Retail Traffic

Retail Real Estate's Young Guns : The Young and the Restless

It's a shock when you first realize you've become a fossil. It might happen when the tenant rep you're meeting with turns out to be your daughter's age, or when the kid who started out answering phones gets promoted to vice president of development. When, you wonder, did everyone in this business get so young?

In truth, the world of retail real estate has always had plenty of youngbloods. In a business that values pluck and persistence, being a brash and energetic twentysomething has never been a drawback. Quite the opposite.

“My partners and I started this business when we were 24 years old,” notes Joe Cosenza, vice chairman of the Inland Real Estate Group of Cos. Cosenza says the work requires the same traits now as it did then, some 35 years ago: “You'd better be a bit cocky, without offending people, if you're going to get anywhere.”

Maybe cocky describes many of today's successful young up-and-comers. Confident certainly does, along with hard-working and well-educated. But there's something else that distinguishes them, and that's a sense of balance — the idea that it's possible to be a business success and a personal success at the same time.

Retail Traffic decided to learn more about this Generation Next by profiling five high achievers who are 40 or younger — in some cases much younger. They include a superstar broker, a hard-driving director of real estate, two nationally known developers and a rising retail architect.

All began in different places and took different paths to success, yet their similarities are striking. They have energy and enthusiasm, and a taste for the business. They've been helped by mentors. It also helps to grow up in the real estate industry, though only one of our bright young people now works in his family's business. And most of all, they are juiced by what they do every day and by the prospect of what comes next.

With luck, they'll still feel the buzz years down the road, like Joe Cosenza. Is Cosenza — who grows cagey when asked exactly how old he, though he admitted to being 59 last year — bothered by competing in a field increasingly filled with his juniors? “Nah,” he replies dismissively. “I know I can still outdo them every day of the week.”

Keeping the right balance

Visitors to Steiner + Associates' booth at a recent conference could be forgiven for not picking out the company's president. With an easy smile and dark good looks, Barry Rosenberg seems too young for the job — more like an intern doing booth duty than a partner in a well-known development firm.

The 38-year-old Rosenberg has parlayed a degree in communications and a knack for development and leasing into a senior management position and partnership at the Columbus, Ohio-based Steiner. It took him less than 15 years to get to the top. It's been a good ride, he says, and the company he's helping run “is just at the beginning.”

It started with an internship at Western Development Corp., now known as Mills Corp., when Western was developing Virginia's Potomac Mills center. After graduating from Boston University in 1988, Rosenberg went to work in specialty leasing for Western, and ultimately handled majors and anchors for Laurence Siegel, now Mills' CEO. “Larry was influential in my learning the business,” Rosenberg says.

In 1993 Rosenberg moved back to his hometown of Cincinnati, where he oversaw development for Towne Properties, a residential real estate firm owned by his father, Marvin. Then he met another big influence on his life: shopping center visionary Yaromir Steiner. “Yaromir and I struck a chord and hit it off from the beginning,” he says. He joined Steiner as development director in 1995 and moved to Columbus, where he helped develop the groundbreaking Easton Town Center.

Rosenberg became a partner and, a year ago, president. He's worked on other cutting-edge projects at Steiner, including Newport on the Levee, a $210 million center on the Kentucky waterfront across from Cincinnati, and Zona Rosa, a center on 93 acres near Kansas City scheduled to open later this year.

Rosenberg's typical week is grueling. Meetings on Monday with the leasing team. Travel Tuesday and Wednesday, or sometimes Wednesday and Thursday — often to projects under way in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Dayton and Camden, N.J. More meetings on Friday, usually on development topics. “I spend a lot of time overseeing those projects,” says Rosenberg, who is single. How much time? “I don't really know,” he answers with a laugh. “It all seems to blend.”

Yet Rosenberg wants a life outside work, too. “It's something I try very hard to practice myself, and we try to practice as a company,” he says. “When someone says he can't go to a meeting because it's his kid's birthday, that's a good enough excuse for me.”

Time off is encouraged as a way to rejuvenate after a big project, and vacation interruptions are discouraged. In fact, calling someone while they're on break requires the caller to put $10 in the company “pub fund,” which is eventually spent on a staff party.

Rosenberg is active in the community. He's involved in local Jewish organizations, a retirement community and the United Way, among other things.

“I'm very happy with it,” Rosenberg says of his job. “I've gotten to be involved with Yaromir in watching the company develop, and it's been really rewarding to see how we've evolved. There's been a lot of growth for this company, and there's been a lot of personal growth for me.”

A Long Journey To Success

Reza Etedali fled his native Iran at 14 rather than be drafted into the bloody war between Iran and Iraq. He moved to Stockholm, but his great hope was to make it to the United States.

