Stephen Ross: Success, Like Real Estate, Takes Time and Patience

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For students interested in real estate and development, it doesn’t get much better than spending an evening with Ross alumni who happen to be building the largest private development in the country.

Related Cos. Chairman Stephen M. Ross, BBA ’62; CEO Jeff Blau, BBA ’90; and Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, BBA ’87/MAcc ’87, gave students in a packed Robertson Auditorium the latest on the $20 billion Hudson Yards project in New York, along with industry and career insight.

The alumni visit was a highlight for students in the real estate classes taught by Professors Peter Allen and Cindy Soo, the Ross Real Estate Club, and other U-M schools.

“We love hearing from people who do big, high-profile projects,” says Terence Cho, MBA ’16 and president of the Real Estate Club. “This was an especially good experience because we’re named after Stephen Ross, and he has such devotion and passion. It really helps when Steve Ross, Jeff Blau, and Harvey Spevak can come and bring something like this to life.”

Ross, who gave students the latest updates on the project, says Hudson Yards is the ultimate for an urban developer.

“As a real estate developer, you really want to be involved in something that’s transformative and has a real impact on where you work and live,” he says.

The 28-acre Hudson Yards is set to transform the western Manhattan skyline, with 17 million square feet of high-profile offices, residential, commercial, and cultural attractions. In addition, half the development will be open space. And true to Related’s roots, the residential portion will include affordable housing units. The expected completion date for the first phase is 2019.

Blau, who met Ross as a student through Professor Allen, says pitching Hudson Yards to potential corporate tenants gave Related a new understanding of how real estate can attract and retain employees.

After giving his pitch to corporate CFOs about the cost benefits of new, efficient buildings, he found the eyes of CEOs glazing over during the same presentation.

[Success is] a question of finding something you really excel in and then continuing to grow as a person.

- Stephen Ross

“The CEOs wanted to talk about how real estate could solve their number one problem — how to attract and retain qualified talent,” says Blau. “So we started thinking about changing the pitch of Hudson Yards and what this location is all about. It’s the workplace of the future, not because the column space is perfect, but because we have a residential community, a cultural community, and great restaurants and retail. This generation is changing the way real estate developers think about development.”

Related has lined up corporate tenants such as Coach, L’Oreal, Boston Consulting Group, Time Warner, KKR, and Wells Fargo Securities. And as part of its commitment to cultural activities, Related in partnership with the City of New York is building the Culture Shed, a $450 million flexible building that can host a variety of events and is located next to the High Line, the popular elevated park.

Blau also told the students how Related is applying some lessons learned from building Time Warner Center. For example, after the company completed that project it transformed the surrounding neighborhoods, raising values.

“It worked out great for us, but if we had bought everything around us we would have made more money on that than we made on Time Warner,” he says. “So we’re not going to let that happen again. We went out and bought as much land as we could” around Hudson Yards, Blau continued.

Hudson Yards is also an opportunity for Related partner Equinox, which operates gyms and fitness centers. Spevak says Equinox is flexing some new muscle in Hudson Yards with the first Equinox-branded hotel.

A fitness company running a hotel isn’t as much a stretch as it may seem, says Spevak. Equinox is expert at fitness, nutrition, and recovery. That last one is often overlooked, but the health benefits of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated.

People also want to maintain their workout and eating routines while traveling, and the hotel industry by and large falls short on that score, Spevak says.

“We know all about working out, we know all about eating,” he says. “We also know that you get your best sleep in a colder, dark room, so we think we can create sleep chambers where you get your best night of sleep. We think the time is now, more than ever, for an Equinox hotel, and nobody can do it but us.”

Students had a number of questions for the trio, including the best path to start a career in real estate development. Ross says that, like developing a piece of real estate, it takes some time and patience.

“There’s no one way to succeed,” said Ross. “There are many doors of entry. It’s a question of finding something you really excel in and then continuing to grow as a person. You find something you have a passion for, and do it well. It’s nothing that happens overnight.”

On the question of how to build a great brand, Blau says that it starts first with how you run the business, particularly how you treat employees.

“It’s about the people we have and allowing them to grow, giving them responsibility, and giving them opportunities,” he says. “I don’t think you decide Related or Equinox should be a great brand and then build everything else behind it. You do the other part first.”

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