ULI New York Blog

Recap: YLG Secrets of Success ft. Simon Ziff – “The Passion is to Be Better”

By Vivien Wu

The secrets to success, according to Simon Ziff, are simple. Start your morning with an organic nutrition shake. Get involved with ULI as much as possible. Don’t worry about interest rates tomorrow, but focus on mastery and self-improvement today. Remember that good business ethics is good business.

On Tuesday morning, November 22, 2017, a group of about 30 young professionals gathered to hear from real estate finance expert, and President of the advisory firm Ackman-Ziff, Simon Ziff. In attendance, also were several Ackman-Ziff directors and associates who added color and insight to his stories.

Of course, becoming a leading finance advisor and owner of one’s business did not materialize overnight. “My big break,” said Ziff, “was driving to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is a seven-hour drive from New York City.” Ziff did this to meet a prospective client, a mall developer, who needed construction financing to continue his stalled projects. He encouraged the young professionals and students in the room to tap into deep work ethic and subject matter mastery to rise to the top. “It will be apparent when you know more than anyone else, and outperform others.”

Ziff gave career advice that was applicable to attendees not just in real estate finance. When going to meetings with other professionals, he said, “Always think ‘what could I do to help them?’ in meetings with anyone, even if the person is supposed to be a mentor. Be very thoughtful about who you’re meeting with and do your homework on who they are beforehand.” This perspective, he advised, is best for building good relationships and avoiding mistaken assumptions or missteps in meetings.

In addition, to Ziff, having mentors is important but equally important is having some role models. “I have role models who are younger than me, and older than me,” he said. Finding people you respect and feel inspired by will get you to set higher standards for yourself.

Of course, no real estate event is complete without some contemplation of where the cycle is headed and what will happen in the near future. Although interest rates will probably rise and liquidity may decrease, Ziff was calm and optimistic. “I’m focused more on my employees’ development than where the market is going. As long as we’re constantly improving, we’ll be ready for anything in the future.”

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