A Modern Day Classic – One on One with Rick Caruso

With his stylish Battaglia suit, French cuff links and Tom Ford shoes polished to perfection, Rick Caruso looks less like the developer he is and more like an actor from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

But if Caruso was to be compared to someone modern, there could only be one celebrity who has such a charming, disarming air, debonair good looks and timeless elegance: and that is George Clooney.

When the comparison is suggested, Caruso laughs and recalls encountering his doppelganger during a recent evening out in Tinseltown. “I was at dinner with my wife and some friends, and he was there. I think that guy is so handsome,” the businessman confides, musing, “Now that’s a guy who’s got a great sense of style, even when he’s wearing a pair of jeans.”

Being well presented is important to Caruso, who takes pride in his personal grooming. “I’m disappointed in men nowadays; they don’t present themselves as well as classic actors like Cary Grant and Clark Gable. It doesn’t mean that you have to wear a suit every day, but get a decent haircut, comb your hair and have a sense of style. It makes a statement that you respect yourself when you walk into a room and look nice.”

 “The whole idea behind getting into the residential side of the business is that there’s one thing that people can’t buy, and that’s time.”

Caruso practices as he preaches. He describes his style as “classic” and “gentlemanly”, noting, “I believe in French cuffs, white shirts and polished shoes. I believe in wearing a suit every day to work.”

Caruso’s affection for Stefano Ricci ties, Patek Philippe and FP Journes watches may not have made him the man he is today, but they certainly have helped to convey the image of a serious power player with an overwhelmingly successful resume.

At the age of 25, the USC and Pepperdine Law School graduate became the youngest LA DWP commissioner in Los Angeles’ history. He served as President of the LA Police Commission and member of the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission. Now, as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Caruso Affiliated, he is responsible for major LA developments including The Grove, Americana at Brand and his latest project, 8500 Burton Way.

“The whole idea behind getting into the residential side of the business is that there’s one thing that people can’t buy, and that’s time,” he explains of the luxury apartments which debuted last November. “That’s the real luxury item in today’s world, because we’re all so busy.”

He continues, “The idea actually came from older style co-ops in New York, to build apartments but to operate them more like a hotel from a service standpoint. We were so successful with the Americana that we wanted to take it up a couple of notches and do a really cool design, something more contemporary and something that represents a more current trend in luxury.

“We have incredible five-star service here with a concierge and driver, a great market downstairs, dog-walking and room service. By doing this, we’re going to gain great loyalty because we’re going to give people back time. It’s been incredibly successful.”

Caruso’s success has been unparalleled in every avenue he chooses, from retail to residential real estate to hospitality. This ability has helped both Americana and The Grove to be listed as two of the top 15 highest earning shopping centers in the world.

“We’re a big believer that in retail, you’re always moving forward or you fall behind,” he says, proceeding to list the changes he’s making at The Grove. “You’ve got Topshop, J. Crew Men’s – which is the first stand-alone of its kind outside of New York City – Sprinkles, See’s Candy in February, a brand new Nordstrom, Michael Kors and Gordon Ramsay’s Fat Cow. We’re completely remodeling the whole building. Retail evolves and we need to evolve with it. The challenge is staying ahead of that curve.”

He’ll be doing just that by bringing his Midas Touch to Las Vegas, where he’s building The Linq, a $550 million outdoor complex across from Caesar’s Palace. The new development will host Brooklyn Bowl, New York City’s live music and bowling venue, F.A.M.E., a culinary bazaar of Asian Night Markets and lifestyle concept store KOTO by the end of 2013.

“It’s the first outdoor retail entertainment format in Las Vegas,” Caruso explains. “We have a great lineup of restaurants and clubs; it’s not your typical tired indoor shopping mall. The whole idea is to bring in people that have never been to Vegas, as it’s much more tapped into the younger market. I’m excited about how the street level will be transformed. It’s going to be very cool.”

He also opened the Caruso Catholic Center at his alma mater of USC this past December. “My wife [Tina] and I built a center for interfaith studies as well as a church; one of the first to be built in America for a very long time. We decided to build a very traditional church against the wishes of the Catholic Church. They want new structures to be more modern and contemporary, but I think there’s something special about walking into a traditional church. It’s one of the most meaningful things we’ve done in our lives.”

Another thing that brings meaning to Caruso’s life is his family. Raising his three sons and daughter was so important, in fact, that it become his primary reason for pulling out of the 2013 mayoral race.

“It was a tough decision,” he notes. “I really wanted to do it – and there may be a time in the future that I do – but I had commitments within the company and within my family, in particular my kids. Although we were well down the road of announcing my running for mayor, I’m a big believer that you live by the rules that you set for yourself. My family has always been my number one priority, my company is a big priority in my life, and from a timing standpoint I felt that it would be best if we waited. The good news about the mayor’s race is that it comes around every four years. The one thing that won’t come around every four years is watching my children grow up. It was a tough decision. The experience while it lasted was great, but all good things came out of it.”

With his stylish Battaglia suit,
French cuff links and Tom Ford
shoes polished to perfection,
Rick Caruso looks less like the
developer he is and more like an actor
from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Another good thing that could have been was Caruso’s bid to buy the LA Dodgers. “I was outbid by Guggenheim [Partners] but I would have loved to own them,” he sighs ruefully. “I think it’s an iconic brand and it would have been fun to own. If there’s another opportunity [to own a sports team] I’ll certainly look into it.”

He also discusses the potential of purchasing AEG , the company responsible for the Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Los Angeles Kings, among others. “We’ve sort of taken a look at it around the edges,” he reveals. “If there’s a part of that which would make sense for us, I’d take a look at it, but the whole package isn’t our core business. It’s an amazing collection of assets, but the LA assets are the ones I’d be most interested in.”

He admits to a fondness for the Big Apple, but Los Angeles is home. It is where he can have a romantic Italian dinner at Toscana, where he can sip a Johnny Walker Blue Label at Madeo and where he and his family share a weekly Sunday brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge.

Although he believes that LA is missing “a sense of energy at street level…a later life” in comparison to cities like Manhattan or Boston, the City of Angels is Caruso’s and he loves it, which is why he’s constantly striving to make it bigger and better. 8500 Burton Way is only the beginning of what he can and will achieve with residential real estate in Los Angeles.

“This really plans a flag and says ‘this is a great city. This is an international city, and you can live in great luxury here like you would in San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong or London’”, he explains earnestly, adding, “ I think it will set a tone where other developers will look at it and say, ‘We can do something really great in LA and it will pay off.’” Where are the great residential buildings in LA ? In New York, they line the street. LA deserves that.”