As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Eran Polack.
As CEO and Co-Founder of HAP Investments, Eran Polack oversees a diverse portfolio of residential and commercial real estate that is renowned for its location, proximity to mass transit, and innovative construction and design. He is an established entrepreneur with a long history of successful real estate ventures in Eastern Europe, Israel, and the United States. Mr. Polack is also CEO of HAP Construction, a full-service construction management company dedicated to building high quality, contemporary projects that are delivered on time and on budget. He has overseen the construction and development of 11 residential properties in the United States totaling over 1.8 million square feet.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I bought one apartment, renovated it, and refinanced it. Then I purchased another apartment and did the same thing. The rest is history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I was starting out in real estate development, I thought things were done the same way everywhere in the world. In reality, the laws, zoning, codes, and many other things are very different from one place to the other. Over the years, I learned how to build an international business by understanding how to approach each market, and adapt to the different rules and customs of each one.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I think it is very important to learn from history. One book that has guided me throughout my career is the Old Testament, which teaches a lot of lessons that can help us today. For example, Pharaoh dreamed of seven fat cows devoured by seven starving cows, which Joseph understood meant a period of abundant crops would be followed by famine. Real estate is also affected by long- and short-term cycles, and it is important to be prepared for the up as well as the down periods.
Another book is Hit Makers by Derek Thompson, which examines the psychology behind what makes something popular, whether it be a song, movie, or in my case a real estate project.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I wanted to create a company that is capable of building residential developments in an efficient way for all types of projects, from high-end to more affordable, depending on the needs of the market. I used the auto industry in part as a model for my company’s diversified portfolio. For example, Toyota offers a wide range of models from the Lexus brand to Corolla, and everything in between.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Work hard as well as be consistent, honest, and transparent in everything I do. Also be open to learning from others including employees, partners, and customers.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I moved with my family to New York from Israel seven years ago, and we have really enjoyed living here. When COVID-19 came, it was the first real crisis we faced in the city. I saw a lot of people leaving, including friends and colleagues. It was very weird and quiet, but we decided to stay and make the best of it. To help cope, I go to the park every day, try to remain balanced and organized, and stay on routine as much possible.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Renting and selling apartments in Manhattan has been challenging due to high vacancies and the physical limitations caused by the pandemic, but we were able to achieve many of our goals using remote showings and other technology tools such as virtual marketing and sales platforms. I was also able to renegotiate our construction contracts, as well as reorganize the company’s finances, in order to make sure our projects remained on time and under budget.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I felt it was important to have as much social interaction and communication with others as possible, given the situation. I wanted my children to practice Hebrew, so I had them call their grandmother in Israel every day and read her a book. This not only helped them learn the language, but it also served as a way to entertain her so she didn’t feel isolated and alone during the lockdown.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
There will need to be a big effort undertaken to rebuild from this crisis. There is very high unemployment in New York City, with entertainment and tourist industries such as hotels and restaurants hurt especially badly. It is essential to rebrand the city to make it exciting and positive again. This will require public-private partnerships to create new projects like the High Line in Manhattan, which will help support local businesses along with the real estate industry.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
In the short term, people will continue to be more cautious about meeting and interacting with others. As confidence returns, I do believe most will want to go back to the office, eat at restaurants again, attend sporting events, plays, and other activities that bring life to the city. What will change for good is the ability to use virtual technology in a smarter way, for such things as online meetings, selling properties, doctor appointments, and other tasks that can be performed remotely.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I learned we can operate our business leaner and more efficiently. I plan to focus on how to keep doing that and continue to lower expenses and improve efficiency. I also think there will be an opportunity to use our residential expertise to continue improving the living situation for residents by offering a healthy and safe environment with better air circulation, safety, recreational activities, and overall comfort.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Businesses will need to be patient with everyone they interact with including their employees, partners, investors, and clients. People will need some time to regain their confidence and get back to normal. For real estate developers, I believe it is important to focus on attracting and cultivating retail tenants that can provide a unique physical experience shoppers are not able to get online.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is a journey.” There are so many things and people to learn from. You need to be open to new experiences in order to continue growing.
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