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Weekend Interview: Largo Co-Founder Nicholas Werner

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.

Nicholas Werner co-founded Largo in 2009 with Nissim Ben-Nun. He was 30 years old, and people assumed Ben-Nun was his father rather than his partner in the business. Things have changed since then. Young CEOs are more common, and Werner said the skills needed to run a business have evolved and less often require decades of experience to master. 

Largo, where Werner serves as principal, specializes in the acquisition, development and operation of luxury multifamily and mixed-use property in New York City, completing 400K SF of luxury multifamily and retail and underway on 1M SF more. The firm is particularly active in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including launching sales in November on NX at 215 North 10th St., a condo property that is nearly 50% sold. It also provides construction management services through Largo Construction.

The following has been lightly edited for grammar and style.

Nicholas Werner and his wife, Arielle, at the New York Stock Exchange

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

Werner: My philosophy is simply to lead by example and encouragement. I'm not the tyrannical type, it's just not my personality. The example I set is by doing everything I say I'm going to do correctly and timely — it's something I learned early on in my stint as an investment banker. Unlike banking, there are no "hours" at Largo that people have to keep or "face time" with bosses that they have to put in. All of our team members have specific goals with deadlines, and they are expected to accomplish their goals and communicate if they don't think the goal is achievable. They also know, and I tell everyone we interview for a position, that we're a small company and everyone needs to have a sense that we're a flat organization where the CFO may help pitch in on the management team and the head of development may help the COO with a task, etc. Most people like the independence and empowerment. But it's not for everyone. My dad was a big mentor for me. He is a very goal-oriented person, and even though he didn't really like running a small business, his business ran well because his employees admired his hard work and ability to get things done. And it flowed from the top down.

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

Werner: When I started the business 12 years ago, I was 30 years old, and every time I walked into a room to buy an asset or finance an asset, most of the people thought my partner (who is 20-plus years older than me) was my dad. Now, the most successful CEOs in the world (think Facebook, Google, Coinbase, etc.) are younger, and I think people just think differently about the skill sets that one needs to successfully run a business. And those skills aren't necessarily acquired over decades like they used to be (although I'm a big believer in acquired wisdom and experience shaping important decisions — what most people call their "gut").

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

Werner: We'll be running our companies from the metaverse.

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

Werner: Yes. My dad and mom were both entrepreneurs and always kind of beat it into my head. It wasn't about the money, but my dad always told me that if I could figure out how to work for myself, it would be the best thing I could ever do.  So I thought running a small business would be working for myself — little did I know that I was going to have investors, lenders and employees that I effectively work for.

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

Werner: I assume that everyone I work with has a similar personality to me and will come tell me when they think something is wrong (big or small). I've lost great people that I could have kept had we just talked earlier.

Nicholas Werner and his wife, Arielle

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

Werner: Dramatically, like most other people. We had a home office on 32nd Street and Madison Avenue, New York City, even though the bulk of our work was happening at our development sites or the buildings we own and manage. We jettisoned that office during the pandemic, and we are now a hybrid company where about 75% of the work is done out of the buildings and job sites we have going on and the other 25% is done from small satellite offices and/or work-from-home. Everyone seems really happy, and we have only seen minor productivity speed bumps that we've had to work through.

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?  

Werner: Our organization has typically been at least 50% women and/or minorities. And that was never done intentionally, it was just the best people we could find. We intend to continue hiring in the same manner.

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?  

Werner: I was born and raised on the island of Miami Beach, lived 20 years on the island of Manhattan, and now split my time between and have business in both places. Miami and Manhattan are the two places in the USA that are going to see and feel the effects of climate change the most (with the wildfires in California and droughts in the Midwest as well). It would be insane for me not to recognize that climate change is real and is going to have a huge effect on my personal and professional life. I'm also aware that the real estate business (not just development, but the operating of large buildings, etc.) has a large carbon footprint. We're doing everything we can, with the tools we're given, to limit that footprint. But I'm sure we could be doing more.

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

Werner: The industry should be embracing technology the way the residential real estate sector has. There has been an explosion of proptech hitting the market in the past five years, and CRE should be using this to our advantage to help streamline deals and make more informed decisions. Data is key to success in this industry, and I think more companies should be leveraging the access we have to data. 

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

Werner: Hard to say with certainty which asset class or location will perform best over the next five years, but it's easy to see the trends that are helping multifamily and industrial demand continue unabated. However, what that means is that those two asset classes are priced extraordinarily high on a cap rate basis relative to the risk-free rate, so it really depends on if you're talking about absolute return or risk-adjusted return when you are talking about "performing best."

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

Werner: A short article in Forbes published many years ago that talked about the Rhino Principle, which, stated simply, is to "keep on charging until the task at hand is finished" — like a rhino does. When someone has a goal he/she is trying to attain, he/she should keep charging until it's attained.

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

Werner: Breaking Bad. It was just so damn good.

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays? 

Werner: With my wife and two kids doing as little as they will let me do (which is usually a lot).