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The Industry’s Best Inspirational Leadership Podcast: Episode 1

Feb 15, 2022

Adrian Foley, President and CEO of Brookfield Properties and Development Group, North America, shares his life experiences and passions that lead him to a career in real estate, who inspires his leadership style, and why Brookfield is the only company he wants to work for. He delves into how the largest real estate company in North America is building brand loyalty and creating customers-for-life by delivering unrivaled customer experiences and putting people first.

About the podcast

The Industry’s Best Inspirational Leadership is an influential podcast led by housing industry expert Mollie Carmichael, Principal, Advisory, of Zonda. Each episode features an insightful personal conversation with a key thought leader in the housing industry. Join Mollie as we get to know these top leaders—what inspires them, what drives them, and how they build communities. Tune in below and follow @ZondaHome on social media for the latest updates. 

Episode 1

Welcome to our inaugural podcast episode of The Industry’s Best Inspirational Leadership with Mollie Carmichael. This episode features Adrian Foley, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Brookfield Properties and Development Group, North America – one of the largest land developers and homebuilders in North America. Adrian has been paving the way in the housing industry for over 26 years and oversees 23 markets with 1,500 employees. He is responsible for stewarding operational objectives and implementing strategic initiatives. Adrian is known as a people-centric leader who is driven by building community and putting others first.

Adrian grew up in London, where his father was a professional soccer player. Influenced by his father’s career, Adrian also chased the black-and-white checkered dream, playing semi-professional soccer until the dream became just that. “It was probably the worst day and the best day of my life,” said Adrian. “I didn’t know it then, but I needed the kick in the backside to go do something else, and something else was getting into the real estate business.”

Listen to the full podcast and video interview below.

Read the interview

Mollie: I’m going to start with a simple question, which is, what do you do? What do you do all day long?

Adrian: I have the title of President and CEO of Brookfield Properties Development Group, which is really an incredibly talented 1,500 orso person team that spans about 23 North American markets where our group does Brookfields groundup development across its North American portfolio of real estate.

So for the majority of the audience here, they will relate that to our Land and Housing business, which is a master plan community business. That’s in those 23 markets and a vertical for sale housing business that builds in those masterplan communities. What the audience may be less aware of is a commercial developmentI say commercial development but really multifamily, income-producing single-family, rental income-producing, and office and retail mixed-use development team that works on a variety of Brookfield-owned real estate in key markets in the US. So you blend those two teams and you get our development group at Brookfield properties.

Mollie: I want to talk a little bit about you and go way backwhere you started, where you grew up, and how you got here.

Adrian: I grew up in London, England. My father, who played professional soccer (football) was transferred from teamtoteam and he ended up getting transferred to a London team...By the time I was 27-28 I was heading to the US. 

Mollie: How long did your dad play soccer?

Adrian: Actually he was in the professional game from age 16 to 66. So he was in the game for 50 years. He was very fortunate to have lived his life playing the game as a kid and then got into it professionally, and then made his way through playing, managing, and coaching…From him, I have many of my own personal attributes, as most kids do. And my mother too, don’t want to miss any of her value. But I got a number of attributes from my father through competitive sports.

Mollie: So did you play soccer?

Adrian: I did. And fortunately, I think never well enough to play professionally. I played semiprofessionally from the age of 16 until about 27 when I left to come to America. But at the age of 16 I was told that I just wasn’t going to be good enough. So it was probably the worst day and the best day of my life. Because I didn’t know it then, but I needed the kick in the backside to go do something else, and something else was getting into the real estate business.

Mollie: I have to believe that is part of what inspires your competitive nature, though today, right?

Adrian: Yeah, totally...I think about the sort of work ethic traits that I have today, which I don’t profess to brag about many things, but I would hold my personal work ethic up against most. And that comes totally from my upbringing. My father grew up, as I’ve mentioned, he left school when he was 15, and never did anything else but play soccer, and just knew that was his life. So he worked really hard at it. The sort of team sport attributes that I think flow into us as a business today at Brookfield, I attribute to my upbringing my competitiveness, through sports, but also the value that I place, and we place aBrookfield, on the team. It’s not about ‘I’ it’s about we, and it’s not about me it’s about we‘…in order to win, you’re going to win as a team. When you play sports in a team sports environment, as an individual you don’t necessarily try and translate those two things into business or those things in the business. But it’s really evident today that it’s very much a part of who I am.

Mollie: How did you get into home building? And how did you get into land development?

