President and Chief Executive
Company: Palisades Development Group
Born: New York; 1965
Education: B.A. in business management, Boston University
Career Turning Point: Founding Palisades Homes in 1997
Most Influential People: His family and staff for inspiring him every day
Personal: Lives in Santa Monica on the top floor of a Palisades Development Group building
Hobbies: Painting, golf, skiing and anything to do with design
Avi Brosh is almost the prototypical East Coast transplant. A New York native, he grew up in New Jersey and went to college in Boston before making his way to Los Angeles, where at one point in the early 1990s he worked in the William Morris mailroom. But since then his career has blossomed as a developer, first of homes, and now of extended stay boutique hotels. The 42-year-old Santa Monica resident's Palisades Development Group has five hotels in progress, including four under its Pali House flag. The first will open this fall in West Hollywood. Brosh was a business major at Boston University but has a keen interest in design, down to helping create the graphics and furniture for his hotels. The company now has 30 employees and expects to grow to about 300 by the end of the year as Palisades begins managing its new hotel properties. Brosh, who has moved to a Santa Monica loft above his company's office, recently sat down with the Business Journal to discuss his past, present and future.
Question: When did you realize you wanted to get into real estate?
Answer: I didn't study it; I got into it by accident. I moved to Los Angeles in 1988 and I didn't know anybody, and I didn't have a job and at the time real estate was the hot thing. I used to play basketball at Veterans Park in the mornings because I had nothing else to do. I met a guy who knew a guy who needed somebody to work with him in his real estate office. I didn't have a resume. I just sort of showed up. The guy happened to be from the East Coast and I was from the East Coast. He was a young guy and we sort of connected, and he offered me the job on the spot. I got a job as an assistant to one of the partners of WFI, a development company that built apartments. I worked with them for a year or two doing everything. I was 23.
Q: Why did you decide to move to Los Angeles?
A: I had a great experience going to Boston University but I had no idea of what I wanted to do for a career or what I wanted to do with my life. I knew what I was interested in but I didn't know how that translated into a career. After I graduated from college I moved back to New York City, and I was living in the city and I had a job working for my dad. My dad is in the aircraft business and one of his offshoots was an aircraft consulting company. I wasn't interested in it and I was just existing. Struggling in New York when you are 23 with no money is excruciatingly hard to do.
Q: Was real estate a good industry to use to learn about Los Angeles?
A: Definitely. I didn't know my way around at all. And in this business, it's location, location, location. Part of my job was to look for new opportunities so you get to know the nooks and crannies of Los Angeles, and I really got to know the city really well and I still do.
Q: Did your parents support your decision to move here?
A: My parents were extremely supportive of anything that seemed like I was gainfully employed. I was just looking for an avenue. I knew I liked design, architecture and fashion and things aesthetic and I knew the business aspect. I was interested in money and making money. I had a fairly decent sense with people. Frankly by accident it became a really good medium for me to express myself in those ways. I was able to grasp onto it in a broad way.
Q: Was there a turning point in your career that made you realize real estate was your calling?
A: I worked in the business for a couple of years and then the business got crushed. So I changed industries for 18 months in the early 1990s. I got a job at the mailroom of the William Morris Agency. It was the early 1990s, and that was an amazing experience. I had a wonderful time, but I came through knowing it wasn't for me. I was much better suited to the real estate business. I went back into real estate in 1992. I got a job working for homebuilder Braemar Group and had an amazing run with them for seven years.
Q: What came of your time at Braemar?
A: When I was working with them in 1996 I built myself a house in the Palisades. I built a house from scratch with a little help pulling strings from people in the home building business. It was a really nice house, a great place for me to move into. I thought maybe there was a business here. I built it quickly, and I employed all my own production skills set to the process. I built this house and said to the guys that owned Braemar, "I'd like to do a few more in my spare time. I'd like to do that with your blessing." After doing it for a couple of years, I was doing so much better building houses on my own than the day job.
Q: How did that go over?
A: It was very difficult, they were a little older and we had a lot of business we were doing. I took five deals outside of the company and they kept five deals. And I rolled it into my own little home building company called Palisades Homes. Once they finished their five deals they closed their business. They were an amazing company for many years. Ultimately it would have been very difficult to do this without them.
Q: What happened to that first home you built?
A: I lived in it for five years, and then I sold it. Then I bought another lot and built myself another home in the Palisades. I lived there for about five years. I sold that, and now I live in the top floor of the Sailhouse Loft Building.
Q: What is it like living in your own building above your office?
A: It's awesome, it's walking the walk. I'm really inspired by the work I do. I just created a dream residence for myself. Not commuting is so wonderful and more importantly I love being able to go up and down not so much in the day but in the evening. So I can be here until whatever hour of the day. I can go up and have dinner with my kids, come back down, have a meeting, go back up for homework help.
Q: Do you like raising a family in an urban setting?
A: I lived in a suburb in New Jersey as a kid, and all I wanted to do was live in Manhattan because I fancied myself an urban, cosmopolitan guy. I think your kids are happy wherever you are happy. I am so thrilled to be here. It's an amazing place for kids they are a little older so they have the opportunity to cruise Main Street, go to the beach or get a sandwich. It's very liberating.
Q: How did you steer your firm into the hospitality business?
A: We got out of the house business because I wanted to do things that are bigger. It dawned on me that there is a real opportunity to get into the hospitality business. I felt the industry as a whole has become devoid of an independent voice. It has become driven by larger brands. My idea was to really do my version of a suites hotel an apartment-sized suites hotel as an alternative for corporate or extended-stay housing. If you look at the extended-stay segment of the hospitality market it is by far the largest growing segment.
Q: Tell me about the Pali House extended-stay hotel concept. Are some units condos?
A: It has a for-sale housing component and a food and beverage component in the facility. We have four Pali House (hotels). Making yourself at home is what we are about. But making yourself at home doesn't mean you have to rent some apartment somewhere that is completely devoid of style. The first two Pali House hotels are half for sale, half guest houses. In West Hollywood we have 16 for-sale units and 21 guest suites plus a 6,500-square-foot brasserie and espresso bar and lobby lounge.
Q: Several of your projects are adaptive reuse.
A: When our company started we were 100 percent new construction. Today we are probably 50 percent adaptive reuse and 50 percent new construction. Adaptive reuse is a paramount skill set going forward if you are going to be a developer. What is great about adaptive reuse is they tend to be taller buildings. Anytime you can get vertical in L.A. and not have to build it yourself it is a great opportunity.
Q: What are your strategic plans for the company?
A: We want to do half our work in the urban, for-sale market and the other half hospitality. They go together and make sense and play off each other extremely well. We are completely full-service; we do all our own design. We design our own furniture, graphics and we name everything. Everything still funnels through me for better or worse all the design, all the business decisions. I still sign all of the checks.
Q: Are you prepared to relinquish some of that control as you will inevitably have to if the company keeps growing?
A: I am already doing that. We have the most amazing team and they are getting a good sense of how I like to think about things. Over time people are more autonomous to do more things on their own. I can't be everywhere. There are certain things I still insist on signing off on. (But) in order to do projects you have to give people autonomy.
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