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Weekend Interview: Quinn Residences CEO Richard Ross

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.

Richard Ross is CEO of Quinn Residences, which is building its portfolio in the expanding build-to-rent industry, creating purpose-built homes to rent. It owns nearly 2,300 homes across 17 sites in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and has raised more than $900M of equity, nearly quadrupling its original $250M goal. 

Ross’ past leadership roles include serving as chief financial officer of grocery-anchored shopping center company Branch Properties and CEO of Trade Street Residential, a multifamily REIT.

When Ross was first offered a CEO role at Trade Street in 2014, he wasn’t sure he wanted to take it; he had enjoyed serving as chief financial officer at multiple companies. But leading companies and watching the CEO role evolve away from “dictator” toward motivator has proved a positive.

Ross has his eye out for the next recession and thus is focusing on environmental, social and governance factors to shore up Quinn.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

Quinn Residences CEO Richard Ross

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

Ross: My philosophy is to lead by example. I do not ask any member of my team to do anything I am not willing to do myself. I hire good people and give them all the tools necessary to succeed, then get out of their way. I also adhere to the mantra of “No surprises.” If you are dealing with a difficult situation or make a mistake — tell me sooner rather than later. I do not want to be caught off guard. If you make a mistake, that’s fine, we all do, but fess up and focus on the solution, not the problem. 

My words of advice would be to never burn bridges, especially in commercial real estate. An experience that really shaped my philosophy and how I operate was going from a consultation during an IPO to the CEO of that company within a very short eight-month period.

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

Ross: I first became a CEO in early 2014 through a very odd set of circumstances. The role has changed dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, but even before that, I saw the role evolve from being a “dictator” to more of a “motivator,” being much more strategic and relationship-focused than compared to early in my career.

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

Ross: It's hard to say — so much has changed in the last 10 years. I foresee more collaboration both up and down the chain. Environmental, societal and governance policies will continue to be a major focus while also navigating the inevitable recession.

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

Ross: Not really. I have been in the chief financial officer role for the majority of my career and was not actively seeking the CEO seat. When the opportunity arose, I questioned if I really wanted that responsibility. Now in my second CEO seat, I am glad I did.

Richard Ross, center of image, with colleagues at the New York Stock Exchange.

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

Ross: Trying to manage everything by myself. Not letting go, and trusting my team. Fortunately, I learned this lesson relatively early in my career.

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

Ross: People are flexible and resilient, the pandemic proved that. Organizations can function effectively under any conditions so long as there is good communication from the top. We are now in the office together Tuesdays through Thursdays with Monday and Fridays as work-from-home days at the employee’s discretion.

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?  

Ross: I am a huge supporter of diversity and inclusion throughout the organization and have actively implemented and encouraged that in our hiring practices. I have put both women and people of color in positions where they can advance, given them the support and tools to advance and encouraged them to talk openly regarding any concerns they have. As a result, over the years and today, a few have risen to the C-suite, and the organization has been better for it. We are a small company, so when filling a position, I literally can look around and see where we may be lacking in diversity and address it. Having said that, I will not make a hire solely to satisfy some arbitrary “mix” of staff. I have a diverse senior team and any one of them is capable of stepping into my role.

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?   

Ross: Even though we are a relatively small private company, we are focused on all things ESG and receive regular inquiries from our investors as to what we are doing in that regard. Having said that, I do believe the pendulum has swung pretty far to the “militant” end to fix it and fix it now. My hope is that we come back to a more middle ground.

Quinn Residences CEO Richard Ross

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

Ross: The use of technology is decades behind other industries. There has been significant progress in the past five years, but we still have a ways to go.

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

Ross: Given my position as CEO of a build-to-rent company, the single-family rental sector is one I believe in strongly. Other industries I see performing well are necessity retail and last-mile distribution facilities.

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

Ross: Bhagavad Gita, which is an ancient yoga text that teaches various important principles that relate to work, life, religion, philosophy and spirituality. It encouraged me to live life with purity, strength, discipline, honesty, kindness and integrity in order to find purpose and to live life fully.

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

Ross: That’s tough, as I have so many favorites. If I had to vote, I would say Star Trek. It was very influential. Just look at your cellphone and the other technology that was imagined in that show. It also had the first interracial kiss and was way before its time.

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?  

Ross: I spend my Saturdays working on my land in North Carolina. There is always something to do.