Adrian: …I left school when I was 16. I realized I needed to get myself into a real career. I was really always in love with architecturethe word architect and the notion of designing something. I never wanted to spend a humongous amount of time studying architecture. I wanted to take the shortcut, which was a bit of my own personal challenge. But I got a job at the Greater London Council in the Department of Architecture and Civic Design, which was effectively my entry into architecture because I would sit there poring over plans and reviewing plans for permitting purposesand I would go tour these amazing buildings. So I fell in love with the building environment and really, buildings generally. 

I’m looking at your building that’s behind you and I can describe each of the parts and pieces of that building today. I can dismantle it in my mind and know how it gets put together…When I came to the US at the age of 2223, I started a small development company with a high net worth individual and I grew that for five or six years while I lived in London, and really got into everything from buying, construction, managing, selling, and financially modeling the development space. When I came to the US, I was very fortunate I got offered a job at Taylor Woodrow (what is now Taylor Morrison) and met two incredibly talented individuals Carina Hathaway and Jeff Foster. Fortune follows the brave,” or whatever the saying isI was braving in going to the US but really fortunate in that I fell into the hands of two incredibly gifted people. As a result of that, my opportunity came to really play a part in developing new housing in Southern California. That really unleashed kind of a passion for architecture and design. 

So it’s full circle. I guess what I would say to any of the audience who’s thinking about their own personal careerswhether they’re 20 years of age, or 50 years of agewhatever their next stage in life is, that pursuing your passion and doing what you find quite easy to work hard at is really important. I am in a job where I don’t find it hard to work hard. Because I love what I do. It’s never been work for me. So long story short, that was how I got into the development space.

I am in a job where I don't find it hard to work hard. Because I love what I do, it's never been work for me.

Adrian Foley

President and CEO, Brookfield Properties and Development

Mollie: I’m going to actually give a slightly different story than Adrian just gave. It was a little bigger than that. So he and this triodesigned this new community and opened it up in probably one of the toughest markets was noteworthy everywhere. People came from all over to see it because it was so well done. As I recall, Adrian, you shut the neighborhood across the street down. They had to close their models—do you remember this? They had to start over because your product was so much better. It’s a great example of why design matters. Because man, did it make a statement and a difference. They sold at a premium when everybody thought it was about price; the details, the merchandising, the architecture, it was just so thoughtfully done. I think it was a conversion of new thoughts, new ideas, and it made us all just think about homebuilding in a whole new way. I think it pushed us to a better place as an industry, at least certainly in Southern California. You hit the ground running fast. 

But let me ask you this, what was it about? Did you want to go into architecture? Or did you fall into that?what brought you there?

Adrian: It was needed to feed myself, initially – get a job. But gradually I realized I really love buildings. Like I said to my own son who loves music, pursue something that’s in the music business,even if you’re not going to make a career as a professional musician. Do something associated with what you have a passion for. I have a passion for buildings and a passion for architecture. So if I could be involved somewhere in that business that was gonna make me not feel like work was work, and it never has. So that’s what sort of tripped me into the space.

Mollie: What brought you over to the US? 

Adrian: I met my wife on a beautiful night in October of 1987 in London. She was in for vacation from Connecticut. We decided that London wasn’t where we should spend every rainy day of our lives. We should go somewhere where it’s sunny, and California, the flag popped up in California.

Mollie: So you have your own development company, you’re completely established and then you meet this cute girl and you’re like, I’m out.

Adrian: And I said to my mother at the airport, I think I’ll be back in a couple of years. That was 31 years ago. It’s been incredible. This is the most amazing country on the planet.

Mollie: Passionate about your business, passionate about the ones you love. I like it. It’s awesome. 

Let’s talk a little bit about Brookfield and why you’ve been at this company for a really long time. As you mentioned, you’ve worked at other places and you’ve worked at great other places. You’ve made the crossover to Brookfield and you’ve been in for quite some time, you certainly have catapulted your career. Why Brookfield? What is it about Brookfield that makes it the place for you?

Adrian: It’s a company that makes me proud every day to say the name Brookfield. Which not everybody has the ability to say, albeit I’m sure people feel proud of the company they’re with. On the one hand, I’m proud to say the name Brookfield but on the other hand, more fundamentally, it speaks a language that I understand in how it treats people, how it structures its organization, and treats others within its organization; how it empowers and delegates and, frankly, holds people responsible for what they do. As opposed to companies wherethe highest-paid person’s opinion counts. I would not want to be at a company that does that. I left a country that lives very much on the basis of a class structure and a hierarchya pyramid hierarchy. It offended me when I was there because frankly, I didn’t think I could compete. I didn’t think it gave me the ability to succeed. And I think anyone in England resents you leaving the class you’re in. And that may sound strange to any American but the reality is, it’s steeped in your DNAhow you and your family grew up, and it matters more where your family went to school, where you went to school, or which part of town you lived in than your work ethic or your opinions or the value that you create every day. 

