An Executive Summary with Rick Dishnica

The Executive Summary is a brief video series in which Bay Area real estate and land use professionals discuss the arc of their careers, personal interests, and the impact of ULI on their careers.

An Executive Summary with Rick Dishnica

Rick Dishnica is President of The Dishnica Company, LLC. The Dishnica Company was formed in 1999 to pursue his individual investment goals, to develop infill housing, both for-sale and for-rent in the Bay Area, and to provide real estate consulting services. Rick is an active member in the Urban Land Institute, currently serving on the national level as the Chair of the Multi-Family Blue Council and was the former Chair of the San Francisco District Council.

Full-Length Interview

Hi, I am Rick Dishnica, and I am the [immediate past] chair of the San Francisco District Council.

First Job in Real Estate / Land Use Field:

Well when I got out of the Navy, I landed a job with Union Bank and in that training program they had a group of us that migrated into the real estate, construction side of the business,  and so I learned construction lending.  And unfortunately it was the ‘74 recession when I came into the platform and instead of becoming a lender, I ended up in the workout department; and it was quite interesting to see what happens when the deals go bust.

Mentors in Your Career:

Well that first opportunity, my mentor was actually in the workout department, he recruited me and he was a very interesting character.  He had kind of an imposing look to him, so when you would walk into his office (if you were a borrower) he made one of two choices: if you were a guy that came in aggressively attacking him, he would really make life difficult.  Conversely, if you walked in and said, “We have a problem, I am trying to work my tail off to fix the problem and I would like to work with you”, he would bend over backwards to help the borrower out.  And the lesson I learned from that was when you approach situations in a stressful opportunity like a downturn, is to start out in establishing a good rapport and if somebody is willing to work hard and not be contentious then work with him to solve the problem.

Greatest Career Satisfactions:

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do things, but I think back and I look at this particular one and I say to myself, of all the things I have ever done it was the first time I had a chance to really create something.  We built 304 apartments in San Francisco at the site of the old Winterland Auditorium and we called it 2000 Post Apartments.  So I went from the finance world into the development world as a project manager. It was a tremendous experience and I learned it from the ground up; and I saw things and realized how difficult the process can really be.

Toughest Challenges Faced in Your Career:

Through a career, and mine had been a pretty long one, I look back and I have observed the downturns; the downturns have been interesting because I started out my business career as an employee solving problems but they weren’t my problems, they were somebody else’s problems.  In 1980-81, I made my own problems and I tried to become an entrepreneur and it didn’t succeed; and as a consequence of that recession I learned a valuable lesson.  Then I came into the ‘90-‘91-‘92 recession and the same thing, now I had even more experience but it’s affecting me.  So those downturns taught me resilience and taught me that you have to think about, when the freight train is going, way out in the distance you know you hear that noise and you are not quite sure what that rumble is, often times it will hit you, well I got hit twice.  The next time around which is this current downturn I had heard it way in advance, I stopped getting involved in 2007, and as a consequence I didn’t have any significant problems. And what I am doing today is helping other people solve their problems as a consultant, having had those experiences and knowing what to do when tough times come.

Lessons Learned from Past Real Estate Cycles:

Well, as I mentioned in this last discussion, you know real estate is a cyclical business, and I think you have to realize that there is a boom and there is a bust and it has been consistent throughout the pattern of history to the best of my reading of history.  So if you anticipate that there is a cycle, the question is where are you in the cycle. The calmness will give you all these expectations. I will never forget Ken Rosen would talk about the clock. You know, where are you in the clock: are you at the beginning of the clock or are you at the end of the clock?  So it’s hard to really figure it out when you are in the middle of a frenzied activity but it is that time when it’s very frenzied, when you need to start thinking that you might be approaching the top of the cycle.  Having said that, now you go on to the down part of the cycle and everybody thinks the world is going to come to an end.  And just like the guy that predicted the end of the world, a funny thing happens, it is not the end of the world.  It is a very tough time but things do get better, so you have to be able to keep an optimistic view of things, realize it is just hard work, so you roll up your sleeves and you get into the recession and you get out of the recession and it is never over till it is over.  So probably the best lesson I learned is: listening to your gut, when you feel things are not going the right way, think about things differently; and then secondly when you get into this tough time, persevere, work hard, roll up your sleeves, don’t quit and ultimately you will prevail.

Favorite Places in the Bay Area / World:

Probably the one that resonates the most with me, a historical building in the marina, is the Palace of Fine Arts.  Its just an elegant structure yet it had gone downhill, people in San Francisco rallied around it when people wanted to destroy it, and they have renovated. It’s a spectacular building.

Favorite Ways to Unwind:

Unwinding on an athletic venue is probably the best way to get out of your problems of whatever they are or thinking about things because you have to focus.  I have taken up squash again, I used to play it when I was younger, and when you are on a court you can’t think of anything else other than where that ball is and where your partners are if you are playing doubles. And so the idea that you are immersed in something and completely oblivious to the rest of the world is the best thing for me and so I’d say athletics is probably my best opportunity to do that.

ULI’s Impact on Your Career:

For me personally the impact ULI has had on my career is, I came from a perspective that was relatively narrow; when I got into the ULI in 1991, I got on a Council and that experience opened my eyes to a whole different view of things.  And understanding how to deal with people in a networking sense where you had a group coming together and they would share very freely and you’d get together twice a year and on an ongoing basis you’d build a network of people that you could rely upon; when you make a phone call and ask a question they would always take your phone call.  Beyond that, learning about the real estate business, the diversity of the business, not from a narrow perspective, from a very broad perspective and then lastly giving back. The ULI for me personally is an opportunity to give back.  I have had a successful career, I am at a point in my life where the opportunity to give back is probably more important to me than taking from the organization. I think that in the giveback mode, the things that I have enjoyed the most have been UrbanPlan, working with students in the high school level; we have a program called the Advisory Panels where you volunteer your time for anywhere from 3 to 5 days and you go into a city and you try to solve a problem, it is an immersion into a new environment working with eight professions, its just an outstanding experience.  And lastly, just the opportunity to interact with the people in this industry through the ULI, they are some of the best I have met, the brightest and certainly the most fun.

The Executive Summary, developed by Rob DeWaters and Miles Garber, aims to foster wider professional and personal connections across the ULI San Francisco membership.