March 16, 2016
By Steve Vitoff
Every morning at her desk, Laurie ‘LG’ Golub asks herself, “Where is the opportunity today? What’s lacking in the market? Where can I go and make a difference?”
As general counsel and chief operating officer for HFZ Capital Group, the Manhattan-based real estate investment and development company that specializes in the luxury condo market, Golub has built a successful real estate career by spotting opportunity—and by making a difference.
But she also did it by putting fear off to the side.
As keynote at RealInsight’s Fifth Annual Real Estate Women’s Forum at Manhattan’s New Yorker Hotel on February 25, Golub reflected on her professional pathway during the course of an illuminating, 45-minute-long Q&A session with EisnerAmper partner Lisa Knee.
Knee noted that she was intrigued by the “serious and significant changes” the HFZ exec has made along the way; Golub is now deep into Chapter 3 of a successful, high-profile career. Prior to arriving at HFZ in 2012, Golub enjoyed stellar, high-impact tenures with Forest City Ratner and AFI USA, a subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments.
“Changing jobs is scary,” Golub acknowledged. “Once you are in a job, you have a lot of momentum to stay.”
But she explained to the predominantly female audience that her willingness to make changes and take chances was, in fact, inspired largely by Spencer Johnson’s motivational classic, Who Moved My Cheese?
The 1998 book’s “great message” for her, she said, came in the form of a question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Golub proceeded to hang that question above her desk “and looked at it every morning before I started my day.”
Her fearless mindset continues to get results.
Since she arrived at HFZ, the firm has more than tripled in size and has emerged as a standout developer of luxury residential properties, with a focus on best-in-class residences. Founded by chairman Ziel Feldman, HFZ today is managing and developing more than 5,000,000 square feet of real estate, with more than 2,000 luxury residential condominiums being introduced to the market.
Knee asked how the luxury market was faring these days, especially given the instability around the world and foreign interest in New York. While HFZ is known for its luxury condo products, she noted, people may not realize the buildings have a mixed-use component that interplays with the residential—a key to HFZ’s success.
On the ground-up side, Golub highlighted The Bryant, HFZ’s new Bryant Park project. Designed by award-winning architect Sir David Chipperfield, the project will carry an upscale hotel component. Situated on the site of a former parking lot just south of the New York Public Library, the 34-story, 57-unit, mixed-use development at 20 West 40th Street will have a hotel in its lower portion that will serve the luxury condos on top. Golub says the Bryant Park setting will set it this project apart because “the area has been void of luxury condos.” And its classy hotel component will appeal to global businesspeople visiting the city.
Turning to acquisitions, Golub expressed particular pride in the Beaux-Arts Revival-style Marquand at 11 East 68th Street, a 22-unit, 12-story property that’s “probably the gem of our portfolio” and underscores the value of a mutually beneficial, mixed-use partnership. The firm purchased the building with Vornado, whom she said has been an amazing partner. Ultimately, Vornado will own the retail and HFZ will own the luxury condos.
Golub and HFZ also see blooming opportunities in the Madison Square Park area, which benefits from proximity to both Downtown and Midtown. There, the firm purchased 88 and 90 Lexington Avenue; the developer is now conjoining their 2 lobbies and converting the “odd couple” adjacent apartment buildings into a united condo project with “amazing amenities, including a swimming pool, which is very unusual in New York.”
Knee then noted while much of HFZ’s portfolio is centered in Manhattan, the firm has some exciting projects going on in places like Miami, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Having been raised in Detroit, she was particularly eager to ask Golub about HFZ’s recent purchase of the Motor City’s prominent Fisher Building. The firm bought the building—which is just shy of 1,000,000 square feet—for $12 million and plans to convert it into condominiums.
“The price was less than many of the luxury condos on the market here in New York,” Knee exclaimed.
Golub said HFZ chairman Feldman has “two amazing sons,” Adam and Jordan, and that Adam—who had attended school in Michigan—had found the Fisher Building purchase opportunity.
“It’s an interesting market,” she said. “It’s like Brooklyn was maybe 30 or 40 years ago: lots of artists, lots of young people, and a vibrant restaurant scene. We’re seeing a number of people starting to come into the market who believe it will have a resurgence. That’s the kind of opportunity where it’s the perfect time to buy. And it’s hard to find those opportunities.”
Another marquee HFZ acquisition is the well-known Shore Club Hotel South Beach in Miami Beach.
“When you tell people you own the Shore Club, they all seem to get a little glimmer in their eye,” Golub laughed, with the former guests presumably recalling or half-recalling some freewheeling bachelorette party or “crazy night” enjoyed at the chic spot.
HFZ has brought in Fasano, a luxury operator from Brazil, and is in the process of converting the venue into “a luxury, elegant 5-star hotel …. We keep telling everyone that we’re going to turn the volume down at the Shore Club.”
Knee—who shares an educational background with Golub, both at Boston University and New York University School of Law—then turned the topic to a discussion of women in real estate, asking Golub, “Do you see us moving to a genderless industry?”
“I think this industry has completely changed over the past 10 or 15 years, where we now have so many women in C-level positions,” Golub replied, citing CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe, Forest City Ratner’s MaryAnne Gilmartin, and Himmel + Meringoff Properties’ Leslie Himmel as examples. “Women are now superstars in so many different areas of the industry.”
Indeed, Golub says that being a woman in real estate has always been an advantage. “I think women are so much smarter when it comes to doing deals,” she said. “It’s no knock to men. I just think women always bring a more complete approach to deals, to development, and to dealing with people.”
“We see a fuller picture. Women are not just looking at the numbers. We’re looking at the emotional side in a much different way than men are, and it gives women an edge. It’s no surprise anymore to see woman rising to top positions within the industry.”
Knee recalled that early in her career—when she’d already had children—someone said to her, “You can’t have it all.”
“And I spent pretty much every day of my career proving him wrong,” she told Golub, asking how she approaches the work-life mix.
Golub certainly had a much different experience than Knee’s, given she had risen to the C-suite before having her now-5-year-old daughter at age 45. “But I do believe we can have it all,” she acknowledged. “We can figure out the work-life balance.”
Though she recognizes that equilibrium may be easier for her to pull off as a C-level executive, she told the audience it was possible to have children at any point during their careers.
“You are never too old,” she said. “You can find a way to balance. It’s all about setting your priorities. My family has always been my priority and my daughter now is the light of my life. I think most of us will tell you that sleep and clean hair are highly overrated. I just say go for it at whatever time is right for you. Take your blessings in life when they find you.”