There was a problem, though. “The U.S. at the time was not really open to student visas for Iranians,” he said. Undeterred, Etedali visited the U.S. Embassy every two weeks until officials there gave in. One of them told Etedali that America needed people like him, people who could persevere.

And persevere he did. He earned an engineering degree at San Diego State University and a master's in real estate and marketing at the University of Southern California. Along the way he worked for engineering giant Fluor Corp. and did some development work on his own.

Eventually Etedali went to work for Sperry Van Ness in California and spent nearly nine years there, earning top-broker honors four out of his last five years. Having just turned 40, he's now running his own firm, Reza Investment Group based in Irvine, Calif., and he expects it to top $1 billion in volume by the end of the year.

Etedali was exposed to the business early on — his father, a businessman, “took me to the negotiation table with him with I was 5 or 6 years old,” he recalls. Now he's taking his own sons, ages 4 and 7, along on weekend visits to retail properties. They like the ice cream stores and pet shops, he says.

Like Rosenberg, Etedali believes balance is essential. “It's the circle of life — every area has got to be balanced. If you're out of balance in one area it affects everything else,” he says.

To him, balance means regular time off — time spent on family vacations, often traveling to other countries. Being relaxed and healthy “makes you much more in tune with your clients,” he says. “If you're stressed, it's not worth it. I'm all about having my people take care of their personal lives.”

Etedali also believes in team building. His staff does “rope courses,” in which they learn to trust each other and solve mutual problems while climbing ropes. They also attend seminars run by empowerment speaker Tony Robbins. Etedali himself has weekly visits with a career coach who “monitors all areas of my life, not just business. She makes sure I'm honest to my goals.”

“I don't like today to be like yesterday,” Etedali says. “How can we be different and make things better? I want our team to be the best in the business — not necessarily to have the highest number of people, but to be the best in terms of representing clients.”

Underneath it all is the experience of his personal journey. “It gives me a different perspective. Sometimes I get caught up like everyone else, but then I take a deep breath and realize that we have so many opportunities here.

“Forget everything else,” he says. “Just to be here is the world's dream. It's a gift.”

Family Ties

Corey Bialow is a ripe old 33, but he has already helped expand two fast-growing retailers — first Blinds to Go and most recently Vitamin Shoppe, where he's director of real estate. Perhaps it's his fate.

Bialow's father owned a chain of drugstores. “I grew up with retail being the topic of conversation at the dinner table every night,” he says. His grandfather and three uncles were in retail, too.

Bialow studied pre-law at George Washington University, but found real estate more attractive. After graduation he went to work for Rabine Realty, a company owned by a family friend that owned two dozen apartment buildings in the New York area. The experience taught him about dealmaking, a skill he's since put to good use.

He spent a few years with Cushman & Wakefield in Manhattan before joining the tenant-rep firm of Ripco Real Estate. It was there he met the management of Blinds To Go, a small Canadian company that wanted to expand its chain of window-coverings stores. “At that young age it was a really great opportunity I couldn't pass up,” Bialow says. He signed on, and over the next two years did some 60 deals.

Then the expansion slowed. That's when Bialow was introduced to Jeff Horowitz, the founder of Vitamin Shoppe. It was 1998, and the chain had 20 stores. “I was 27 years old, and I remember meeting with Mr. Horowitz. He was looking for somebody to run his real estate department.” Bialow signed on.

For the first few years “it was a one-man show,” he says. (He now has managers on the west coast and in the southeast.) “It was exciting. During that time I also got married, and all of a sudden two to three days on the road every week didn't sound so good, so I slowed down.” But not that much. He still travels to a different city almost every week.

The past six years have been an education. “I've learned the lay of the land in most of the major retail markets,” he says. With nearly 200 stories now open, “We've seen tremendous growth, and the best is ahead of us. In terms of store growth, we haven't scratched the surface.” Competitor GNC has 4,000 stores.

If being young gives Bialow an edge, it also presents challenges. “I've heard my share of comments across the table — ‘Where's your boss,’ or ‘I want to speak to the decision-maker.’ The fact that the owner gave me the authority to make decisions on my own forced people to give me respect,” he says.

“How you do is also a function of how you treat other people,” Bialow adds. “I've always approached my elders with the respect they deserve. A lot of young people have a sense of arrogance sometimes. I take the opposite approach. If you treat people with respect, you get it in return.”

The Art of Retail Design

“I have a passion for shopping,” Annmarie Brintnall admits. It's a constructive passion, one she's put it to good use as an architect specializing in the repositioning of older shopping centers.

