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Sandy Shindleman edited 1By BERNIE BELLAN
The name “Shindleman” has become synonymous with a certain style of business development in Winnipeg.

With omnipresent strip malls located throughout the city bearing the Shindico name, along with more recent massive developments in certain parts of the city, especially  along Taylor Avenue in River Heights, Shindico is probably among the most recognized brands here.
And, while company founder Sandy Shindleman has a legendary reputation for being able to size up the value of a particular parcel of land and what the value of that piece of land would be once properly developed, he generally keeps a low profile, in comparison with many other Winnipeg business people.
Thus, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I sent Sandy a message on Linkedin about a month ago, asking him whether he would be willing to be our special guest speaker at a meeting of the just-recently formed group, the Jewish Business Network, which I helped start, along with the Rady JCC, back in July.
I wrote to Sandy: “Would you be interested in speaking to the group about how you created your business and how you learned to network so successfully with other business people?”
Sandy was gracious enough to reply almost immediately, saying he would check the date; a short time later he wrote back, “I’ll be there”.
I had anticipated that having Sandy as our guest speaker would draw another large crowd. (Our first meeting in July had 96 attendees.) But, as people began filing into the Multipurpose Room of the Asper Campus on Thursday, August 31st, I soon realized that the room was going to be filled close to capacity. Because everyone who was coming to the event had been asked to register in advance, names had to be checked off against a list and naturally, that delayed the start of the meeting somewhat.
Still, eventually everyone was settled at their tables after a period of mingling – which is especially useful to the kind of networking we’re aiming to achieve. Thanks again to the Rady JCC, particularly Julia Kramskoy and Tamar Barr, there were ample refreshments and beverages for attendees to take with them to their tables, so as people sat down waiting in anticipation to hear from Sandy. Seeing Sandy dressed in blue jeans was an indication that he was going to relax and be spontaneous - which proved to be the case.
That proved to be important, as after I had introduced Sandy, he held the audience in thrall for over 45 minutes, as he gave a wide-ranging talk that touched on so many aspects of his career. Although he had some notes prepared, Sandy explained that he wasn’t going to read from a text. Instead, he told one anecdote after another that drew together some of the common threads of the business style that he first began to fashion as a youngster back in Portage la Prairie in the 1960s. Following his remarks, Sandy began to take questions – slow to come at first; perhaps those in the audience were somewhat too intimidated by Sandy’s reputation as a brilliant developer to ask questions that they thought would not be worthy of his interest.
But, as Sandy began to field questions, it became apparent that he was fully motivated to answer any questions with great candor, without holding back his thoughts on any topic about which he was asked to give a response. As he held forth though, what clearly emerged was his disdain for what he clearly regarded as excessive governmental regulation of the building industry, especially at the civic level.
Over all it became apparent that Sandy Shindleman, who says he was an outsider when he came to Winnipeg back in the 1970s, still views himself in many ways as an outsider. Although Shindico has an extraordinarily large footprint in Winnipeg - you’d be hard pressed to travel very far in any direction without seeing a Shindico sign somewhere, the company operates with a relatively small staff, Sandy explained. And, in response to some questions that I, myself, asked him, Sandy did speak about many of the business interests that have taken him to areas far afield from Winnipeg, including his most recent venture back into farming near Portage – whence he came.
His style this evening was to tell stories - stories about growing up in Portage, about coming to Winnipeg, about giving lectures about commercial development around the world, and about why he’s stayed in Winnipeg when he could have left an even bigger mark somewhere else.
Early on in his talk, one of the stories Sandy told was about how he, his brother Robert, and his wife Diane – all of whom work with him at Shindico, were once called into a meeting with a newly appointed general manager at the company, who said he wanted to talk to them about something important.
When they were all gathered together, the GM asked: “Why are we in business?”
Sandy wondered why the question was even broached. He responded: “Aren’t we doing okay?”
The GM said: “Yes, we’re doing okay, but why are we in business?”
Sandy said to the audience: “None of us would bite at the obvious reason. We looked at our shoes, we looked at the wall, we looked at each other. My brother Robert stammered out, ‘To do a good job?’
“The GM said ‘yes’.” “
My wife Diane said, ‘To make money?’
“He said ‘yes’,“ but then the GM said that he had gone through all the files and observed one case after another where the company could have made more money by, in some cases, not agreeing to leasehold improvements or, in other cases, asking for more money in rent from tenants. Out of that meeting, Sandy said, the company came to develop its mission statement. He said he wasn’t sure what happened with the piece of paper that had that mission statement written on it, but what it contained could be boiled down to one line: “Succeeding by helping others succeed.”
Emanating from that simple credo, Sandy went on to explain, he was able to impress upon everyone working for Shindico that each of them, by helping someone else in the company, such as the “accountant – if all he did”, for instance, “was helping the property manager to succeed, he succeeded”, and so on down the line, the entire company succeeded.
It was something that happened in 1972, however which, Sandy recounted to the audience, that left a lasting impression upon him and his attitude toward business. He was 15 years old that year, living in Portage with his family there, where his family owned a store (also a feedlot), when one Friday his father (Edward, who passed

