Stephen M. Ross, BBA '62, and Jeff Blau, BBA '90
Doing Business the Right Way
Stephen M. Ross, BBA '62, and Jeff Blau, BBA '90, show how to succeed in business and in life.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Build eye-catching, iconic properties like Time Warner Center in New York and you'll enjoy buzz about grand design and amenities.
The Related Cos. — led by school namesake Stephen M. Ross, BBA '62, and Jeff Blau, BBA '90 — has grown from a modest, affordable housing firm to a global real estate developer with $15 billion of assets under management. It's developing the high-profile Hudson Yards project in New York, which will turn 26 acres of Manhattan into a mixed-use neighborhood — one that will change the city’s skyline.
But enjoying those opportunities and the accompanying buzz requires a demanding focus on finding good people, keeping them, and creating a workplace where they can thrive. It also takes doing business with the greater community in mind and not seeking shortcuts.
On Sept. 6, Ross and Blau shared their views on leadership and personal and business success — along with a bit of news — with a packed group of students and faculty in Blau Auditorium. Their discussion was part of the Ross Leadership Initiative speaker series.
"I think if you look at our company and everything we've done over the past 20 years, the thing he (Ross) created and that we're collectively the most proud of is the team we've built," said Blau, speaking in the auditorium named after himself. "One thing Stephen does well is find good talent. It's really been ingrained in our culture, and it's part of everything we do in finding the best and the brightest. The assets are fun and exciting, but it's really the people."
Case in point: Blau's career with Related. During the event, Ross revealed that he's relinquishing the CEO title to Blau, who began his career at Related with a summer internship. Ross, who also owns the Miami Dolphins football team, will remain chairman. Until this point, Blau was president of Related.
The two met in 1987, when Ross visited the school to address the Real Estate Forum. Event moderator and adjunct lecturer Peter Allen, MBA '73, recalled the exchange that started it all:
"(Ross) asked me, 'Who is the best student in your class?,'" Allen said. "I said, 'You have to meet Jeff Blau.' I picture now Steve walking up to Jeff and shaking hands, and that was the beginning of this incredible experience. It's just extraordinary what they achieved."
Ross recalled Blau laying out his career plans in his first days at Related.
"When I met Jeff, I met someone who had passion, and a real passion to succeed," Ross said. "Just listening to his values and how he wanted to do it really impressed me. When I was talking to him, he said, 'I really want to come here, it'll be a great place. I want to be a real estate developer in New York, and I want to start my own company.' I said, 'Jeff, if you're as good as you think you are, and as I think you are, it's upon me to do the things to keep you. He said he didn't know if that was possible. Here we are 20 years later."
Blau said Related has one of the lowest turnover rates in the real estate business, and that's a key part of the company's plan to stay nimble and entrepreneurial while growing.
"We have to give people the environment to grow and retain them," Ross said. "You want people to be loyal to you, but you have to be loyal to them as well. You have to be there for them."
Those values extend to the real estate business itself. Ross said it's not enough to build a new building because it will make a profit. It also has to serve the community's needs, the city's needs, and fit in with the area. Related might overspend on design, but that pays off down the road and drives future business, Blau said.
Related won the bid to build Time Warner Center, which reshaped Columbus Circle in New York. It initially lost the bid, but won out when the mayor demanded another round of proposals with a bigger cultural component. Related made Jazz at Lincoln Center a centerpiece of the project, while other developers shunted it to the side.
Related also is a go-to developer for affordable housing in New York City. Blau said Related has refrained from converting properties from affordable to market-rate, even though many competitors have made good profits doing so.
"If you approach business with the idea that you're giving something back, that it's not all about you, ultimately you will do better," Ross said.
Alison Davis-Blake, Edward J. Frey Dean and Stephen M. Ross Professor of Business, introduced Ross and Blau and said the pair embodies the school's values.
"Jeff and Steve really exemplify something we're about here at the Ross School, which is the positive power of business," she said. "They have a commitment to transforming business for the 21st century through civic and philanthropic engagement."
They also had advice for students, several of whom asked questions. They said having a desire to succeed, believing in yourself, and being willing to outwork anyone are keys to success. The nuts and bolts of the real estate business, for example, can be taught.
One student, 18, said he started three businesses, all of which failed.
"That story is worth more than your GPA," Blau told him. "Take advantage of the opportunity at this age to fail and learn from it."
Ross also took questions about his ownership of the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium. You don't buy a sports team with the idea of making a big profit from it, he said. It's more of a public responsibility.
"If you want to own a team, you'd better make your fortune somewhere else," he said. "You have a responsibility to the community, because winning really brings people together."
Ross and Blau also held a fireside chat with a handful of students, sharing everything from the most effective way to build mixed-use developments to where the real estate market is heading.
"Usually when you have a person's name on a building, it's someone who was successful in another era," said Joel Dabu, MBA '13. "The fact that they're successful now — and with Jeff somebody will go on to more success — and to be able to access them is incredible. It reinforces my choice to come here."
For more information, contact:
Terry Kosdrosky, (734) 936-2502, firstname.lastname@example.org