Real estate CEO shares his drive for diversity with students

Ross Minority Program keynote speaker says his success proves that Trojans can also make their mark in the industry

February 22, 2018 Cristy Lytal

As an immigrant, Emile Haddad has experienced many of the same challenges faced by minorities working in the U.S. real estate industry. And as a survivor of civil war, he’s also experienced the challenges faced by religious minorities in Lebanon.

“I lived as a minority all my life, and as a result, I know how it feels,” Haddad told graduates of the Ross Minority Program in Real Estate. Haddad shared these remarks as the keynote speaker at the program’s graduation reception at the USC University Club.

Founded in 1993, the Ross Minority Program at the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate started as a way to contribute to rebuilding after the Los Angeles civil unrest the previous year. In 2003, a gift from Stan Ross, a member of the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Board of Councilors, and his wife made the program a permanent institution.

Where you go is up to you. The sky is the limit. I stand in front of you as proof of that.

Emile Haddad

The program’s intensive two-week or four-week sessions aim to promote responsible development in underserved urban communities and to diversify the leadership in real estate — an industry that remains predominantly male and white.

“I saw places where minorities were facing a concrete ceiling,” Haddad said. “And as much as we have issues, this country has made a huge amount of advances in that way. And, yes, we have a lot to work on. But where you go is up to you. The sky is the limit. I stand in front of you as proof of that.”

Shaped by the past

Haddad arrived in the United States as a 27-year-old with little in his pockets — and today he is the chairman and CEO of FivePoint Holdings, LLC, the largest developer of mixed-use communities in coastal California. He serves as chair of the Lusk Center’s Advisory Council and is a member of the USC Price Planning Program Advisory Board. And he has generously supported the USC Price Diversity in Planning Program and Scholarship as well as the Ross Minority Program.

Emile Haddad speaks
Emile Haddad, chair of the USC Lusk Center Advisory Council (Photo/Tom Queally)

“When I first came to this country, we came as a family with nothing,” he said. “I used to wake up every morning worried to death that I’m going to be laid off that day because my family is going to be homeless. So that fear — of making sure that the people I care about most were taken care of — was what drove me every day.

“As I got past that,” he added, “I started realizing that by living 11 years in civil war, that left a scar — a scar of seeing communities being torn apart, families torn apart, friends torn apart. I started realizing that really what I have is a passion for building communities.”

To that end, FivePoint is designing and developing the nationally recognized Great Park Neighborhoods with 9,500 homes and 5 million square feet of commercial office and retail space on the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in the heart of Orange County.

Looking ahead, he foresees major disruptions and paradigm shifts in the real estate industry. He believes that current zoning codes could become obsolete as commercial and residential developments intermingle, and that policymakers need to keep pace with the rapid changes driven by private industry.

“More than ever,” he said, “the Ross Minority Program and the Price School of Public Policy are needed.”

Turning knowledge into action

Throughout the graduation reception, the 16 Ross Minority Program participants celebrated and reflected on the value of their experience.

Many students underscored how much they learned about finance, development, site planning, market analysis and other aspects of real estate.

“The structure of the program is such that you get somewhat of an introduction to a broad range of topics that all affect real estate,” said Kevin Clausen-Quiroz, a project manager in the city of Anaheim’s Community and Economic Development department. “And so I have more of a knowledge of what I don’t know and I want to dig deeper now.”

Ross Minority Program present projects
Ross Minority Program students presented their project to judges. (Photo/Tom Queally)

For Lizzet Alvarez, the program was a way “to learn the lingo and learn the math” in preparation for launching an affordable housing development company with her husband.

“Especially when it comes to affordable housing, in that arena, there’s so much complexity with funding, with financing,” she said.

Jessica Wackenhut Lomeli and Miranda Rodriguez, assistant program officers at the Local Initiatives Support Corp., also gained important insights into the financial aspects of affordable housing development.

“It was really interesting to see how complicated the process is and to understand the different perspectives,” Wackenhut Lomeli said.

The next step in development

Some participants were so impressed by the program that they’re now considering pursuing the Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) degree at USC Price.

“Everybody talks about USC,” said Andrew Martinez, an associate at Sperry Commercial Global Affiliates. “The program was a really great introduction to how great the community is and how great the professors are.”

André Bueno, principal at the Bueno Group, also plans to apply to USC Price’s Dollinger MRED program. “Being able to see everyone’s perspectives has made me a lot more well-rounded,” he said. “And I feel because of that, I would really benefit by being in a more formalized master’s program.”