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Canada  + Ontario  + Retail  | 
Cathal O'Connor talks about leadership in an interview with Connect CRE.

O’Connor Rolls with Punches

In this interview with Connect, Cathal O’Connor, president and CEO of Salthill Capital, discusses how he plans to lead his firm in 2024 following some disruptive years in Canada’s retail real estate sector. Toronto-based Salthill is an integrated commercial real estate investment, asset management, property management and development firm. The company specializes in the retail property sector while also covering diverse asset classes, including multi-family.

How you do you think you will have to lead differently in 2024?

The overall answer is, really, it’s not a dramatic change from ’23. The backdrop of ’23 was: We had the first full year of recovery in retail from COVID, and also a bounce back in demand from retailers for retail space, which had been absent for three or four years due to e-commerce and probably bankruptcies caused by e-commerce. So, ’23 was the first full year of stepping into a positive environment for retail. In ’24, we’re going to continue to see that.

From a leadership perspective, it’s all about motivating and energizing my team to take advantage of the opportunities that are in the marketplace. Those retail real estate companies that have survived, just like retailers, have used the past couple of years as a way to build their teams and make some tough decisions. But you come out of these experiences more resilient. I would say my team is stronger in ’24 than it was in ’23 and ’22. We’ve learned to adapt to new realities of retail. We’re listening closer to our retailers and we’re also managing our businesses better. There’s more meeting of the minds between retailers and landlords. There’s lots of deals to be done. Rental rates are rising, which is good for our business. So our biggest priority is to take advantage of opportunities to build on the relationships we’ve established over the last couple of years with our retailers.

Another change would be: ’23 saw a big rise in interest rates and, obviously that has made us look very closely at our operations and find ways that we can do things more efficiently and bring in new technology as well as manage financing more tightly. We have had to become a better operator and a better manager of our capital structure. You roll with the punches. The good news is that we’ve got retailers coming back to the marketplace and we’ve got the challenges on the financing. We have adapted to e-commerce and COVID, so we’ll figure things out.

What key leadership traits do you expect or encourage in your department heads?

We encourage leadership traits that are the actual Salthill values that we talk to all our teams within the organization about. We want integrity. We want teamwork. We want accountability. These are all core Salthill values.

We also encourage a learning mindset so that we adapt from the experiences we had over the last couple of years, to make us better, stronger and more nimble. The fact is: While we’re in the real estate business, we’re really in the people business. So, we want to treat each other with respect, promote each other and we want to challenge each other but also grow and have fun. And, in this environment, a key leadership trait is to deliver value to our stakeholders.

How do you identify the next generation of leaders?

We’re looking for people who have curiosity, who are self-motivated, who have a drive to sell, who are not afraid to work hard and are open to new challenges. I think we all want to be optimistic about life. You need to be optimistic today. The reality is that the world gets better each year and we’ve got to find ways to be better and capitalize on that. It may have bumps along the road but, every year, our business gets better.

I’m looking for those rising stars that meet those values that I have talked about. I talk to my teams all the time, and we have a mentoring program to help our stars. But I’m always open to someone walking into my office and saying, ‘Hey, I would like to do more. I want to do something different. I want a challenge.’ That’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for people that are self-motivated.

It’s a fun business. This is a business that isn’t going away. We are very fortunate to be in Canada, which has a growing population and growing demand for space. There’ll always be retail real estate. You just have to adapt to the opportunities that are out there.

Photo: Courtesy of Salthill Capital


Inside The Story

Cathal O'ConnorSalthill Capital

About Monte Stewart

Monte Stewart serves as Content Director - Canada for Connect Commercial Real Estate. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monte provides daily news coverage of major Canadian commercial real estate markets, including Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. He has written about the real estate sector for various media outlets and Avison Young since the early 2000s. In addition, he has covered sports, general news and business for several leading wire services and publications, including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, The Calgary Herald, The Globe and Mail, Research Money, The Daily Oil Bulletin, Natural Gas World and The Toronto Star. Monte is active in his community as a youth basketball coach and raises funds for such charitable causes as Movember.

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