At 31, Brintnall is younger than many of the centers that could use her services. She's spent the past six years working for Seattle's Callison Architecture, one of the nation's best-known retail design firms, and has worked on projects from Oregon to Arizona to Poland.

Brintnall, married and a native of Baltimore, attended Penn State University and chose architecture “because of my love of art and science.” She interned at Baltimore's Development Design Group, then went to work for Callison in 1996.

There she applied her talents to redesigning faded centers — ”expanding them, bringing new tenants in, really trying to freshen up the place,” she says. The key is “imagining what you can do with the space without spending a lot of money. That's a big push right now,” Brintnall says.

Among the projects Brintnall has had a hand in are Westfield's venerable Valley Fair Shopping Center in Santa Clara, Calif., which was remade in two phases over the past four years; General Growth Properties' Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Wash., which is being expanded by 270,000 square feet; and Wola Park Shopping Plaza in Warsaw, Poland, that nation's largest retail center.

Brintnall tries to bring the same level of excitement to the remodels that shoppers would find in new centers. Her love of shopping helps her “understand what the shoppers are looking for, and I approach it from that perspective,” she says. “What does that person want when they come into that space?”

Her youth, Brintnall says, is “not an issue at all. It never really bothers me. I'm also typically one of the few women in the room, too, but I never let that bother me either. I go with the flow.”

Callison recently gave Brintnall a fellowship that allowed her to tour 60 centers throughout the United States, which she called “an incredible learning experience that allows me to reference all of those different projects.”

She plans to put such experiences to good use. “My goal is to become the retail expert within the industry,” she says.

Serving Up Winners

If things had gone a little differently, David Kass might have found himself at Centre Court Wimbledon instead of developing lifestyle centers. As a teenager, he was a good enough tennis player to compete internationally and earn a tennis scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he was a three-time All-American. He even played on the ATP professional tour for a few years “until a shoulder injury took me out of that career.”

He found another one — working for his family's company, Continental Real Estate Cos. He worked in the brokerage side for five years before moving into development and leasing in 1997. Now, at 33, he's president of Continental Retail Development.

Working in the family business “has its challenges,” Kass says, noting that “years ago we broke things into different groups where interaction was limited.” (The company has separate divisions for retail, industrial and office development, as well as for brokerage and property management, among other areas.)

“When I took the retail company over in 1999 I was given a fair amount of autonomy, which was a prerequisite,” Kass says. “I certainly had a lot to prove — to myself, to my family, and to employees who had been here a long period of time.” A number of senior managers had just left the company, he says, which meant “I was able to bring in our key team of executives. All of those were hired by me, which made the transition easier.”

Still, getting the president's office at 29 created a few issues. “Age is always a factor,” Kass says. “When you're young and in a decision-making mode and managing people older than you, that can be a hard thing. I've been fortunate. We have a great group of people who didn't have preconceived notions about age.”

Kass has had a lot on his agenda. Continental made a splash with The Waterfront in Pittsburgh, where it's developing The North Shore on 24 acres between the city's baseball and football stadiums. Other recent projects include The Streets of Tanasbourne in Portland, Ore., The Streets of Toringdon in Charlotte, N.C., and The Streets of Westchester in Cincinnati.

Kass travels a couple of days a week and finds time for golf, recreational tennis, fishing and community work. He's active in the United Way and a group called I Know I Can, which helps students attend college.

The job has proved to be a good match for Kass. “It's hectic,” he says. “My wife told me that I'm on the go nonstop and never have time to think about things. I like to do lots of things at the same time.” Besides, he says, “I love the business, I love the numbers and I have a passion for developing retail centers.”

Barry Rosenberg

Age: 38

Place of Birth: Cincinnati

First Job: Specialty leasing, Western Development Corp.

Corey Bialow

Age: 33

Place of Birth: Bronx, N.Y.

First Job: Rabine Realty, New York

Youthful Red-Faced Moment: On his first major site tour as a broker, accompanying the vice president of real estate, he fell asleep in the backseat of the car and started snoring.

Reza Etedali

Age: 40

Place of Birth: Isfahan, Iran

First Job: Engineer, Fluor Corp.

Youthful Red-Faced Moment: He was cold calling potential clients when a big developer asked him gruffly how long he'd been in the business. When Etedali blurted out that he had just started, the developer promptly hung up.

Annmarie Brintnall

Age: 31

Place of Birth: Parkville, Md.

First Job: Architect, Callison Architecture

Youthful Red-Faced Moment: None comes to mind: “I've been pretty fortunate.”

David Kass

Age: 33

Place of Birth: Columbus, Ohio

First Job: Broker, Continental Real Estate Cos.

Youthful Red-Faced Moment: During an important site tour with the real estate director of a large corporation, he got lost and couldn't find his way out.

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