HREAO Webinar Series : Event Recap

COVID-19 Impact On Retail 


The COVID-19 Impact on Retail panel discussion, sponsored by the Harvard Real Estate Alumni Organization, took place virtually on August 27th, 2020. The panel discussion is the third event of HREAO’s webinar series analyzing real estate trends amidst the pandemic and the first segment catered towards the retail industry.

The event began with an introduction from Macy Leung (GSD ’11) of the Harvard Real Estate Alumni Organization, who gave an overview of the organization’s mission and introduced the audience to the panelists and moderators. The event featured two panelists: Andrew McLean (MBA’96), Chief Commercial Officer at American Eagle Outfitters, and Paul J Kurzawa, Executive Vice President at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, who discussed the net impact of COVID-19 on the retail industry. The discussion kicked off with moderator John Matthews (College ’19) asking both panelists questions regarding the pandemic’s impact on retail operations and their business model. Paul shared that the pandemic has provided retail businesses a unique opportunity to economically reset and find innovative ways to replace antiquated business practices that otherwise would have taken several more years to implement. Meanwhile, Andrew expressed that the pandemic has provided retailers an opportunity to reflect on their business practices and adapt as needed towards a more consumer-centric model.


The conversation then transitioned into questions surrounding the pandemic’s effects on the landlord-tenant relationship. While both Paul and Andrew agreed that the pandemic has placed landlords and tenants on opposing sides of the bargaining table, they posited that this does not necessarily have to have negative outcomes. Rather, it provided landlords with an opportunity to prove to tenants that their aim is to be true partners to their tenants, veering away from a transactional dynamic. Andrew furthermore noted that from the tenant-side, they have been taking note on which landlords have been willing to share the burden of the pandemic, and that this tactic has had a real impact on the landlords they will decide to do business with going forward in the future.


The next segment of the panel was moderated by Daniel Abarca (College ’16), who prompted tenant-specific discussion with Andrew. Andrew discussed the multifaceted ways in which American Eagle Outfitter stores have changed as a result of the pandemic, including the shift towards “Buy Online, Pick Up in Store” shopping among many consumers and the robust adoption of safety protocols, including social distancing and hygienic measures. Andrew emphasized the importance of safety for both employees and consumers and that highlighting this strategy towards consumers is one crucial aspect of returning retail demand towards Pre-COVID levels.


Macy moderated the last portion of the event, which involved stimulating audience questions to the panelists. Upon being asked about their long term outlook into COVID-19’s impact on the retail industry, both Andrew and Paul expressed optimism into the retail industry’s future and confidence that consumers will gradually shop more shopping centers as a post-COVID world emerges.



Macy Leung (GSD ’11) 

John Matthews (College ’19)

Daniel Abarca (College ’16)


Andrew McLean (MBA ‘96) -  In his role as Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew oversees the American Eagle Outfitters (AE) and Aerie store teams and leads global expansion initiatives, including both company-owned and licensee stores across 25 countries. In addition, Andrew has direct responsibility for real estate, construction, retail operations, loss prevention, global brand delivery, international strategy, and customer experience. As AEO strengthens the connection with its customers and broadens its global reach, he provides the expertise essential to growing all the AEO brands.  Andrew’s prior retail experience includes responsibility at a number of successful retailers, including Gap Inc., Liz Claiborne Inc., and URBN Urban Outfitters Inc. Andrew is a graduate of Harvard Business School (MBA ’96). 

Paul J Kurzawa -  Paul joined Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (formerly Westfield) in 2019 and is responsible for operating URW’s shopping centers in the U.S., including leading asset management, shopping center management, hospitality, facilities, security, business affairs and commercial office leasing. Prior to joining URW, Paul held senior leadership roles for some of the most distinguished global real estate and entertainment companies in the world including The Blackstone Group, Equity Office Properties, DreamWorks Animation, Westfield Corporation, Lend Lease Corporation and Caruso. While Chief Operating Officer for Caruso, one of the nation’s most highly respected private real estate developers, Paul was directly involved in the development of Americana at Brand and 8500 Berton Way mixed-use developments located in Los Angeles. Paul holds a B.A. in Public Policy and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences in the United States, Australia and China.