Mark Siffin – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Maefield Development

The advice I’d give to my younger self is that one should always be empathetic, thoughtful

Mark Siffin is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Maefield Development Platform family of companies, privately owned and founded in 1991. With his extensive experience in all aspects of the value creation process, from financing and acquisitions through construction, he has successfully led the development and repositioning of over 6 million SF of commercial and residential real estate.

In his position as Chairman and CEO, he is responsible for the strategic direction of the company, overall management of the firm, the pursuit of new development opportunities, corporate acquisitions and financing activities across all business platforms. Prior to founding Maefield, Mark traded on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, trading a variety of futures, options, and currencies. He has followed a variety of markets since the 1970s and is deeply experienced in real estate and global market trading.

Where did the idea for Maefield Development come from?

The idea for Maefield Development came from my beliefs regarding interest rates. I had been on the floor of the mercantile exchange for many years where I’d been honing my ability to take advantage of price action in currencies and interest rate vehicles. The more I dealt with my understanding of interest rates and currencies as a pure trade, the more I saw a global backdrop. So understanding the direction of interest rates and the reason behind interest rate valuation, gave me a window into how the coming years and decades will be prone to different types of economic activity and where one can make the greatest return from the application of monies. And so seeing that in a granular way struck me that interest rates would continue to go down for the coming decade so I felt real estate was the right play since the cost of 10 year money for the next 25 years would be low. Debt would be cheaper and returns on real estate would be ever more desired as well as stimulate a demand for housing. So ultimately, my true interest in launching Maefield was a sense of the direction and the cost of money and my belief that the cost would continue to fall.

Maefield was also a vehicle that as an individual I could attempt to harness what I envisioned the world would come to look like over the coming decades and how I could take advantage of it. The name itself was my daughter Mae’s idea.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day is waking up after about 3-4 hours sleep and I proceed to adhere to a schedule that’s consistent and focused. I don’t drink or smoke, take any medications, I follow a vegetarian diet, I don’t socialize, I try and stay alone as much of the day as I can so I can stay with my thoughts and minimize my contact with outside activities that might cause me to lose my focus. I drink green tea much of the day, sit at my desk and type memos, respond to demands of my banks as to what I’m doing with their money as well as the needs of the different obligations I’ve taken on, and I do this until I’m blurry eyed and then go to bed. I try and maintain a fit physique as the mind works best if the body is healthy. I weigh as much as when I was 15…although I didn’t have grey hair.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life by having life show me what my ideas should be. Life always holds all the answers if one is patient, diligent, focused, attentive, and doesn’t jump to conclusions or feel the need to act or react but rather, observes carefully. Life will invariably show you what the answer is to a question and life will invariably show you that which is glaringly obvious but that one usually misses. An example is at the MOMA in NYC, there are three extraordinary panels of art by Monet of his water lily pond. For the longest time, I observed those panels and saw them only as a view of the surface of the pond with lilies floating on top and a cyprus tree shadow above. One day after several decades of looking at these panels, it became glaringly obvious to me that they was actually a painting of the clouds floating in the sky over the pond reflected on the surface of the pond. In that moment, it became so apparent, that which I’ve stumbled across so many times..which is that right before your eyes lays the answer. The question is, can you divorce yourself, can you remove your minds preconceptions as to what it thinks or what it sees and actually realize what’s there rather than what your mind has become enamored with telling you is there. It sounds simple, but its the manner in which I’ve discovered extraordinary value in numerous opportunities that were available to one and all. The most recent example is a project in Times Square I’m working on called the Palace, located at 1568 Broadway. It’s presently a Double Tree hotel, with a small amount of retail on the ground floor and it surrounds the Palace theater, a super theater of Broadway. I’d been looking at it for several years trying to figure how to unleash the value of the property, and one day it occurred to me there was a possibility to build a reinforced floor beneath the Palace theater and lift it 30 feet in the air thereby creating 15,000 square feet of ground floor creating 35 to 45 million dollars of revenue from that single action.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The trend that excites me the most is the ability of individuals to harness their talents with the tools that the internet and electronic technology affords us today, providing ever greater results in the extraordinary accomplishments that a single individual is able to achieve. The trend of being able to further leverage ones self through these enhancements excites me. But I’m also in awe of the realization that even without the internet and electronic tools, generations of humanity accomplished such extraordinary feets from Leonardo to Michelangelo to Einstein to Lincoln without none of the benefits we have today.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The habit of mine that makes me more productive is a consistent application of discipline in my personal conduct. I don’t know what else one can look to because anything that happens, happens because of our actions, therefore, we are responsible for everything that happens and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. The manner in which we conduct ourselves is the essence of who we are. Each choice we make in each moment we live defines ourselves and also defines what is and what will be because life is like a drawing without an eraser. You can’t take away any action, you can only add to the actions that you’ve made.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice I’d give to my younger self is that one should always be empathetic, thoughtful, take a step back before taking an action and consider the impact of the action one is on the verge of taking. That would be the primary advice I would give myself. Don’t be so quick to make a choice, once a choice is made, it’s made forever. And I’ve made some fairly unthoughtful choices as a young man. From that, I believe I’ve learned the importance of thinking carefully about every word, every action, every thought defines ones self… therefore the importance with which one considers how one conducts ones self is crucial.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

