Latest posts by Joseph McFalls (see all)
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Each year at the Cornell University Real Estate Conference in New York City, the editors of the Cornell Real Estate Review honor a leader who has made a demonstrable impact on the real estate industry at a global scale, as well as a service-minded contribution to society. The 2018 recipient of the Industry Leader Award was Kenneth Himmel (SHA ’70), the President and Chief Executive Officer of Related Urban, a developer of large-scale mixed-use properties, as well as the Managing Partner of Gulf Related, an Abu Dhabi based joint venture between Related Companies and Gulf Capital.
During his distinguished career, Mr. Himmel has led many significant real estate developments throughout the world, including Hudson Yards and Time Warner Center in New York, New York; CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Florida; Related Santa Clara in Santa Clara, California; Water Tower Place in Chicago, Illinois; and The Galleria and Central in Abu Dhabi, UAE. These projects have become destinations in their own right and have enhanced the communities in which they are located.
After accepting the award, Mr. Himmel engaged in a lively discussion with Richard Baker (SHA ’88), the Governor and Executive Chairman of Hudson’s Bay Company as well as the namesake benefactor of Cornell’s Baker Program in Real Estate. This discussion touched on a number of different subjects, including Mr. Himmel’s start in the real estate industry, his experience developing the Time Warner Center, and the characteristics of successful real estate developers.
Mr. Himmel first reflected on his education and early career in the real estate industry. He explained how he developed a deep interest in hospitality that led him to Cornell’s Hotel School, where he was a very motivated student, and initially to a golf club management business. Mr. Himmel later worked for a Boston-area developer on hotel projects in the Boston and New York markets before moving to Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, a prominent real estate development firm, where he received his first significant assignment working on the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Water Tower Place. Mr. Himmel recounted how he sought out this assignment and encouraged young professionals in the real estate industry to take the initiative to forge their own paths in their careers.
At Mr. Baker’s urging, Mr. Himmel discussed the complex development process for the Time Warner Center, a 2.8 million square foot mixed-use project. The Time Warner Center is emblematic of the developments Related undertakes – projects in markets with high barriers to entry, which limits competition, and where Related can further raise the bar. While now considered one of the preeminent developments in Manhattan, Related faced a number of challenges during the development process, including a short period that required around-the-clock work in order to finalize its proposal, the need to secure a lead tenant as part of this proposal, and the September 11th attacks occurring during construction of the project. This project, Mr. Himmel mused, was indicative of the fact that for each “up” a developer experiences during a project there will be four or five “downs”.
Mr. Himmel next reflected on the characteristics of successful developers. Developers must be smart and obsessive about details, according to Mr. Himmel. Further, developers must build meaningful relationships with other stakeholders, including tenants and municipalities. With respect to tenants, Mr. Himmel emphasized the importance of developers understanding tenants and their businesses while, with respect to municipalities, Mr. Himmel explained how Related seeks “win-win” outcomes and avoids litigation as a tool to achieve its objectives.
In addition, according to Mr. Himmel, developers must possess good judgment when confronting risks in the real estate development industry. To mitigate these risks, Mr. Himmel recommended that developers do all of the necessary homework on deals and stay up-to-date on industry trends. Finally, developers should possess superior taste – which cannot always be taught – and be well-traveled. Mr. Himmel relayed to the audience how many family vacations throughout his life involved visiting buildings and other areas with his family in tow in order to derive inspiration for current or future projects.
Mr. Himmel is truly a worthy recipient of the Industry Leader Award. His industry accomplishments are legion and his dedication to Cornell includes serving on the Hotel School’s Advisory Board and as a mentor to Cornell real estate students. The Cornell real estate community thanks Mr. Himmel for his many contributions to the real estate industry and university, and we wish him and Related continued success in the future.