As the Chief Executive Officer of Related Companies, Jeff Blau heads one of the country’s largest private real estate developments: Hudson Yards, a more than 25-acre hub on Manhattan’s west side. The planned home of corporate headquarters, residences, a public school, parks, public artworks, and more, the site, Blau explains, is “really a whole city unto itself.” At the start of what looks to be another important year at Hudson Yards, we spoke to Blau about his success and his advice for future eager entrepreneurs like himself.
What development are you most proud of in your career? Why?
That’s like asking, “which is your favorite child?” Hudson Yards is by far the most challenging—the most exciting—of anything we’ve ever done. But what I really will say is the team that we’ve built at Related. They are some incredibly talented people and if you look at our company today, people would say we have some of the best real estate talent in the country.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced as CEO?
We have a lot of different developments happening all at one time. Hudson Yards is a very large project; no one’s ever built anything like this. Basically it’s really staying on top of the logistics of Hudson Yards—managing growth, building something of that size, really executing at the top level—and of all the other developments we have going on around the world at the same time. Also, technology is moving so fast, so making sure that we stay ahead of the curve of where it is. We own these buildings for the long term, and you can’t anticipate where technology is going to take us. So what we’ve done is make our buildings as flexible as possible: making sure we have the infrastructure to deal with technological changes as opposed to guessing the technology of the future today.
How do you juggle multiple projects at a time and how can others do the same?
The key is having good people work for us—making sure they’re trained, making sure they have authority and the ability to make decisions. My job is to make sure all that stays functioning at any given time. It’s about being best in class and making sure everything we produce is exactly that. Then teaching that culture to all of our people so when decisions are made, they’re the right decisions.
Is there a new trend you see, or expect to see, developing in real estate?
I would say the ways people want to live and work are very different than they’ve been in the past. Hudson Yards is a model for the city of the future. It might sound cliché, but we spend a lot of time focusing on how to live, work, play. It’s not just about square footage and rent and efficient spaces. It’s about where do the employees want to live, where do the employees want to work, how do they want to work, how are office layouts done. The west side of Manhattan is booming, and it’s where younger millennials want to live. Creating these environments, much more than individual buildings, is what’s going to attract people and make real estate successful in the future.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs as eager as you have been?
You have to really run the business. You can’t worry about titles, or how much you made last year, or your bonuses. You have to invest in yourself. There’s a lot to learn. Sometimes people try to get ahead before they’re ready to get ahead. Invest the time and only do a job that you are passionate about, that you really think is going to keep you happy for many, many years, because real estate is hard. It takes a lot of hours, a lot of time, and you’re only going to be good at it if you enjoy it. Until you can get to the point where it’s not really work anymore, it’s pretty hard to be successful.