Entrepreneur-philanthropist Jorge Peréz on his passions: family, art, and giving back to the Latin American community.
If ever there was a compelling rags-to-riches story it is that of Jorge Peréz, a remarkable philanthropist who built his US$1.7 billion fortune from scratch. Born to Cuban-exiled parents, Perez arrived in the US in 1968 from Colombia without a penny to his name and worked hard to obtain scholarships that enabled him to get degrees. He studied economics and urban planning with the goal of creating better, more equitable cities.
He began working with Miami as a city planner with the aim of improving lower-income communities, developing public housing projects in underserved communities such as Miami’s Little Havana.
After a couple of years, he founded the now billion-dollar property developer Related Group. Almost immediately, he began his philanthropic career in tandem, and 12 years ago signed The Giving Pledge. “The gifts might not have been as large back in those days, but I still felt it was important to give back,” he explains. “That philosophy has grown over time and is now a major tenet not only for our family but also for our business.”
Here, the Miami and Aspen-based billionaire discusses the ethos behind his art collection, work and philanthropy.
What made you and your wife Darlene join the Giving Pledge in 2012?
My Giving Pledge story began with a dinner, where I met Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. At the time, no Latino or black Americans had signed the Giving Pledge, and I wanted to join to inspire others like me to sign as well. I spent a good portion of the summer of 2012 discussing the importance of signing the Giving Pledge with my family. We all agreed that it was just the right thing to do.
Do you think putting your name to a museum, The Peréz Art Museum, is inspiring for other entrepreneurs?
In the late 2010s when the opportunity arose to help Miami-Dade County open its first truly great museum, I knew I had to get involved. It was honestly an honour to support this great cause, not only because of the impact it had on Miami, but also because of the example it set for other leaders in the region. The fact it would be the first public museum in the nation to bear a Hispanic name was also critically important to me, and I hope it showed immigrants of all nationalities that it’s important to give back to the country that’s given us so much.
When did you first start giving and how?
I’ve always been very aware of the disparity in society, not only in terms of wealth but also opportunity. In fact, while growing up in Bogota, Colombia, I remember passing extravagant mansions followed by literal shacks without running water or electricity. At the same time, my mother and father were very pro-egalitarian and continually reminded us that societies could not subsist over periods of time with such huge inequality. Those experiences led me to pursue a career that would allow me to better the world and leave a positive legacy.
Why were you drawn to art so much?
Growing up, my mother would take me to museums across Colombia and Latin America. I didn’t love going at first, but there’s no question those early visits laid the foundation for my love of art and culture. I was very fortunate to have a mother who understood the value of art and worked hard to instill a similar interest with me. This passion flourished as I grew older into a way to stay connected to my homeland. After I finished school in the US, I had a lot of nostalgia for my roots in Latin America. In fact, in my first 20 or so years as a collector, I focused almost exclusively on art from this region.
What about the Jorge M Peréz Family Foundation?
My family and I founded it with the goal of developing South Florida into a world-class urban centre. Our efforts are centered on promoting sustainable, inclusive and just communities by supporting programmes and organisations focused on arts and culture, health and well-being, education, environment and economic development – with a particular preference for programmes and organisations that could serve as models for other urban centres.
Do you find being a philanthropist hard?
Being a philanthropist and committing to giving away the majority of my wealth is indeed a complex endeavour. While it may appear straightforward on the surface, the challenges lie in making impactful decisions that align with my and my family’s values and create sustainable change. Determining which causes to support and organisations to fund amid the evolving nature of societal needs requires thorough research and strategic thinking to maximise the positive outcomes. That being said, it’s important that I emphasise how rewarding it is to be able to give back. As I’ve said before, I’m truly one of the lucky ones.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I am a cinephile. I love everything from the classic Kurosawa samurai movies to more modern films. I think if I hadn’t ended up in real-estate development I would’ve loved a career producing movies.
Do you think your parents’ experience drove you to become successful?
Striking it big in real estate was never my be-all goal. When I was a teenager, I was a self-described hippie and alternative thinker. I think my parents’ experience of being Cuban exiles and having to fight for themselves and their lives is really what’s given me drive over the years. When someone comes into your life in an unsolicited way and uproots everything that you’ve come to know, the importance of freedom and the ability to pursue your own passions and interests becomes unparalleled. That is the aspect of my parents’ experience that really sticks with me to this day.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Be passionate, whether in life or business. Only by being single-minded in the pursuit of your goals will you be truly outstanding.
Please tell me about the latest luxury developments through Related, I see you are working on lots of luxury Branded residences in particular at the moment?
It's an exciting time for Related’s condominium division! As of August 2023, we have close to a dozen properties under construction and set to deliver over the next few years.
These include St. Regis Residences, Miami; Baccarat, Brickell; Casa Bella, Downtown Miami, NoMad Residences, Wynwood; Rivage, Bal Harbour; Rosewood, Hillsboro Beach, and some yet to be announced but set to launch later this year. In fact, Baccarat Residences Miami is approaching sell-out with other developments like Casa Bella by B&B Italia, and NoMad Residences Wynwood close behind. As a result of these efforts, our condominium division saw more than $3B in sales over the last 24 months alone.
Your sons Nick and JP are taking a greater role now, please talk about the dynamic of a second generation family business?
The dynamic of a second-generation family business like ours, with Nick and JP taking on more significant roles, has been an incredible journey of mutual growth and learning. Witnessing their fresh perspectives and innovative ideas has been truly inspiring, and made me very proud as their father. Their relationship, as brothers and as leaders at Related, is a perfect example of how the fusion of experience and new vision can lead to groundbreaking outcomes.
This dynamic also fosters a great blend of tradition and modernity, enabling Related to evolve as a company while staying rooted in our core values. The enthusiasm and dedication that my sons bring to the table fuel our collective drive to continue pushing the boundaries of real estate development.
Do you think your younger son will also join the business?
Only time will tell! Felipe has been an entrepreneur since he was 14 years old, so I have no doubt that should he choose to go down the real estate development career path, he would thrive. For now, he’s focused on his studies at Wake Forest University.
You must also be very proud of your daughter, who was a social worker and now works in the family charity?
I’m very proud of Christina. She was a caseworker for several years and has always been passionate about helping underserved children and foster youth. These days, she’s very involved in our Family Foundation and also serves on the board of Voices for Children, which supports the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program to safeguard children in foster care in dependency court proceedings, among other organizations. She’s a remarkable individual and I’m honoured to be her father.
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