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C-Suite Spotlight: Madelon Group And Ikigai Holdings CEO Alfonso Medina

This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.

Housing is Alfonso Medina's passion. The serial entrepreneur helms two companies that operate across the U.S. and Mexico: Madelon Group, which develops prefabricated and adaptive reuse housing, and Ikigai Holdings, a real estate holding company.

Past gigs include founding Taller 38, which has built more than 30 housing projects, and founding T38 Studio, an architecture, design and research firm. At T38, Medina and Madelon co-founder Joseph Ruiz designed Casa Uno, the first ground-up co-living development in Latin America.

Medina, who has a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's in design and research, co-founded Madelon in 2019 with the mission of democratizing multifamily modular development, which Medina sees as having tremendous potential to increase the stock of quality housing in the U.S.  

He said the role of the CEO has shifted dramatically in his nearly two decades in the real estate business, but one thing that isn't evolving quickly enough is a focus on sustainability.

“I feel very strongly that we need to sustain our cities and work with what we have first and foremost, rather than continuing to move into the natural landscape,” Medina said.

Madelon Group and Ikigai Holdings CEO Alfonso Medina

Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way. 

Medina: My father was an architect, I grew up going to construction sites. Seeing how he treated construction workers and how his team was an extension of his family was very inspiring. Early in my career, I was focused on building homes and every day I would visit the construction sites and speak with the various professionals who were integral to the success of the projects. I learned very early on that there’s a tremendous benefit to understanding the nuances of your developments, as it allows you to see the bigger picture from a different perspective. I was able to see firsthand how everything works together to create a final product that everyone can be proud of. In real estate, we are all working toward a common goal, and I take that same approach in my work with Madelon — I have remained laser-focused on our vision and larger goal of streamlining the development process for modern, urban living spaces, but also can fully appreciate the craft that goes into creating communities.

Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now? 

Medina: When I started out in real estate 16 years ago, we were living in a totally different world. The role of a CEO has always been to guide the strategy, vision and leadership of your company, but it’s even more important than ever before to assess the larger impact of your work on the communities and neighborhoods where you develop. In 2010, I earned my master’s degree in design and research with a focus on cities from the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and I think that’s really shaped how I approach real estate today. It’s much more complex than just building a house or a multifamily property — we are shaping cities and having a positive impact on people's lives. Nearly 10 years later, in 2019, I co-founded and became CEO of Madelon, and since then, the pandemic has created an entirely different work dynamic that will shape us for many years to come. In today’s environment, CEOs and executives must inspire their professionals, keep them informed and instill trust.   

Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?

Medina: It’s difficult to envision what our world will look like in 10 years or what the latest trends will be, but I think it will be crucial for CEOs and top executives to always continue to push their boundaries — learn about new technologies and what’s shaping other industries. One of our biggest responsibilities as leaders is to educate ourselves about the world around us and determine new ways for our companies to innovate. 

Madelon Group co-founders Joseph Ruiz and Alfonso Medina (not pictured: co-founder Dane Andrews) at one of their partner factories that will produce the modules for Madelon's property in Denver.

Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?

Medina: I don’t think leading a company was ever a goal that I consciously set out for, but I’ve never done anything else or wanted to do anything else. I started my career building houses in Mexico and built my team from the ground up. From there, it was a natural evolution to create my holding company, Ikigai Holdings, which encompasses real estate development in New York City, Mexico City and Tijuana. Everything really came full circle when I founded Madelon in 2019 alongside an architect and longtime business partner, Joseph Ruiz, and an operator, Dane Andrews. It has always been a passion of mine to tackle the housing crisis, and through Madelon, we are bringing much-needed standardization and efficiency to the development process for modern, urban spaces. 

Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Medina: One of my biggest mistakes when I first started out in a leadership role was trying to micromanage. For most of my career, I’ve lived in different cities both across the U.S. and in Mexico. Working remotely and leading teams from afar was both challenging, but it also allowed me to grow as a business leader. It ultimately gave me a leg up to adapt to our current work environment and insight into what role a leader should play in the workplace, which is to inspire their professionals and instill trust in them, rather than micromanage.

Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?

Medina: The way that Madelon is currently set up is a very flexible model — we are N.Y.-based, but working on buildings in N.Y., Denver and LA. I’ve always felt it was more important for us to set up “micro-offices” and be fully present in the markets where we are developing. Technology has made it easy for us to seamlessly stay in touch, and in many ways, I feel like we are even more efficient than ever before. When the pandemic hit, we had already been accustomed to working that way, so the only real difference for us was that the world around us also adopted this model.

Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?

Medina: I was born in Texas and grew up in Mexico, but throughout my career, I’ve constantly surrounded myself with those from different backgrounds. It’s not something that I’ve actively thought about, but I do think it’s wise from a business perspective to create an environment that allows women, people of color and different ethnicities to thrive in the C-suite. At my development company, more than half of the C-suite are women, and at Madelon, our creative director of Maison — our flagship brand of fully furnished, accessibly priced dwelling units — is also a woman.  

Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning?

Medina: At Madelon, we are hyperfocused on sustainability, and I believe that there hasn’t been enough of a focus on sustainability today. It’s actually a much bigger issue than many people realize. I’ve always been super interested in sustainability, not just in terms of the materials that are used and where they come from, but the development of sustainable neighborhoods, communities and cities. I feel very strongly that we need to sustain our cities and work with what we have first and foremost, rather than continuing to move into the natural landscape. 

Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?

Medina: CRE traditionally has been very slow to change or adopt new technology, but we’re reaching a critical turning point for the industry where many are evolving and innovating. I do think that many in the industry could also benefit from putting themselves in the shoes of their customers. About three years ago, I put all of my belongings in storage and lived in different co-living buildings and housing setups for several years. This experience shifted my outlook on our work because they allowed me to intimately understand the impact of these projects in a way that was not possible before.

Madelon Group and Ikigai Holdings CEO Alfonso Medina

Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?

Medina: Flexible housing (i.e. co-living, multifamily) in urban cities will remain popular looking ahead to the coming years. The pandemic has created even more demand for flexibility, and yet there’s still a deficit and shortage of housing at affordable price points. Our focus and reason for starting Madelon is to bring more accessibly priced housing options to the market but to also create a paradigm shift in the way that people are thinking about multifamily so we’re moving beyond just your standard one-bedroom, two-bedroom or three-bedroom configurations with yearlong leases. 

Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?

Medina: One of the books that has really inspired me is Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis. It’s not only a really good book, but I think what I love most is that it totally changed my mindset and the way that I view the industry as a whole. 

Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Medina: I don’t often watch too much TV, but one I saw recently was 100 Foot Wave. I started surfing a year ago and it has changed my life. It’s really amazing what humans can accomplish when they put their mind, energy and passion into it. 

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Medina: It really depends on which city I’m in at the time. When I’m in Los Angeles, I usually wake up and read the news while I am drinking my morning coffee. Most Saturdays, I will read the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which I never do on weekdays. I’ll often listen to some records and I enjoy going surfing in the afternoon. I’m also part of a motoring club in Los Angeles, so I’ll sometimes do drives or meetups on the weekends.