Lunch with David Podmore


November 17, 2020

By Anne McMullin

He is a leader, a change-maker and an eternal optimist. One conversation with David Podmore is like a breath of fresh air, wiping away the world’s frustrations and anxieties. That is what our UDI members were able to enjoy as I sat down for a virtual lunch with the humble visionary who has helped create today’s Vancouver. Look around our city and David Podmore’s fingerprints are everywhere. He is the visionary behind thousands of rental homes, a key proponent of Expo ‘86 and the 2010 Winter Olympics, and a prominent supporter of a wide range of charities that make our communities stronger.

In our conversation, we talked about his history, his path to success and his advice for others. We learn a lot. But at the heart of his success is a man who cares. He cares about his family, his community and his team. But he also cares about his province, about doing things for the right reasons and leaving a meaningful legacy for others.

I can’t recap our whole conversation – but here are a few of my highlights.

How did Concert Properties begin?
David talks about the founding of this important company during a difficult time for Vancouver, especially when it came to rental housing.

In the 1980s, rental homes were being replaced with condominiums, leaving a severe shortage of housing. But David and his partners devised an innovative concept. By leasing land from the city, the company built rental homes (and accepted all the risk) and created a profit-sharing program with the city. The main caveat? The homes had to be guaranteed rentals for the life of the building.

So, would something like that work today with our rental crisis? “This model has worked and I’m not sure why we don’t see people adopting it,” David said. “Maybe it can be fine-tuned or adjusted but it is a workable approach.”

You have been in business during four major recessions. What advice do you have for others?
When it comes to advice, David has lots of it and is generous in sharing it. In tough times, whether it is a recession or pandemic, David encourages business leaders not to overreact. Instead, they should read the landscape, make tough decisions such as stopping projects if necessary, and prepare to respond quickly when market conditions improve. “Don’t concede defeat,” he says. “There are always opportunities out there. If you search enough there is something you can do differently than is being done today that may actually help.”

What has been most important to you during your career?
Relationships. David has always worked hard to develop strong business relationships and maintain them. Those relationships can be found anywhere – clients, lenders, contractors, decision makers and beyond – and each can bring value. Sometimes, those business connections turn into lifelong friendships, like his bonds with Nat Bosa or the late Jack Poole.

Nat has taught David many things, especially the importance of intuition. Nat is able to make quick but thoughtful decisions, knowing just when to stop a project and prepare for a change.

Jack Poole was another great leader, mentor and friend who he met following Expo ‘86. David says Jack was always open to new ideas but he was no pushover. At some point during a discussion, Jack would always cut things off. “Ok, let’s not discuss it anymore,” Jack would say, suggesting they sleep on it. “Let’s see if it survives the night. And many times, we would come into the office and we would intuitively know that it didn’t survive the night.”

What is the biggest impediment to progress in British Columbia?
Not surprisingly, David points to unnecessary regulation as the biggest impediment facing the economy, pointing to protracted approval delays in everything from forestry to mining to homebuilding. “We are finding the regulatory environment just suffocating. We have one project, a very large one which could produce 3,000-plus homes in relatively short order, and we’ve been six years trying to get through approvals,” he says. “We’ve seen the length of time it takes to get through an approval process continually extended. The demands have reached a point where it’s unsustainable.”

What advice would he offer to government decision makers, whether municipal, provincial or federal?
David encourages all levels of government to focus on the priorities. Obviously, the management of COVID-19 is the most important thing right now, ensuring the health and safety of citizens. But after that, he believes we will all be stronger if we focus on core priorities: Rebuilding the economy, creating jobs, skills training for those who will have to transition to new careers and encouraging immigration.

“They really have to focus on this and we have to get it right. We have to move forward with initiatives that will improve our economy, that will create jobs, that will encourage immigration.”

Affordable housing is a key priority across B.C. What can be done to create more affordable homes?
Few know this topic better than David, who was instrumental in the creation of thousands of rental homes in Vancouver. The key to developing more affordable homes, he says, is acquiring land at a reasonable cost. If the land is too expensive, nothing is going to be built. That’s where governments can act by either buying properties to be used for affordable housing or using their existing property inventory.

Uncertainty abounds with COVID infection rates rising. How will this affect the real estate industry?
Obviously, the goal for everyone is staying safe until a vaccine is developed. But David believes our experience with COVID will have a lasting effect on our society – where we build, where we live and how we work. In the short term, he predicts retail vacancies in Vancouver’s downtown core will increase as companies either go out of business or relocate to the suburbs. Industrial development will remain strong in Metro Vancouver, David predicts, but will grow dramatically in regional B.C.

Working remotely has been instructive for everyone – workers, business owners and communities. “I think you’re going to see more and more movement to some of the smaller communities – the Nanaimos, the Courtenays, the Kamloops. And we’re already seeing that.”

These are just a few of the many insights from David Podmore, a man of great integrity and compassion. If only we had more David Podmores…

-Anne

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