Founding Families: From $5,000 Bet to 10M SF Portfolio
At the turn of the century, Ben J. Massell made a $5k bet on a piece of property in the City of Atlanta that grew into Selig Enterprises, which today controls some 10M SF of commercial real estate. As former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Sr. put it in 1961, “Sherman burned Atlanta and Ben Massell built it back.” Ben was—according to another famous Atlanta mayor, William Hartsfield—a “one-man boom.”
We recently sat down for a chat with the current patriarch of the Selig family, Steve Selig, his son, Scott Selig, and sister, co-owner Cathy Selig (second from right, next to Mindy Selig Shoulberg) to reflect on the firm's nearly century-long history and look at what's in store for the future.
THE FOUNDING FATHER
Ben came from a Lithuanian family that immigrated to the US and opened a grocery store in Atlanta. It was a short-lived enterprise; by 1918, Ben had launched a commercial real estate shop with the purchase of that first parcel. Soon it was apparent he had a knack for real estate, developing storefronts and commercial buildings throughout Atlanta, which was discovering its power as an economic engine. At the same time, the Selig side of the family arrived in the US from Germany, setting up a chemical business here. These two families would not become one until 1939, when Steve's father, Simon “Slick” Selig, married Ben's daughter, Caroline Massell.
Simon (here with his wife, Caroline) owned a company called Selig Chemical Industries. But when Ben passed away in 1962, Simon sold the business and took over Ben's real estate holdings, formed CMS Realty, and dove straight into development/investment. Six years later, the company's name changed to Selig Enterprises.
Steve joined the family business after graduating from UGA and a brief stint in the loan department at the National Bank of Georgia (now Wells Fargo). “My dad was a very good businessman. And I think that he was very detail-oriented. He knew where all the dollars were going,” Steve recalls. He was being groomed to take over the firm one day, but admits to getting cold feet at the prospect. “My dad said, 'Steve, don't worry. You got a quality. You can lead people. You can always find somebody to worry about those details.' So that gave me the confidence that I could one day run that company.” The business grew even more when, in 1972, Selig purchased Massell Cos—owned by Ben Massell Jr.
To call the Steve a renaissance man may be an understatement. For instance, Steve worked at the White House during the Carter Administration, and then, when returning to Atlanta, bought a little known company called AAA Parking that he transformed into one of the largest parking lot operators in the Southeast, with more than 2,200 employees and 186 lots that park 86k cars a day in 11 states.
He also started a concert promotions company with two other partners whose names are synonymous with entertainment in Atlanta: Peter Conlon and Alex Cooley (here). Under the banner of Southern Promotions, now Live Nation, the group brought to Atlanta some of the most memorable acts in modern history—its Music Midtown and Chastain Summer Concert Series continue the legacy begun by the trio (Steve sold his interest in the partnership in 1998).
One of the primary tenets Steve says he continues to use in his work: conservative investing fundamentals. “One of the first things we look at is what is the downside risk, not upside profit. We hold property. We don't buy and sell,” Steve says. By his own admission, he believes family members should cut their teeth in other businesses before joining the family firm. Cathy's sons all operate or work for other businesses, including Greg Lewis, who owns Innovative Roofing Group, and Brian Lewis, who works with Wells Fargo and manages Selig investments. Steve's sons: Blake Selig is with Dakota Contractors and Scott (here) owned and sold a pay phone company back when those things existed.
Today, Scott not only works for Selig Enterprises, but is the philanthropic, civic and political thrust of the family throughout the city, with such organizations as ULI, Atlanta Workforce Development Authority, the board of the Woodruff Arts Center and the Atlanta Regional Commission. “Scott is probably the most visible member of our family. He is everywhere.” Steve's daughter, Mindy Selig Shoulberg—a Cushman & Wakefield alum—leases retail at the firm. Steve sees his family's involvement and contribution to various charities and causes as a necessity: “This city has been extremely good to our family, and we feel an obligation to give back as often and as generously as possible. That is an important legacy of our family.”
For most of its 90-plus years of existence, Selig Enterprises has been an insular operation. But it's had its hands on some of Atlanta's more noteworthy developments: Ansley Mall, The Plaza Midtown, Buckhead Square shopping center, financing John Portman's AmericasMart and one of Atlanta's first condo towers, Museum Tower. But over the past decade, Steve has partnered with other big firms to get into even larger projects, such as with Daniel Corp for 12th and Midtown, a massive mixed-use complex in the heart of Midtown Atlanta that ultimately will contain 500k SF of retail, two apartment towers, a condo tower, 2M SF of office, a Loews Hotel and a future hotel.
Today, the firm commands more than 10M SF throughout the Southeast, mainly in Atlanta. And Selig's pipeline is as robust as ever—plans for an urban mixed-use campus near Logan Circle; a 300k SF Walmart-anchored power center in DeKalb County called Suburban Plaza; a student housing project with Landmark Properties at UGA; and a string of senior and nursing care facilities throughout the Southeast. Steve is especially bullish on Midtown and the Beltline, calling the submarket the city's “hottest area” going forward. “We're very, very optimistic about the future. And we're very pro-development in Atlanta.”