When Vancouver’s condo king, Bob Rennie, got invited to speak to Killarney secondary students this month, he focused on what he learned as a student.
Rennie, one of the city’s best-known real-estate marketers, acknowledged upfront that he dropped out of Vancouver Technical in the 1970s, three months before graduating. But he was awarded an honorary high-school diploma in 2006 after the principal decided he deserved top marks for marketing and career planning.
“I do have legitimate Grade 12 the hard way, through the school of hard knocks,” Rennie confessed. “Coincidentally, two months later, Emily Carr University gave me an honorary doctorate. My joke is, ‘Canada is amazing. You can get Grade 12 and you can be a doctor two months later.’ ”
The auditorium full of students erupted in laughter. Then Rennie got serious, mentioning developments he’s been involved with. They include the Shangri-La Hotel, the Wall Centre, the Shaw Tower, and the one he’s most proud of, the Woodward’s project in the Downtown Eastside.
“I came up with a slogan: ‘Be bold or move to suburbia,’ ” he said. “I’m paid to come up with 99 ideas a day…and that was one of them that was good. We had a lineup and we sold it out in a day, and it has helped stabilize the Downtown Eastside.”
After establishing his bona fides, Rennie declared that he has become a “brand”, which he has built over the past 38 years. “Everyone in this room is a brand,” he advised the students. “All that you have is your name.”
He said that in high school, people learn how to put up with authority and understand the courses, teachers, friends, and activities that they want to be engaged with. He also said that students should learn how to trust their instincts, respect their peers, and gain the respect of others.
Rennie disclosed that one unnamed client pays him $25,000 per month to drink coffee with him three times a week. This anecdote illustrated Rennie’s point that there will always be someone who is smarter and richer than you.
Another thing that Rennie said he learned in high school is the importance of showing up on time.
“I built an entire career out of meeting developers at 6:30 in the morning,” he said. “I still get up at 4:30 five days a week. I get up at 5:30 on Saturdays and Sundays. I’m still hungry. I’m still passionate. I still like what I’m doing.”
He said that in the 1970s, he would eat breakfast with home builders in dumpy coffee shops. They would discuss sports, which Rennie knew nothing about. So he learned about athletes’ salaries.
“I became the skinny little kid that was like their accountant, and became a trusted, reliable source,” he said. “You have to find a way to fit in. You’re not always going to be able to converse—whether it’s in business or it’s on sports—but you can find something to keep you included.”
He pointed out that people become known for their differences and it’s important to cultivate this. Rennie added that the world is far more competitive since he left high school and sold homes belonging to his friends’ parents. He stated that his company wouldn’t hire a high-school dropout today. The most important lesson of all, he declared, is “learning to avoid assholes”.
“It’s a very important skill set that you will carry into the business community—and they’re not going to teach that in your business courses,” he said.
Rennie revealed that his company recently turned down an opportunity to market a downtown tower being built by an out-of-town billionaire. It was due to the man’s personality.
“That probably would have brought in two or three million dollars to our company, but he was abusive to people in my office and he was insulting to women in my office,” he said. “We just decided that the pain…was not worth it.”