Developing Designer Outlets in Europe
A commercial real-estate mogul who quotes Hemingway? That would be Julia Calabrese (OPM 22, 1995), CEO at London-based McArthurGlen Group UK Ltd., a leading owner, manager, and developer of designer retail outlets in the UK and Europe. In an interview published in the July 24, 2011 London Sunday Times, the U.S.-born Calabrese, who taught business and marketing to high schoolers in Charles County, Maryland, before a late-1970s career change to commercial property development, shared some professional advice. “Ernest Hemingway said it best,” she stated. “‘Never mistake motion for action.’”
Asked recently to elaborate on the comment, Calabrese, who joined McArthurGlen in 1998 after serving in senior roles at several other property development firms, noted, “There is an important distinction between circling, or ‘contemplating’ a problem and confronting and resolving it.” As the driving force in McArthurGlen’s transformation from an entrepreneurial enterprise to a multinational real-estate development and management company, Calabrese has been called on to resolve numerous challenges head on. For example, promoting the concept of designer shopping outlets—a relatively new phenomenon in Europe—has been a priority that has required both patience and diligence.
“In Europe,” she explained, “the nature of planning, zoning, and design is very political, complicated by layer upon layer of regulatory and quasi-judicial processes. Moreover the planning authorities in just about every country still dislike out-of-town retail developments.” Overcoming this resistance requires an “extraordinary” investment in soft costs to enable McArthurGlen to put in “the years of man-hours required to bring one of our unique projects merely to the ground-breaking phase,” she said.
Calabrese currently manages the firm’s twenty designer outlet villages across the UK and Europe, a portfolio that is scheduled to expand to 21 by the end of 2012. She told the Times that her leadership style is still evolving, noting that she learned a lot from the “camaraderie and business experiences” of her OPM classmates at HBS. When it comes to problem solving, Calabrese said she values the discipline she gained, through the case method, in working through sets of facts and circumstances—first on her own, then in a study group, and finally in a guided classroom discussion. “It is the participatory aspect of this way of problem-solving and decision-making that made a lasting impression on me,” she revealed.