away in 1998) sent him “out to buy a bull”.
“He sent me out to ‘Old Man Sweitzer’ to buy a bull,” Sandy said. “I thought ‘Old’ was his first name and ‘Man’ was his second name. Old Man Sweitzer was 65. I thought he was a thousand.
“Old Man Sweitzer didn’t drive a car. He drove a tractor…You didn’t need a driver’s license to drive a tractor. I still think you don’t. A lot of you who’ve lost your driver’s license may want to consider it.
“So I went out to Old Man Sweitzer’s to take a look at his bull. He brought his bull into a corral that had never been cleaned out in a hundred years – so the manure was this high. I had seen my father buy bulls, also cattle, horses, sheep, and hogs – all of my life. I looked at the bull – and looked underneath; sure enough it was a bull.
“And I said ‘$420’, and he said, ‘great – let’s load ‘em up’.
Sandy continued his story, saying he took the bull back to Portage. His father came out of the store, looked at the bull, and asked, “How much did you pay?”
Sandy answered, “$420.” His father said, “Oh, okay.”
“He didn’t say ‘good job, bad job’. He didn’t really talk to me about it.”
A week later, Sandy noted, also on a Friday afternoon, he was preparing to take the week’s deposit to the bank – which he did every Friday, when he noticed that there was a cheque for $1,000 from Burns Meats. (It turned out his father had sold the bull rather than use it for ground beef himself – which was what Sandy had thought his father was going to do.)
“What do you think of the bull sale?” Sandy said his father asked him.
“I think I should quit school,” he answered his father. “I’ll buy a couple of bulls a week. I’ll make more than you’re making here standing on your feet seven days a week.
“Was it a hard negotiation?” his father asked him. “Could you have got it for $300?”
“Should I have?” Sandy asked.
“He said ‘no’” and then he proceeded to explain how much Old Man Sweitzer would have had to pay had he shipped the bull for slaughter himself. (As Sandy explained, his father had a distinct advantage because of his special relationship with Burns Meats that allowed him to forego the usual shipping costs that others would have had to incur, but Old Man Sweitzer could have easily obtained $1,000 for the bull. His father went on to explain that he had been buying cattle from Old Man Sweitzer for over 30 years, but Sweitzer could just as well have sold his cattle to Burns.) His father told him he would have to go back to Old Man Sweitzer and give him a cheque for $500.
When Sandy went back to Sweitzer’s and told him he wanted to give him a cheque for $500, Sweitzer “looked at the cheque and his eyes welled up. He said, ‘Why don’t I just sign the cheque, you take it back to the store, and my two daughters and I will take groceries for it?’”
When he got back to the store and told his father what had happened, Sandy said, his father tore “up the cheque into small pieces.”
“Why did you do that?” Sandy asked his father.
“Let Trudeau pay for half of it,” his father answered. “But let him have $500 after tax instead of before tax.”
“So I learned tax accounting right away then. You didn’t have to go to Commerce, you didn’t have to do any of the normal stuff.” But, Sandy continued, he learned the lesson that, even though his family did all right, by no means were they wealthy. (He explained that they only got running water just before his bar mitzvah.)

“Yet, we succeeded by helping others to succeed,” he said. “He (Old Man Sweitzer) was our customer, we were going to look after him, and we were going to make sure that he succeeded.”
It was that lesson which Sandy says he’s taken with him into the commercial real estate business. “Knowing about real estate is one thing; a lot of people know about real estate. But we need to know about other people’s businesses to help them to succeed. Sometimes we have to know more about it than they do.”
What he’s learned over the years is that it’s about “relationships, relationships, relationships,” Sandy suggested.
“As a Jewish merchant, farmer, and scrap metal dealer in a small town, you understand something that I’m going to quote isn’t mine: ‘People will forget what you do, and people will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’
Addressing himself specifically to the large audience that had turned out to hear him, Sandy said, “By putting together a group like this, by networking