So I joined a company, Brookfield, where none of that exists. We have incredibly smart people in the organization. And no one’s saying for one moment that we don’t want to give them the microphone when it’s appropriate. But quite honestly, the company values every part of the organization equally, and says, You’re a critical piece in our future. So it speaks the language I really understand, as I mentioned, not just in that sense, but also how it treats people. It’s all about the long run of Brookfield, it’s not about the near-term win. We want to compete just like everybody else does. And we will and our elbows get up when we feel like someone’s trying to push us around. But frankly, relationships and partnerships are all about the long run, we’re not about pulling the last $5 out of your pocket today and thinking that’s the only business we’re going to do. Pretty incredible. If you’d have told me at the age of 22 when I was venturing off to build my first development deal in London, that at my age now I’d be a part of the world’s largest real estate company, developing some amazing real estate in the US, living in Southern California—I would have told you that you are absolutely nuts.

Mollie: The world’s largest real estate company? That’s impressive.

Adrian: Yeah, it is...we don’t use that as a bragging tool. That’s not meant to sound like we’re the world’s largest, therefore we’re the world’s smartest. It’s just the scale of the organization is pretty wild. Pretty impressive.

Mollie: That’s a pretty wild statement to make. I don’t think I even knew that. That is impressive. 

Was there a point in your career where you thought…”I’m going to work here the rest of my life“? I don’t want to predict your entire future, but I suspect you know, given your success in your career there.

Adrian: I don’t think there was necessarily one moment, it’s a series of moments. I always feel like I need to be on a path of growth for myself, personally. I’ve always felt like I’m never where I want to finish and there’s that next opportunity or that next point of interest that’s available. I personally think that’s a good trait. It does mean that you never settle, you‘re never satisfied, you never relax. Carina Hathaway would say I’m exhausting because of that. And others who are listening to this will probably echo that same sentiment I think. 

But I do think there are various stages where I reflected and said, Oh my gosh!” The acquisition…was a development that we had seen grow through the early 2000s. And in 2012, when we acquired it, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I never thought I’d be involved in these discussions. But Brookfield acquired a development in London called Canary Wharf. I had seen Canary Wharf grow up as a kid. Growing up in London, it was two miles from where I lived. I’d seen this place get transformed in the early 80s. And here we were, I was a part of the company, I knew the people who had acquired Canary Wharf, it was like, This is amazing!” So it is pretty awesome. 

Just recently our development team completed development in Nashville, on the corner of Fifth and Broadway. I would urge you and anyone to go see it. It’s world-class, it’s out there. It’s an amazing piece of real estate. And I went through it and said, Oh my gosh, the team that I’m a part of built this.” It’s pretty incredible. But at no time have I ever thought “Wow, I’ve made it, or “This is it,because that’s never a mindset for me. But it shouldn’t be for anyone. 

Those are some pretty key points of sayingcan it get much better than this? Well, I think we have an opportunity that’s unique. In the real estate spectrum, especially as it relates to where people live, where people work, and where people choose to play or be entertained. (I associate entertaining with shopping and/or retail activities, and/or hotelling.) Brookfield has the ability to touch each part of your everyday life…In the living world, we can clearly telegraph how Brookfield can partner with you through your living experience. Whether that’s the student housing dorm that you rent when you go to college, to your first multifamily rental home, to your single-family rental detached home to your first for sale home, to your active adult home, etc, We can really create an environment where there’s real value for you to partner with Brookfield through that experience. Your evolution is our opportunity to provide goods and services to you along that way. And I think that’s so unique. 

There are a few companies out there that can do that. But I don’t think anyone’s mastered it. I think the scale of our organization both where we operate and the portfolio of offerings that we have, makes it really viable for us to think that if you live in Southern California, or if you live in Austin, Texas, or if youpick a place in the USthere’s a ton of opportunity for Brookfield to engage the living opportunity for you. So what we would hope that you think when you think about Brookfield is you think about them as a living partner, and not just for this one house, or this one rental unit that you’re transacting with us today. That we’re one and done. That long-term relationship we’re proud of in our business dealings translates to you as a residential living customer, and that you can really see yourself on that on that journey with Brookfield.

It's not about 'me' it's about 'we.' In order to win, you're going to win as a team. 

