It’s important to balance vision and mission with what can actually be implemented.
Ron Moelis is the CEO and Co-founder of L+M Development Partners, a real estate development firm that specializes community-driven urban development and the preservation of affordable housing. Ron’s commitment to the communities L+M develops and the people who live within them has remained unchanged since the firm’s founding in 1984. Ron’s career in real estate began when he saw an opportunity to expand the role of private sector firms in the creation of affordable housing in New York City. Recognizing there was a need and demand for better options, he set out to find more efficient ways to build and preserve affordable housing by combining resources from both the private and public sectors. New York City’s affordable housing crisis during the 1980s further galvanized Ron’s desire to find creative ways to develop high-quality affordable housing, of which L+M’s work was a natural outgrowth.
Since founding L+M with his partner Sanford Loewentheil, Ron Moelis has made the firm an innovative force to develop high-quality, cost-effective housing and neighborhood infrastructure. While the focus of L+M’s projects has evolved over the years, Ron’s desire for his work to serve local communities has remained constant. From spearheading the Arverne View (formerly known as Ocean Village) rebuilding efforts on Rockaway Peninsula after Hurricane Sandy, to revitalizing historic properties like the Hahne’s building in downtown Newark, to envisioning The ReFresh Project in New Orleans, a project which transformed a vacant store lot into a “fresh food hub” housing a Whole Foods grocery and state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, L+M’s work reflects Ron’s commitment to strengthening local communities. In 2013, L+M, in collaboration with BFC Partners and Taconic, submitted the winning proposal to develop Essex Crossing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the largest contiguous parcel of underdeveloped City-owned land in Manhattan south of 96th street. The project is among the most significant urban renewal developments in the history of NYC and will create 1,000 residential units, over half of which will be affordable.
Ron attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a dual degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and The Wharton School. He received his JD from NYU School of Law. Ron Moelis has served on a number of non-profit Boards, including New Yorkers for Parks, the Wharton Social Impact Advisory Board and the National Advisory Board of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. He is also an active supporter of social impact causes, including the John Jay-Vera Fellows Program.
Where did the idea for L+M Development Partners come from?
In the early 1980s, Sandy Loewentheil and I founded L+M Development Partners on the premise that we could work with local government and community leaders to develop affordable housing responsibly—and more efficiently—while giving future homeowners a stake in their neighborhood. We were among the first developers to integrate federal housing tax credits with New York City’s Vacant Building Program and worked with visionary leaders, like Kathy Wylde at The NYC Housing Partnership, to create homes that were developed and financed with the local community in mind. We continue to operate L+M with a double bottom line philosophy today; one that combines a sense of mission with success in business.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start my day with a run in Central Park. Running gives me the chance to collect and organize my thoughts without distraction, and I find that having this uninterrupted time to clear my mind before work makes me more productive throughout the day. On Mondays and Fridays, I work out of L+M’s office in Larchmont, NY and meet with our CFO, Construction and Legal teams to discuss any issues or logistical roadblocks impacting current projects. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I meet with our Development team and individual project managers at our office in Manhattan to discuss current projects. Most days, I have a breakfast meeting. After lunch is when I tend to catch up on emails, although some afternoons are devoted to meetings with government officials, banks, philanthropic institutions, partners, outside advisors, etc. Typically, I’ll stay at the office until 6:00 or 6:30 p.m., before leaving for an early evening meeting. Once or twice a week I’ll have a business event at night to attend, but on days when I don’t, I’ll enjoy dinner with family or friends.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s important to balance vision and mission with what can actually be implemented. I do this by engaging with a variety of subject matter experts in order to come up with a very clear idea of what it will take to bring a project to life — from acquisition and predevelopment, to construction and long-term management.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m excited about the idea that having a positive social impact should be part of a successful business model. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Since the financial crash in 2008, I’ve noticed there is a greater emphasis on the idea that a business can have a positive social impact and achieve financial success – from impact investing to companies like TOMS and Warby Parker. I think this kind of business model appeals to students and millennials, in particular. By making “company values” an integral ingredient to profitability and success, younger entrepreneurs are helping to foster a more equitable system.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Multitasking. My mind is good at juggling.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to take people management more seriously, and to consider the impact of the early stages of a startup on future growth and stability. Scaling a business is daunting, and planning for corporate growth is, in my experience, not something that comes naturally to those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Oftentimes when I raise my voice, it’s not out of anger, it’s just what happens when I get caught up in the moment.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I think about risk a lot: financial risk, reputational risk, and how they affect a business, as well as work overload and capacity constraints. But it also believe risk is necessary for growth. It’s impossible to avoid or eliminate risk, but by controlling and understanding risk, entrepreneurs, or anyone running a business, can plan effectively and increase the probability of success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
The ability to get employees excited about the work they’re doing is crucial. Obviously it’s also important to pay employees well and to ensure they have a financial stake in the company. L+M’s mission goes beyond pure profitability, which encourages employees to be a part of that mission, and having employees on board with our mission is largely responsible for the extremely low turnover we’ve enjoyed. Our employees are committed to the communities they work in and, in turn, to the reputation of the company. Shared values and excitement about the work also fosters collegial and thoughtful working relationships in a diverse company of over 300 employees.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Delegation. As an entrepreneur starting out, I focused too much on keeping our overhead low and I tended to do a great deal myself. As the company expanded, we naturally had to hire more people, and I was lucky enough to bring on some very talented individuals. I’ve since learned how to delegate much more effectively, and as a result, have watched our employees take L+M in different directions, creating areas of growth that would have been difficult or impossible to imagine in the early years.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s a market to integrate Internet access and the world of affordable housing. There has to be a better way to connect hundreds of thousands of families to areas where they’ve traditionally been underserved by conventional institutions, such as banking, financial services, and health care, to name a few.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I’ve spent in recent memory was on a NY Mets hat and gloves, which I bought at a very cold World Series game at Citi Field last October.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
WAZE – I use it all the time to get from meeting to meeting. It allows me to be on time far more often that I would be without it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande is a great jumping off point for changing the way we think about our senior population. The author does a wonderful job of describing the challenges we face as a result of people living longer, and how medical care is increasingly committed to extending people’s lives. He also offers a wealth of ideas about how to better serve an aging population. This issue doesn’t command as much attention as it should— especially since it affects us all—and particularly those struggling to find the best way to care for aging parents and grandparents.
What is your favorite quote?
“Live every day like it’s your last.”