I’m not terribly focused on whether people think I’m right or wrong…I’m focused on what life has made apparent that I’m too dull-witted to perceive.Whether people agree with me or not is inconsequential. What is consequential is that I ascertain what life already has proven to be true and am I paying attention to what life is showing me. I find people usually disagree with the things I espouse the best example is when I was on the floor of the mercantile, the best minds were disagreeing with me about interest rates.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As an entrepreneur the one thing I might recommend is that one does what their heart tells them to do by being honest. Being honest with yourself and everyone else requires extraordinary discipline and as long as I maintain that disciplined approach, my heart and soul are on the right path that I’m searching for each and every moment.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

A strategy to grow my business is being methodical and taking an iterative approach because it affords you the opportunity to find the right answer. I think when people become overly impressed with themselves then one is prone to make errors in judgements. I quit the foolish types of behaviors I had as a young man 44 years ago, and I take each action now very carefully because the scope of my responsibilities are so great. My mind constantly wanders to foolish places, but I have the discipline now to pull it back in so I can lead to extraordinary outcomes.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

You never overcome anything, you just work as hard as you can and if you’re lucky enough to be gifted, you can always work to exceed your failures. And if you’re not that lucky, you won’t exceed your failures. Life is utterly unforgiving, cruel, takes no prisoners, can care less about any of us. Life will be here long after we’re all gone. And the only way we can leave a mark on life is through extraordinary effort. The objective is to leave something that in time forward, will cause others to smile. Not in a foolish way, but in a way of appreciating that an individual existed years, centuries prior and that individual created something that still gives recognition to the extraordinary accomplishment of human beings. Any action that doesn’t seek to achieve a similar result is an action that doesn’t have merit, in my opinion.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away?

I’m willing to give away any business idea. I never covet any idea, I figure any idea that I have if you can effectuate it better than me than you deserve it more than I do. And if I covet it, then I only stand to lose it. The definition of love is not to covet. And in coveting, we squander and kill that which we most appreciate, love and care about.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best hundred dollars I recently spent was for paper and paint brushes that I often buy. I believe it will hopefully create something special and give back to me as well as hopefully I’ve give something back to the future.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

The one piece of software that helps me be productive is the i phone. It fits easily in my hand and performs so many services. It was a brilliant concept. The correctness of an intellectual concept is what differentiates pure intellectuals from entrepremeurs. Entrepreneurs are people who can both harness the intellectual gifts they possess and at the same time do so in a way that’s timely. Timely defines taking a course of action at the right momet, and thats where one has to pay such close attention. Because if you’re right and the timing is wrong, it doesn’t matter.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The book I would recommend is Voltaire, “Candid to remember the absurdities of life. I also love “Victor Hugo”. My life is overrun with obligations that I don’t read anymore…I don’t have the time to read. I’m trying to preserve my eyes for the act of painting. The majority of my time is taken up staring at a computer screen. That’s about all I get to read anymore.

What is your favorite quote?

I don’t really have a favorite quote, since quotes are statements made in the past and I always try and keep myself in the present. I’m always considering the impact of the present I’m experiencing and operating in and how it will lead to a future that I’ll be proud of being involved in.

How did you get your first customer?

I got my first customer in my business because I came from their frame of mind in thinking…would you buy a dollar for a dime, and if the answer is yes, then how is it the proposition you have before them constitutes a dollar of value then

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

The most satisfying moment in businesses I ever had… inevitably depressed me because I always feel whatever minor success I have is so small compared to others like Mr. Jobs, Mr. Zuckerburg, Michelangelo, Da Vinci. Rosa Parks and on and on. When I’m lucky enough to accomplish small things, I immediately see them compared to those extraordinary people I just mentioned and I honestly feel so humbled and like my accomplishment is so small compared to what so many others have done, and it actually makes me depressed not happy.


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