Adrian Foley

President and CEO, Brookfield Properties and Development

Mollie: What makes Brookfield different in that experience? I get the whole circle of amenities and all those parts and pieces. But is there something specific? We’ve talked a lot about different ways of how you would not only serve the customer but almost be a partner to the customer. But how is that really different thanany of the builders out there?

Adrian: I think this is where our industry needs to go or will go, and the consumer will see value in this rather than singleonesie, twosie transactions that they have with for-sale builders. Ultimately we’ve got to create this customerforlife environment where every one of those transactions that customer engages in during their life, we have the ability to reduce that layer of cost. I bring in just the rental and the active adult and the senior housing components just as an extension of the experience. But when you add up through your life, what you spend on those transactions, it’s colossal. Actually having an environment where it was easier, frictionless for you to go inandout of homes, whatever that journey is, and where you didn’t pay 5.5-6 percent every time you wanted to trade inandout of a homeyou know, the iBuyer processes is definitely doing a great job of removing the obscurity and creating more transparency around that process. 

We think as builders. At Brookfield, we need to lean in on that exercise as well. But if you can look at compressing these layers through your life experience of living and have a partner that you trust, that isn’t just dealing with you on this one transaction then is never interested in seeing you ever againthat’s going to transform your choice. And you won’t just buy that home singularly for its location or singularly for its price, but you’ll actually care about who’s built it, or who the landlord is, or who the future provider might be. You’ll actually seek that builder out when you go to your new markets, if you’re moving from A to B, and it’s hugely beneficial to you, and it’s hugely beneficial to us. We spend $17-18,000 per customer today, it’s a colossal amount of money. You’re spending that (or more) every time you sell your home. We want to lower those, the friction, and lower the cost of those transaction layers, so we can really make your life more pleasurable and your experience of living more enjoyable. 

We’re proud of the fact, and there are a few other builders who have done this, that we’ve recently launched our website with full transparency on pricing, and how the pricing relates to other prices in the neighborhood that you’re buying in. How about that? That’s huge!

Mollie: I hate the whole game-playing thing. Tell me the price!

Adrian: You mentioned other industries. The auto industry, I think, has done a great job of doing this gradually. Thanks to companies like Tesla and others out there who have really said, This is a miserable way to do business.” Frankly, that’s not really where we make our money.

So, really creating an environment where the price of that home that we’ve arrived at, we share that logic with you. That actually you can buy that home onlineother builders are doing this...We want to get the industry to the point where you can buy now and there’s full transparency. Not to suggest that brokers aren’t important and they don’t play a role, because they do. But quite frankly, this is not where their highest and best use is. We should be able to provide that broker advocacy to you as a consumer, by providing you with the information on this. These are the last 60 sales we’ve made this year though, why do you need any more advocacy than that? 

So anyway, so it’s really changing that experience, creating an environment where once you do buy the home from us, we’re available to you to recertify that home when you want to sell it, even if you don’t want to buy one of ours, but hopefully, you want to buy one of ours. And if you want to buy one of ours, there’s a whole bunch of layers of cost in there that we can help compress, as I mentioned a minute ago. So really reengineering this whole experience. There are a few builders, ourselves included, that are on this bandwagon of really trying to change how our industry does it. I think it’s akin to the car industry where you had that sort of car salesman, negative connotation, where today there’s a little more honesty, transparency, and openness with that transaction. So we hope to do the same.

Mollie: When I think some of the things that you’ve shared with me in the past is that whole role or that whole human touch component, is incrementally so important to the process. We’re going to spend it in the categories where it counts and where it makes sense. It’s really sort of a transition of the role of that player is more of a concierge and an experience expert, as opposed to weeding through paper to get your answer because it’s so organized and easy to do today. Why not make it better? I agree with you…it doesn’t go away, they just transform into a better place. 

What about the opportunity to actually grow with my home and trade my home in, as my family grows, I grow in the Brookfield family and as my family leaves, I change in the Brookfield family of home types and choices. Those are some of the things that we’ve tried too. I just think that’s brilliant. I would never buy another house from another builder, again, with that concept.

Adrian: It’s a natural evolution. The only shortcoming is we aren’t always where you want to be. So we’ve got to deal with the reality of that. But, obviously, in a lot of situations, we are going to be where you want to be. Especially as it relates to your expanding family—you’re family transitioning to a Brookfield student house, multifamily home, single-family rental home, or first home for sale—the opportunity is phenomenal. It’s really allowing us to have these conversations and opening up the mind of our own team to transform the conversation around single transactions into life-long experiences.

Mollie: Who are your top two inspirational leaders? Share a few characteristics of each you admire.

