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“Being a parent is the best job in the world, but is also a major undertaking for which there is no finish line” with Bruce Schanzer

As I am now seeing, being a parent is the best job in the world, but is also a major undertaking for which there is no finish line. When you’re a parent, “success” is elusive. There’s no way to masterfully straddle the two worlds, but we can certainly give it our best shot.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Bruce Schanzer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cedar Realty Trust. Prior to Cedar Realty, Bruce was employed by Goldman Sachs & Co., with his last position being a managing director in their real estate investment banking group. From 2001 to 2007, he was employed by Merrill Lynch, with his last position being vice president in their real estate investment banking group. Earlier in his career, Bruce practiced real estate law for six years in New York.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I am the son of two physicians and the oldest of four. My mother was an ophthalmologist and worked full time, but since her office was attached to our house, she was able to be present when we got home from school. Unfortunately, my mother passed away when I was still a teen. As a single parent, my father really stepped up and found a way to balance being a successful physician and a hands-on father to his children. My parents taught me that you can be a very active and involved parent, while also leading a satisfying career.

I grew up in a blue-collar town called Elizabeth, New Jersey. However, there were a number of remarkably successful individuals in our town who were all in the real estate business. They were known collectively as the “builders” and as a child I knew I wanted to one day be a “builder” too, so to speak. That’s why I went into real estate.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I worked real estate-related jobs in high school and turned my sights to real estate law when I graduated from law school. After roughly 6 years as a real estate attorney, I returned to business school in order to enter the real estate investment banking arena. The combination of working in real estate law and finance helped build the foundation for my current position at Cedar Realty Trust.

A turning point in my career that contributed to my joining Cedar was when my oldest son was about to start high school. It dawned on me that I only had 4–5 years left of him living at home with me. I was traveling two or three days a week as a banker, and I didn’t have enough quality time at home with my wife and children. When the opportunity to move to Cedar presented itself, I accepted the position with the hope that it would allow me to improve my work/life balance. I am grateful that I now am able to better balance my work and family demands.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

Every day at Cedar Realty Trust is different and that’s one of my favorite things about my job. My responsibilities include managing Cedar’s executive team and overseeing the refinement and effectuation of our corporate strategy. I spend a lot of time with my colleagues, reviewing different analyses that they perform and speaking with my direct reports, as well as other members of Team Cedar, about the challenges of the day. I organize myself around a to-do list that I update frequently and work down the list, while also addressing the unplanned things that arise throughout the day. Notably, my to-do list includes the family matters I also need to address.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

As a parent, I recognize that you only have your children under your roof for about 17 or 18 years and if you want to be an impactful parent you should aim to spend as much time with your children as possible during that window. Personally, there’s no replacement for the time I spend with my kids, speaking with them and nurturing them. For those reading this who are parents themselves, we know that the job of raising a child doesn’t end and there isn’t ever a point where you can say “I nailed it!” It’s important to remain connected with your children throughout their lives to keep helping them grow as individuals so that they can confidently be their own person and fulfill their potential.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

Once I adjusted my career path and began working at Cedar, I found more opportunities to be home for dinner, to help my kids with their homework and just be engaged with them. I was able to be more actively involved in their lives, while still leading a fulfilling professional career.

My children have always been very involved in sports and extracurricular activities, which my wife and I enjoy attending together. We want our kids to know that they have a strong support system behind them no matter what they want to do. We hope this will help them to have the courage to branch out and try new things as they get older.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give 1–2 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

I can share one example that might support the conclusion of the study you reference:

My wife and I are Orthodox Jews and we are raising our children in our faith. We celebrate our Sabbath from sundown on Friday night to nightfall on Saturday night. Ever since our children were young, my wife and I have encouraged them to stay home for our Sabbath and not go away for the weekend. We have a Friday night dinner, in which the whole family sits around the table and eats a sumptuous meal together. We don’t use electronics on our Sabbath, so there are no cell phones, iPads, computers, televisions or anything else to distract from our meal. We have great conversations, sing songs and connect in a way that we don’t get to the rest of the week. Since we don’t use a car during our Sabbath, I walk with my kids about a mile to and from the Synagogue every Saturday. This quality time has proven invaluable over the years.

