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Ferdinand Seefried Retires From Industrial Giant He Founded

Forty years after founding his namesake firm and after 200M SF of industrial properties developed, Ferdinand Seefried has turned over the reins of Seefried Industrial Properties to the next generation of executives as he begins full-time retirement.

Ferdinand Seefried during his May 30 retirement party at the Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta.

Seefried, along with CEO Rob Rakusin, retired on July 1. In their place, longtime Chief Operating Officer Greg Herren, who has been with Seefried since 2000, has been named president and CEO.

Seefried also promoted Jim Condon to chief development and operating officer and named Paul Seefried, the founder's son, executive vice president. 

Doug Smith, who had been senior vice president, was also promoted to Southeast regional partner, sourcing development in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, according to a press release.  

“While we will miss Ferdinand and Rob, we are profoundly grateful for their exceptional contributions,” the company said in a press release. “As they embark on their well-deserved retirements, we extend our wishes to them for continued happiness and success in their future endeavors.”

Bisnow spoke to Seefried Tuesday, a week into his retirement, about the changes he has seen since first starting the firm in 1984, when big-box warehouses in Atlanta were typically around 100K SF.

“Nobody even called about a million-square-foot warehouse,” he said. 

In recent years, Seefried has developed massive sorting centers for Amazon across the country, including at least two in Georgia larger than 2.6M SF.

The size of the buildings isn’t the only thing that changed in the industry. The tallest ceiling height in the 1980s was 24 feet, Seefried said. Today that could nearly be double for modern projects. Most warehouses were constructed in brick and not concrete tilt-up walls like today.

And the Port of Savannah, which in 2022 accounted for $59B, or 9% of Georgia’s GDP, was an afterthought to the metro area’s warehouse demand.

“No one really thought about Savannah,” he said.

When Seefried began, his focus was on a new niche of tenants scouting sites near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: freight forwarding companies from Europe and Japan.

After finding success building warehouses for the companies, his firm expanded two decades ago to other markets — it now has offices in Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles and does projects coast to coast.

Seefried said the company's biggest advancement to date has been developing for the rise of e-commerce. It has been one of Amazon's preferred developers, constructing more than 10M SF of build-to-suit distribution facilities for the tech behemoth, and has built warehouses for Home Depot's online shopping operation.

Seefried said the company's strategy has been to keep 70% of its project flow in the build-to-suit space, which has lower risk, while the other 30% of its work has been on speculative warehouse development in Sun Belt markets.

“That sort of risk management between build-to-suits and spec buildings has worked out very well in good and bad years,” he said. 

Former Seefried Industrial Properties CEO Ferdinand Seefried at a 2019 Bisnow event.

Now Seefried said the industry is experiencing demand from a new type of tenant, one that could have the same impact that e-commerce had on the warehouse landscape over the past decade.

“Now we have a new trend, which is data centers, which will keep a bunch of developers busy,” he said. “It will increase rapidly over the next 10 years.”

Seefried, in partnership with Edged Energy, is already developing a three-building, 65-acre data center campus in Aurora, Illinois.

While data centers are more complicated and require more specialization than warehouses, for industrial developers to learn how to build them “is not such a dramatic thing,” Seefried said. 

Where industrial developers can benefit most, he said, is helping data center operators navigate the complex process of getting sites entitled, which can take years. Aside from its project in Illinois, Seefried said the firm is working on predevelopment efforts in several other markets in the U.S.

But under Herren’s leadership, Seefried said he doesn’t believe the formula that drove the firm’s growth over the last 40 years will differ much.

Seefried said he isn't giving any day-to-day input on the firm moving forward, and he also left its board of directors at the end of last month. But he plans to help maintain relationships he built with family office investors from Europe over the years.

“I will stay here in the United States, but most likely I’ll spend more time in Austria in the forthcoming years,” he said. “Our family has substantial assets in Austria still and landholdings. I want to get a bit more involved in handling those things.”