Adrian: I’ll go back to one of my British brethren, Richard Branson, who I had the good fortune of meeting maybe month one of moving out here. I did get the pleasure of meeting him. Richard Brandson struck me, as he spoke to me, similarly to the way Brookfield speaks to me. He didn’t come out of school as a phenomenally educated individual. He did grow up with a few shillings in his pocket, which, I didn’t. I wasn’t short on money but I didn’t have as much as he did. He left school relatively uneducated and is very much self-driven, but that’s part of what I love about Richard Branson. The other part is, he definitely always has a smile on his face. I try to do that on a daily basis. He’s the ultimate guy who’s pursued his passion and frankly is probably never worked a day in his life as a result. Brave, innovative, creative, a bit whacky. There are certain decisions that he’s made that I definitely wouldn’t have made—balloon flying across the globe being one. He optimizes the energy that you want to see in a leader, which is the whole point of this chat. The energy that makes you do what you don’t think you’re capable of doing. That is ultimately what we’re all about. We all want to be pushed. I have on my desk this, my good friend Bob White bought me this, it says, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” We all want to feel like we have the ability to do something that we aren’t going to fail at. Richard Branson epitomizes that to me. He is phenomenally successful, we’ve all heard the stories. He just made me want to be like him. 

Mollie: He’s a passionate guy, for sure.

Adrian: For sure. Frankly, age is just a number for him. He’s just as passionate today as he was in his twenties. 

The other would be a guy called Marc Benioff. You probably know Marc runs Salesforce. For a number of reasons, but at its core would be his leadership style within Salesforce imparts a certain tone. As a company, a leadership style for industries to follow. How they treat diversity, successful women in their business, their role in the community, and what they do to give back. I always go to Salesforce to steal their protocols with how they’re handling the pandemic, how they’re dealing with vaccinations, how they’re dealing with women in the workplace, how they’re dealing with diversity, equity, and belonging. I think as a company they are a really high watermark for companies to follow. Now, they’ve got some of their challenges too. But Marc himself, I follow him on Twitter, I’m an avid Twitter follower of people like him. I learn a lot from the Marc Benioff’s of the world.

Mollie: I think of Marc as a community builder in all things, which is really what Salesforce is about. And as it relates to Richard Branson, what I love about him is—so I have a fear of failing but I have a fear of not trying things due to the idea that I might fail. So you have to push yourself to still be competitive but push beyond that and say “If I fail, I get up again.” Like the saying, “Fight another day.” And he is definitely like that.

What are the three core values that you think are inspirational ways to look at leadership?

Adrian: I have such great role models at Brookfield. Bruce Flatt, Chief Executive Officer of Brookfield Asset Management, is the ultimate guiding light for our organization. He definitely imparts these principles. Brian Kingston who runs our real estate business across the globe. Just incredibly intelligent, thoughtful individual. Locally, my friend Alan Norris…All of which embodies these three traits we don’t speak about, they are just evident. One is humility. I think it’s at the core of Brookfield. The moment you think it’s all about you—this is not the place for you. Those who come into this company and struggle with that don’t last long. It’s because of all the reasons we’ve talked about. It keeps you in check. We’ve all got egos and we’re all proud of what we do and we’re passionate (that’s the second.) But we’re checking it at the door and we’re going to work together as a team. The second is passion. The saying goes something like, “I don’t think you can do anything successfully without being passionate about it.” Bruce Flatt is one of the most excited men on the planet when you’re talking about a piece of real estate that’s new and that’s going to be developed and we’re going to do financially well at. Brian Kingston, same, and Alan Norris. Just so passionate about the business—and people. They enjoy engaging and being a part of a team. The last is community. I think about the community of places that we build and create. I think about the community of our teams, our local teams. I think about the community of our organization. They make it a community. I’ve always said that as big as Brookfield has gotten, and it’s a big company, it still feels like a small company to me. It’ still feels like you could pick up the phone, which none of us do anymore, but you could definitely text or email any of those individuals and they’d be back to you in 15-20 minutes. That is what community feels like. I’m not a number here. You’re not a number at Brookfield. You’re not a number at Zonda. Mollie Carmichael is just as critical as the next person. So it just feels like a community and those three things are what make me connect all the dots at Brookfield.

Mollie: I think those are three pretty perfect qualities in an inspirational leader.

Thank you for joining us today. I am so appreciative of your time. I would say, those three qualities, I don’t think I could pick three better qualities to align with you, and certainly the whole team and Brookfield…the passion shows not just in working with your teams but certainly in the homes and communities you build. The community part of it speaks for itself. You can see it throughout the country as the largest residential landholder in the country, and the world. That is a story in itself. 

Mollie Carmichael


Mollie Carmichael