with each other, without looking for a quick payback, if all you did – everyone else in this room, is help everyone else to succeed, you’d succeed too.”
At that point Sandy surprised the audience by saying, “Use socialism” in your business: “If the customer has a lot, take a lot; if he has a little – take it all!’ he said (sarcastically.) “How’s that?”
“That’s not how we do it. That’s not how we did it. But we do care about the people we work for. We do care about the people we hire.
“I don’t have a following in the Jewish community,” Sandy noted. “I think we have about six Jewish customers in Winnipeg. We don’t have that business. Our competitors have that business. We work with everybody though. It’s been a pretty good living.”
At that point Sandy said he was ready to field questions. I said to him, “ You didn’t even touch on all the various other businesses that you’re involved in. But you’re essentially self taught in all of them. Is that right?”
“We’re in the infrastucture business, the storage business (Shindico owns Storageville), we’re farming again, we’re in the hospitality business, in the food business – in St. Vital – also in the car business in Portage,” Sandy said.
“But, when you talk about relationships,” I asked, and how important they’ve been to your company, “you’ve formed relationships with people you didn’t know?”
 “Only with people we didn’t know,” Sandy said.

“Did you seek out people you didn’t know?” I asked.
“I didn’t know anybody. That wasn’t hard,” he answered. His first investor, he explained, was his dentist.
“I think it was a benefit not growing up in the city (Winnipeg) and saying: ‘Those are the builders, those are the landowners, those are the publishers, those are the car dealers – so you have to try and find something else.’
“I didn’t have that, so you have to forge your own way. I had nothing to lose. I lived with my parents. My friends were all around 16, moving out. I wanted to keep the house – get my parents to move out.
“I didn’t know anybody. Maybe that was a blessing. You have no place to fall if you’re starting at the bottom.”
“But,” I continued. “You did say earlier that it was all about ‘location, location, location’ (when it came to developing). But you said that doesn’t count for anything if you don’t have the right tenants. So, how do you find the right tenants?’
“It’s all about relationships,” Sandy repeated. “I got into the development business because no one would buy from me. I’d knock on doors and say, ‘I’ve got this, it’s got traffic, it’s got egress, it’s zoned. I think you could put a grocery store or a Pizza Hut on there. But, they weren’t that interested – because they did have relationships, so I did it myself.
“In many respects,” (with a nod to his audience, a large number of whom were foreign-born), “I was just like you. I grew up on a farm, we didn’t have indoor plumbing, we were raised together as a family. We were Jews. We looked after each other.”
I asked where was the first building Sandy ever bought. He said it was a building in Portage with “two suites sharing a bathroom and a photofinisher, with a hair stylist and a barber shop on the main floor. In Winnipeg the first building we did was a Loblaws that we bought on Pembina and McGillivray. We did that one ourselves, my brother and I. Then, with a partner we bought a few more, built a few more. Eventually, we had a partnership (with the Akman family). We were both chasing one building. The broker married us with the Akmans. We’ve been in business (together) many, many years. That was a joint venture on a handshake in ’82, and we’re still going strong today – same property, but the rent’s gone up.”
Someone else in the audience asked: “Do you read books? What sort of books do you read?”
Sandy answered: “I buy books. I typically don’t read them though. I have the best of intentions. My carry-on is heavy. I do read a little bit, but not typically about real estate…I read a lot of Second World War stuff, Holocaust stories, the founding of Israel. My uncle was the first mate on the second ship after the Exodus, with the Irgun. He was on the King David Hotel with Begin. My mother’s family were all warriors. They couldn’t wait to get into the war in ’39.”
The questioner asked whether Shindico is into residential development at all?
Sandy replied: “We didn’t start off in residential because you needed money to be in the residential business. You couldn’t make enough sweat equity. With

commercial you buy a gas station, you manage to save money with the approaches, you save money with the pylon sign, you save part of the building, you do the leases yourself – without a lawyer. The architecture – you take a picture of somebody else’s building and give it to somebody to draw. There were a lot of lenders, a lot of trust companies in the business at that time. You could borrow all the money. If you did all those things yourself you could borrow 100 percent of the money.
“With apartments, that was never the case. There was a rent-controlled environment. It took a long time to build before the cash started flowing.
“I was approached by some of my schoolteachers in Portage who wanted a new apartment building and in 1985 I built a 21-suite apartment building on the lake in Portage. At one time I had 12 former school teachers living there, spread out throughout the 21 suites there.
“They hated me. I don’t know why they asked me for that…That’s the last time I built an apartment building. We are doing serious planning now to add 2,000 units in the River Heights area – rental. So, we have to learn how to get good at it. We’re hoping to get started next year.
“Residential is where it’s at. Amazon isn’t allowing people to live in it. The retail’s tough.”

