that have almost nothing to do with politics.

For the first time in my life, the president and I share an occupation and locale - we are both real estate developers (at admittedly vastly different scales) and we both own homes in Palm Beach County (at admittedly vastly different scales). If Mr. Trump runs his administration the way developers run projects, I think I can make a few predictions about what we'll in terms of leadership. Here are my guesses:

1. Quick decision making

Developing a project is complicated, time consuming, costly, and uncertain. What makes it exponentially harder is when the army of consultants, designers, builders, engineers, and staff are waiting on decisions to be made. In fact, it is almost always true that a bad decision is easier to recover than a late one. If the person at the top is the type that waits for more and perfect information, the entire project grinds to a halt. I expect Mr. Trump to make decisions quickly, even if they might be construed as "bad" ones.

2. Accomplishments over optics

I'm sure he is already used to the wave of criticism he experiences but there is a lesson from real estate in here. Particularly when managing the diverse team of people involved in creating a new project, results carry a lot more weight than optics. Said another way, real estate tends to reward people that get things done, however accomplished, more so than those that avoid making waves. In fact, being disruptively different can be an asset. You see Mr. Trump's dislike for media already and I don't think he'll do much to curry favor. Look for this administration to push their agenda, even if the overwhelming public opinion is against them.

3. Lean teams

Not at all unrelated to #1, getting information distributed amongst a team and having a streamlined decision-making process is critical to making a project move efficiently. As such, development teams tend to be set up with fewer people doing more work. Even if it means the work happens slightly slower, keeping a unified and harmonized team is important to a project. Straying from core objectives can be devastating. I don't know how much the political traditions of D.C. will prevent this, but where possible I see this administration using fewer people so that messaging and alignment stays tight.

4. Meritocratic choices

In real estate, perhaps unlike government, there isn't much room (or money) for people or entities that don't contribute. Until there is a major financial event like a loan closing or an asset sale cash has to be preserved. The closer to the developer you get the more likely you are to find people working for "sweat equity" but the point is that any dollar spent in this uncertain, risk period jeopardizes the viability of the project. Because of this, if you aren't contributing, a developer is likely to eject you from the process. If Mr. Trump runs his staff like I'd run a project, you won't find many people hanging around for symbolic or purely political reasons.

5. Use of debt

Beyond the simple quantity available, debt (leverage) is a major friend to the developer. There is a well-earned stereotype that developers prefer OPM (other people's money). If the developer can use OPM in a debt position, this secures the equity stake, the only stake that appreciates with the asset, the developer's upside is greatly enhanced. When interest rates are low like they are now, using more long-term debt, even just to re-finance existing debt, can greatly improve the financial position of an entity. Even though he doesn't have an equity stake in the U.S. per se, he has expressed a philosophy to run the government like a business. To me, this means using cheap debt more. I'd even look for him to push the Treasury to issue bonds with longer maturities than the current 30-year standard.

6. Anti-conforming "gray"

The most successful real estate projects of any shape are always ones that set themselves apart by their nature. They are different in any way possible. If we develop an assisted living property, the best thing we can do for that property is clearly distinguish it from its current and future competitors. If it looks, feels, prices, lives, and operates just like its competition, it will, at best, perform just like its competition. Probably worse. The more it is different, the better chance it has to outperform. This concept can be seen in the Trump campaign (Twitter vs. TV ads, big rallies vs. careful messaging, lots of travel vs. preserving an image, etc.). I imagine this will continue and we'll see completely different strategies for ways to use or operate the federal bureaucracy. The other place this takes a developer is to the "gray" - that place where rules and laws don't specifically allow or prohibit a particular action. In this untrodden ground is often great success - precisely because no one else has tried it. To be clear, you can also get into major trouble here. But it is a place a successful developer will look. The unconventional is often shocking but successful.