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14. Q&A with Nicolas Del Valle on Becoming an Asset Management Leader and Being a Win-Win Negotiator

· Career Planning Show

Nicolas Del Valle is an Asset Manager with over 20 years of experience managing facilities including hotels, convention centers, cruise lines, as well as commercial and residential projects. Nicolas serves as the CEO of the Canadian division of Conkrite Capital.
Connect with Nicolas Del Valle on LinkedIn and visit to learn about their asset management solutions.

Resources mentioned:
- "Outliers" book by Malcolm Gladwell
- MIT OpenCourseWare

This episode of the The Career Planning Show is sponsored by Staples Studio.

If you have a career planning question you'd like us to answer on The Career Planning Show, let us know via or at @AlexRascanu.

Transcript of the interview:

Alex Rascanu: Welcome to The Career Planning Show. Our guest today is Nicolas Del Valle. How are you, Nicolas?

Nicolas Del Valle: Thank you very much, Alex. I'm doing great.

Alex Rascanu: Nicholas, would you mind walking us through your career journey?

Nicolas Del Valle: Sure. I started in assets management when I was 17, working for Commodore Cruise Line. That was a great experience, which I acquired right after high school. And I spent a few years in the cruise line industry working for Celebrity Cruises, Crown Cruise Line, and some other ones. And in the cruise line industry, you learn many aspects of assets management because you're managing a comprehensive level. What that means is that it covers all the aspects of maintenance and management of the actual physical spaces. So that gave me an opportunity to actually learn and cross train in many different departments, which is almost impossible if you do it when you're working for a hotel. So in a cruise line, for instance, you are able to work in the food and beverage department, you are able to work in the hotel department, you are able to work in the engineering department because it's all in a small space. So that for me was a great starting point.
Moving on from that, I worked for a large, very large hospitality company focused on convention centers all over the United States. That was another great experience.
And, moving on from that, I decided that I wanted to stay in the facilities and assets management industry. I learned very early in my life that if you don't focus, you lose. So I decided that, once I acquire so much experience, it will be better for me if I stayed in the industry and capitalize on the knowledge and skills that I've acquired from so many of my mentors, and that's what I've done. And that's what has led me to where I am today.

Alex Rascanu: That's great. What is asset management?

Nicolas Del Valle: Asset management is a discipline that manages the physical spaces and physical machinery, the form part of a system. What we do is that we form programs that will keep or extend the life of these assets, for as long as possible, in order for us to withdraw as much profit as possible from them.
For instance, a boiler comes with a maintenance program and if the maintenance program is not executed properly, the asset will die. Then you will have to discard it and you will lose money. By having the proper maintenance program of that boiler, you extend its life cycle and then therefore extending profits and benefits for the owners.

Alex Rascanu: Great. So would you say that what you enjoy the most is the development of that asset or the maintenance of that asset? We could be thinking about the development of new commercial or residential properties, the development of a new cruise ship, the development of a new hotel. You enjoy the development aspect, and that's where you come into the picture, or the maintenance and being able to add as much revenue as possible to the organization that's managing that asset?

Nicolas Del Valle: Well, you see in assets management, you need people like us at all stages of development. If you want to start real estate development, you can not start a project without having an asset management program in place. And for that you need people like us. At the building level, if you're going to construct a ship you'd need us even before you start the planning process because we understand things that the developers do not understand. And that is why this career is so important. It's nonstop. It is necessary. It is very needed.