Someone else picked up on that thread, asking Sandy about the dire situation for shopping centres in the U.S., and how does that compare with Canada?
“They’ve got almost five times the retail space (in the U.S.) per capita than we do. They have a much higher propensity to consume, which is why they have ten times the personal storage space to put all that crap.”
But, as far as the outlook for the Canadian retail sector goes though, Sandy was no more optimistic than he was about the U.S. situation. “It’s here already, “ he commented. “They were waiting for Target to go broke; it went broke. They’re waiting for Sears to go broke; their real estate is better than those other spaces. It doesn’t take much to put a freeze on to the entire country.
“And, of course, we have much higher construction costs – much higher than the U.S. Manitoba has the highest construction costs outside of New York City – the highest in Canada…because of the taxes, the fees, and it’s not that competitive. Concrete costs the same everywhere here.”
Another questioner asked whether Sandy saw any change as a result of the change in government at the provincial level?
“It’s horrendous for the construction industry – civically,” he answered. “Our company has sold – I don’t know if it’s more than a thousand, but certainly many hundreds of acres of land just outside the city in the last two years. We sold them to people who have the ability to put in sewer and water and roads. As soon as we start to see a department store, a couple of grocery stores, go outside the city, and of course housing starts, I think we’ll see a hollowing out because you can’t get a building permit here for love or money. It takes us a year to build a shopping strip; it used to take four months.
“Once you build it, the people can’t get occupancy permits. They hire people. We had a dentist out in Transcona, had people hired, equipment in – couldn’t get an occupancy permit for four months. It’s not like he was a carpenter at night and built himself a dental lab…Certainly business isn’t cool any longer at the city (level).
“The province is not anti-construction. The legislation and regulations changed every day for 17 years and it never hit the paper because they (the government) were good advertisers –I assume.
Referring specifically to the change in government at the provincial level, Sandy noted that “we’ve lost a couple of important tenants …ten-year leases and they’re not renewing, but it looks like they’re cutting costs. I don’t think they (the province) are going to be harmful to business. I don’t think they’re going to be layering on the regulations, but I think the city…it’s tough to open a business and nobody seems to care. Some of us are lucky – we have assets from a bygone era.
“We have a Nutrition Plus store over on Taylor. He couldn’t get an occupancy permit for three months; had to throw inventory out. At One Evergreen we did a million dollar renovation. They told us we couldn’t put the furniture back in. We have to put concrete benches in. We spent a million dollars on a lobby – with handicap access, which we didn’t have to do. They won’t let us put furniture back in for senior citizens to sit on. That didn’t use to happen – under any mayor, under any CAO, for the last generation.
“I don’t know whether it’s going to get any tougher here; I don’t think it can. But I think you’re going to see a lot of activity outside the city – and it’s not going to be because of the ‘Bowman tax’. That’s just one other nail. If you can’t get a building permit you can’t get any money.”

Another questioner asked Sandy why, if things are so difficult here, he’s still here?
“I was on my way to Toronto in 1980,” he said. “What kept me here is the people. I have my family here. I still have my uncle, I still have my mother. She’s non-verbal with dementia. She’s here with my brother; I see her a couple of times a week.
“One of the things we have here is ‘prairie folk’ and that’s a big asset . Wherever you go, Winnipeggers find each other. It would probably have been easier in a bigger city; it would probably have been more lucrative, but I have a reasonable life here. I’ve got two dogs. I’ve had 20 hamsters in the last year.”
The final question asked was: “When did you decide to become an employer and not an employee?”
The answer: “When I couldn’t get a job. I worked in a grocery store with my dad seven days a week from the time I was three years old, then drove around evenings on Sundays with my Uncle Jack to buy cattle, with him smoking a cigar with the windows up because he didn’t want to get a draft.”
But, returning to the question why he didn’t get a job, Sandy posed this question – which resonated in particular with many in the audience that evening: “Who’s going to hire you? A lot of newcomers who come to Winnipeg faced the same thing I did…’What have you done?’
 “Well, I was a lawyer there,” someone might say.
“ Well, you can’t be a lawyer here” (any lawyer from a different countryr is bound to be told). “So, I was willing to certainly start at the bottom because I didn’t want to screw up. I didn’t want to get any important jobs. I might not have done well at it. Then I would have got discouraged – I think. It’s hard to know for sure.”

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