“This is a very serious corporate commitment to develop an international division that we hope will be a very integral part of this company.”
Jorge Pérez is a force to be reckoned with. Debonair, suave, and gracious, he has led Related Group since its beginnings almost thirty years ago. Competition laid the groundwork for the company, with Pérez going head-to-head with Related Companies’ Stephen Ross for some Miami affordable housing. After Pérez won the bid, Ross, who had founded his company in New York based on the affordable housing sector before expanding to include, well, everything, approached him and suggested a partnership. Pérez began as a minority partner, but within a year became majority partner of Related Group. While Related Companies and Related Group are two independent companies, they have a common thread: The Related bond. Pérez explains, “We each control our company. We talk daily, not all about business.”
Recently, those talks must have been centered around the Miami Dolphins. Just hours before our press run, it was announced that Ross would acquire 50 percent of the franchise, dolphins stadium, and the surrounding developable land, said to be worth $1.1 billion. While the negotiations began last April, when they became public in November, they included speculation that Pérez was involved in the deal. The announcement on February 21, however, solely names Ross as the new owner of the NFL franchise. Pérez asserts, “We support each other and truly are best friends and best partners.”
What separates the two, though, are their business styles. “Steve is more of a keeper and I am more of a seller,” Pérez says, “so while Steve used to build a lot of rental buildings and keep them for the future [which Ross refers to as “trophy assets”], I was a lot more concerned with building cash and, when I saw what I thought was a good profit, I was much more apt to sell them. And at different times in our careers, one has served him better and one has served me better. So that’s the biggest difference in style: he looks more to keep, I look more to sell and turn the profitability into cash as opposed to a long term appreciation of assets.”
For Pérez and Related Group, the strategy has served him well. Since its inception, Related Group has built more than 55,000 apartments and condos, and leads South Florida as the top multi-family developer. And, thanks to Pérez’s Cuban heritage (he was born in Argentina to Cuban parents), Related Group holds reign as the U.S.’s largest Hispanic-owned businesses, a fact that landed Pérez on TIME’s list of the top 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States. He has been likened as the Trump of the Tropics, and his place near Trump on Forbes’ 400 List further cements the truth in this comparison. In fact, the two condo kings are collaborating on Miami Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach, as well as Trump Hollywood, two of the 20-some properties Related Group is developing in South Florida alone. The current crown jewel, Icon Brickell, a $1.2 billion luxury condominium on Brickell Avenue in Downtown Miami, designed by YOO by Philippe Starck, recently won the building industry’s top honors-The International Property Award. “When we finish Icon Brickell,” Pérez says, “I promise that people will come from everywhere just to see Icon Brickell: the entrance way, the spa, the lobbies, the longest pool area in Florida. It’s going to just blow people’s minds. It’s a city within a city-we’re going to have five restaurants, a nightclub, a hotel. And while Apogee [by Related Group] is as good as anything we’ve ever built, you always have to be thinking, how do you top yourself? How do you continue to make it better?”
And as such, Related Group’s approach is anything but cookie-cutter, which is further portrayed through the corporate art collection that Pérez has developed. The collection provides an infusion of private art throughout each of their developments, which Pérez says was developed as a way to “reeducate people into enjoying their environment by enjoying art. By putting art extensively into our buildings, we would not only be making better buildings, but also better people.” He continues, “We want to make sure that there is very high quality decorative art, not just commercial pieces that are just superficial.” This is part of the program that differentiates Related Group’s developments from some of the other stalled projects that dot Miami’s horizon-the personal touch. Related Group is about enhancing the overall quality of life of its residents. When you buy Related Group, you buy into a lifestyle of the best, something that Pérez always tries to bring to those with whom he associates. “I think that once you meet artists, your life becomes better,” he says. “Just like when you acquire great taste in food and enjoy wines, your life becomes better, your palate gets better-your feelings, your sensations are taken to a new level. I think it’s the same way with music, dance, literature, all of those things become an integral part of your life, so the great renaissance men are those that can really enjoy the totality of an experience. I would be a much lesser person if all I did was build buildings and somebody would come and judge the quality of my life by the amount of money I have in my bank account. Really the quality of your life is the things that you enjoy and appreciate.”
This passion translates into all aspects of the Related Group’s domain, resulting in a company that is unmarred by the times. Despite today’s turbulent market, Related Group remains at the top of the industry. And that turbulent market especially rings true in South Florida, yet Pérez has a handle on the real estate cycles. When the boom in Miami real estate was at its peak in recent years, Related Group prepared for the fallout. Today, when some of the speculators are not capable of closing on their units and lose their preconstruction-price deposits, Pérez sees this as a benefit for Related Group. “We think that those units will have much greater value in three to five years when the market stabilizes again,” he explains.
But they have been anticipating the slow-down of the market by scouting areas expecting to be the hardest hit. Related Group is anticipating an opportunity to purchase distressed property, and have thus set up a $1 billion preliminary fund with what Pérez calls a “very good friend, a person I admire.” So when the market collapses as Pérez predicts, he says, “you have to be ready to switch because it should become cheaper to buy than to build.” Pérez is ready.
In light of current market trends, Related Group is casting their eyes outside of the U.S. marketplace, finding success for their proven formula on foreign shores. “A lot of Americans and Europeans are looking to resort areas-particularly those that are more secure-to buy second homes, and when they buy them, they want them to have a brand, a Related brand, so they feel sure what they are going to buy is quality,” Pérez states. Related Group recognized this trend, and in 2007, they launched the first Related International project, Icon Vallarta at Puerto Vallarta, which has since sold out. Thanks to the great success, Related Group will invest $1 billion in real estate in Mexico alone, with plans to erect condominiums in Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Playa del Carmen, and Zihuatanejo. “This is a very serious corporate commitment to develop an international division that we hope will be a very integral part of this company,” says Pérez.
And with the consistent brand loyalty that accompanies projects by Related and Related Group (work with either and rest assured of your sound investment), these international projects are being met with anticipation and intrigue, which has inspired confidence in the brand in general, but that is to be expected from brands that have, over the last thirty years, created some of the most astounding projects across the country. And when asked to pick a favorite, Pérez is hard pressed. “When you ask me the crown jewel, I’ll always say, ‘The next one.'” So we will just have to wait and see what is in store.