Although we happen to find this time through our religious observance, the idea of disconnecting, eating meals together without distracting electronics and going for walks together are simply good ideas that foster a stronger family bond.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers a few strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

A. Family-first approach

When I arrived at Cedar, I succeeded Leo Ullman, the company’s founder. Leo had established a very family-friendly culture, which I am happy to maintain and grow. Many of Cedar’s employees are parents and there are constantly family issues that arise. My mantra to my teammates at Cedar is “family first”. Go take care of your family issues. Work will be here when you return.

B. Attend as many of your children’s events as possible

I try not to miss my children’s sporting and school events. My wife and I joke that this is our “therapy avoidance” strategy since we hope that our children will one day acknowledge that their parents always showed up for them and cheered them on.

C. Leave the office at a reasonable hour at least one night a week

With today’s ability to be connected 24 hours a day, it’s more possible to leave the office at a reasonable hour at least one night a week and, if necessary, finish some work from home.

D. Disconnect for a few hours

In that vein, keep your phone in your pocket when you get home and fight the urge to take it out when you’re spending time with your family. My kids would laugh if they read this since I struggle mightily to avoid responding to emails or taking calls when we are together.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

My father is the embodiment of a good parent and even as an adult with children of my own, I continue to marvel at how lucky I am to have been raised by someone so special. To give a single example wouldn’t do justice to his parental efforts since it is more a matter of consistently doing the right thing for many years and decades that makes one a good parent. Rather, what I would say I have learned from him is that a good parent gives their child a feeling of security in knowing that there is someone in this world who loves them unconditionally and will always be there for their child no matter what.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Most/all parents have a “Lake Wobegon” view of their children (we all feel our children are above average), and even as we have to acknowledge that about half of all children are by mathematical necessity below average, we know that reality applies to someone else’s children and not ours.

With that thought as a foundation, there are two things I am constantly chirping into my children’s ears even as they are now entering adulthood.

First, I routinely remind them that they’re lucky to be who they are. I want them to have a sense of pride of being in our family, a sense of appreciation that they are growing up in this wonderful country and an overall sense of personal well-being.

Second, I repeatedly emphasize that they need to work very hard if they’re going to be successful. I know this might sound like a “tiger-dad” sort of idea, but I often remind them that there’s a kid their age somewhere else in the world who is getting ready to eat their lunch if they don’t apply themselves.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

As I am now seeing, being a parent is the best job in the world, but is also a major undertaking for which there is no finish line. When you’re a parent, “success” is elusive. There’s no way to masterfully straddle the two worlds, but we can certainly give it our best shot.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I recently finished a terrific book called the “Rent Collector” and I would definitely recommend it. It’s an easy-read about an impoverished family living in a garbage dump in Cambodia. The story highlights that family connections are more valuable than material possession.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My father often says that his “vocation is his avocation,” by which he means that his work is like a hobby to him. I have taken this idea to heart as I have evolved throughout my career and it is an idea I have shared with my children as they start thinking about what they might want to do with their lives. Life is long, so try to do something professionally that you will enjoy and feel passionately about.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My wife has been advancing a big idea that is worth sharing since it could potentially inspire a movement. She feels very strongly that in our youth-oriented society, we don’t do enough to respect the elderly. She launched a program for teens to visit people who are living in nursing homes and kicked it off by taking my two teenage sons to a local nursing home every Friday. At the nursing home, my sons would help run a regularly scheduled Friday-afternoon program for the residents (with adult supervision). Now that one of my sons drives, he and his brother go by themselves to help run the program. She has since started recruiting my sons’ friends to go, as well.

I am a big fan of this program and agree that if we did a better job of venerating and celebrating people who are in their later years, such as by encouraging teens to visit and engage with the elderly living in nursing homes, we would bring a little bit more love and light into the world. At the same time, we would teach our adolescents to be a little bit less self-absorbed and encourage them to have a broader world view.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.



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