Alex Rascanu: And how did Conkrite Capital start? I know you've been with the company for over 12 years now, you manage it on the Canadian side; how did the company start and what are its main areas of focus right now?
Nicolas Del Valle: Conkrite Capital is an assets management company that focuses on building management, infrastructure, agriculture, and farming at different levels. The company started mostly dealing with buildings and then we extended the services to cruise lines, and we got involved in all different kinds of assets. Now we are very focused on farming because we understand the needs of it and the need for organization within the farming industry.
Alex Rascanu: One conversation that I heard you be involved with involved a project that you're working on in the Caribbean and South Africa. I really enjoyed hearing the win-win mindset that you were utilizing. You wanted the partners that you would be working with on the ground to get as much value as possible as well. It seemed a little bit unusual to me, based on what I've seen in the construction industry and the financial assets management industry as well. Having this win-win mindset is not as common as someone coming in and trying to dominate as much as possible, and trying to extract as much value as possible at the expense of any other stakeholders. Can you talk about this win-win mindset that you utilize, and how it has benefited your career and how it possibly benefited Conkrite Capital as well?
Nicolas Del Valle: For sure. You know what? Most of my experience, and we probably going to keep coming back to it, come from the cruise line industry. I was very young. And, you know what? What we are taught - it's mostly like a military protocol - is that if you don't work together, you will fail. It is the same with your customers. If you don't work together with your customers to develop a long-term relationship, you are basically dead in the water like we say in the cruise line [industry]. And you don't want to get yourself to that level. You want to develop a long-term relationship with your clients. Again, coming back to the asset cycle, you can not manage an asset for a year and then just walk away. If you want to do this properly, you have to develop a long-term relationship with your customers so that you are there for them for the entire life cycle of the asset.
Alex Rascanu: Yes.
Nicolas Del Valle: That is our intention. We are not going anywhere. We are here to stay.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Could you please speak about how someone is able to go about becoming the CEO of an asset management firm? Do they need to have a CFA background? Do they need to start as a commercial real estate agent? Or is there a different pathway into taking on such a senior leadership role, from your experience?

Nicolas Del Valle: In assets management, everything comes down to experience. And what that means is that you need to get your hands dirty , to be able to learn what it is that you're doing. There's no school, there is no university that can teach you this thing. You have to learn it. You have to go in, roll up your sleeves, and work with the people that are actually dealing with things. I started at a very low level. I started [with] basic engineering jobs and then grew myself from there slowly. Then I started acquiring book knowledge, but it has to be accompanied with the hands-on experience -without that you cannot do it. There are so many certifications out there, and you can have a facility management certification. You can have an assets management certification. You can have a commercial building management certification. We also have managed condominiums in Toronto and you also need a license and a certification to manage condominiums. So it depends on which branch you want to take. But for whatever branch you take, most importantly you will need hands-on experience. You will need to learn what you're doing. You need to get in there. You need to get into farms. You need to get into buildings. You need to see how people are doing the job that they are doing. That is very, very important. You can not manage these people and let them know what to do if you don't know what they are doing.

Alex Rascanu: Now, in the career that you've had so far, were there any individuals who inspired you to come to where you are right now? Were there any books or other resources that you found helpful along the way, that someone might want to pick up and look into?
Nicolas Del Valle: For sure. I've been very fortunate to have had many great mentors. I've been one of the lucky ones. So far, I have not had one bad boss and that has helped me a lot. And, you see, as you go out alone it is very important that once you decide that this is where you want to do, you pick the right kind of people to get coaching from.
Alex Rascanu: Yes.
Nicolas Del Valle: A very important book, which is actually very recent by Malcolm Gladwell is "Outliers". He teaches you the importance of sticking, of putting [in] the time, because it's not going to happen overnight.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Are there any other thoughts that you have with regards to career planning for someone who is maybe early on in their career and is trying to break through in the asset management industry, at this fairly difficult time that we find ourselves in from an economic perspective but which somehow presents fairly significant opportunities for anyone who is managing to survive in this environment and does have the capital available to operate and even acquire some of their competitors... any thoughts for someone who's early on in their career?

Nicolas Del Valle: Well, something that we've experienced even during the COVID-19 situation is... our business actually has increased. And what that tells you is that assets management is a discipline that is here to stay. And whoever wants to come on board and say "I want to be an assets management," they just need to understand that they need to focus. They need to learn this because it is very wide [industry]. And it takes a long time to learn it. It doesn't matter where you get in, whether it's a building or a condominium, it doesn't matter. You need a long time, because there are so many components that you need to learn, so many variables that you will need to achieve success. You need to be there to stay. It is not an overnight situation. You need to decide that this is what you want to do and take the time to develop.
And you need to take your time and understand that it's going to take a good 5 to 10 years to actually be a master in assets management. And you need to read the books. A good resource is MIT OpenCourseWare. They have so many engineering open courses that you can take for free from the best [professors]. So you can go to MIT and you can educate yourself for free. That's great. We provide these tools to our staff and we say "go to MIT OpenCourseWare, learn. We don't want you to come with a certificate. This is the 21st century. We don't care about that anymore. We want you to learn so that when we put you on the spot, you will be able to know and say what has to be said.

Alex Rascanu: Thank you so much. That's a great thought to end on. We appreciate having you on The Career Planning Show.
Nicolas Del Valle: Thank you very much for having me.

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