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Miami's Next Generation: 5 30-Somethings Doing Big Real Estate Deals

Not all millennials are crying into their avocado toast over their crushing student loan debt — some of them are already out developing real estate. 

Willis Towers Watson's Fred Zutel, Related Group Vice President Jon Paul Perez, Coastal Construction executive Patrick Murphy, Merrimac Ventures President Dev Motwani, Tricera Capital co-founder Scott Sherman and Property Markets Group principal Ryan Shear shared a stage at Bisnow's State of the Market event in Fort Lauderdale.

Of course, it helps to have been born into the business, like Related Group Vice President Jon Paul Perez or hotel scion Dev Motwani of Merrimac Ventures, two of six men who made up a lively panel discussion during last week's Bisnow Fort Lauderdale State of the Market event.  

During the event (moderated by Fred Zutel, who leads insurance broker Willis Towers Watson’s Florida operations, focusing on real estate and construction), Perez said that he worked for Related Cos. in New York before joining his father's Related Group in Miami around seven years ago, where he focuses on "everything now, from affordable to market-rate rental and condominium development."

Patrick Murphy — whose name you might recognize as having been elected to Congress in 2013, when he was 29 — is an executive vice president at his family's Coastal Construction.

"My dad was a union laborer, union carpenter and he wanted my first job to be digging holes and pouring concrete," he said. "I worked in the business in the estimating department and the field and [pre-construction] sort of all through the business. And then, I don’t know, drank some bad water, [got a] bug in me and ended up getting into politics, so I did that for about six years."

Motwani's Merrimac Ventures builds apartments, condos and hotels. He grew up on Fort Lauderdale beach in his parents' hotel, the Merrimac, when the beach was a scrappy strip best known for wild spring breaks.

"I was forced into the business. I’m sure my parents broke some child labor laws, having me watch the front desk and clean rooms from the age [of] 8 on," Motwani said to a round of laughter. "But it taught me a lot of good lessons."

Scott Sherman grew up in Plantation, in Broward County, before going to Thor Equities in New York and returning to found Tricera Capital, with a focus on acquiring urban retail mixed-use assets.

Ryan Shear grew up in Miami, and right out of school joined Property Markets Group — a "non-family-run business and no abuse of child labor laws," he quipped.

He develops multifamily and condo, "and a touch of retail, when I can sell it off to Scott or some version of that, or JV with Dev, or talk with John Paul or build with Patrick or do insurance with Fred. I mean, it’s all one big happy family." 

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Vice President Lisa Neumayer, ZOM Living CEO Greg West, Tate Capital CEO Jimmy Tate, OceanLand Investments founder Jean Francois Roy, K Group Holdings CEO Joseph Kavana and Hudson Capital Group President Steve Hudson

Perez said his first challenge was earning respect from his employees. So he worked his way up the company food chain, starting as an analyst, then assistant project manager, and so on and so forth to where he's managing a team and his responsibility is to bring business in.

"Being a millennial, we are sort of hit with this stereotype that you know we’re almost too ambitious and we’re too quick, we’re a generation that grew up with instant gratification, right, with cellphones in our pocket, everything we had was instant," Murphy said. "And you’re in an industry like real estate all of a sudden that is filled with bureaucracy, and approvals and just a lot of nonsense."

Murphy said his generation, when more of them start to lead companies, will improve antiquated processes.

"I went to work for my mom, which is a little different," Motwani said with a laugh. "You guys went to work for your dad. So when I go into a meeting the first thing my mom says is, 'What’d you have for breakfast?'... In some ways it’s also harder because you have to prove yourself."

Sherman said he quit his job running acquisitions for Thor Equities out of New York to start Tricera. Now, he has to figure out how to turn deals down since he's calling the shots.

"One of the bigger challenges for me has just been having the discipline to kind of know when to hold back, be constrained, and say no and not chase every deal or every opportunity that comes your way," he said. "Because obviously, when you’re growing a business you want to try to chase everything you can." 

Shear is currently rebuilding the soon-to-be-delivered Riverfront on Las Olas with 640 apartments, some rent-by-the-bed. His partners are Motwani and Sherman, who own all the ground-floor retail. 

Growing up, Shear said, Riverfront "was like the Cocowalk of Fort Lauderdale, except there was more bars and fake IDs were easier at Riverfront." The comment may have struck a nerve — a fake ID had been an issue in Murphy's congressional campaign.

"Don’t get arrested for fake ID, OK, just gonna throw that out there," Murphy joked in response. "Just in case."

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Shear said one thing he learned early on is that in this business, very few things are certain, even on the beach.

"Real estate development is another form of gambling, that’s all this is, right?" Shear said. "You buy a piece of dirt, you underwrite it, you think you know what the cost of steel is and drywall or financing, and you could be dead wrong three years from then, or two years, because the market moves. Accepting that you could just be wrong about something is a very valuable lesson in this space and understanding about what business you’re really getting into."

Perez gave updates on his Fort Lauderdale projects: the recently completed beachfront Auberge condo, and 20-story and 40-story projects on Las Olas Boulevard. Motwani is working on the Gale Condos and Gale Boutique Hotel, as well as a Four Seasons. He is also doing a hotel in Flagler Village, and is bringing The Wharf waterside entertainment concept — popular in Miami — to Fort Lauderdale.

Ultimately, all the panelists predicted big things for Fort Lauderdale.

"I think Fort Lauderdale over the next decade is going to be a superstar city across the country, honestly, not just like a South Florida city," Shear said. "I have a just general excitement, I would say."