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Real estate developer Gerald Fogelson still thinking big

Determination key to decades-long success, Central Station head tells Kellogg students

By Adrienne Murrill

6/3/2008 - Gerald Fogelson is well acquainted with success. Since 1955, he has built a national name for himself in real estate, and he attributes much of that to preparation and persistence.
During a May 28 visit to the Kellogg School, developer Gerald Fogelson discussed the leadership mindset required to tackle challenging projects.
Photo © Rich Foreman

“If you’re not determined to get your goal, there are a number of times you just aren’t going to get there,” said the founder and president of Fogelson Companies during a May 28 visit to Kellogg. “I always say, ‘If there’s a wall in front of us, and you can’t go over it, go under it, go around it, go through it, get a bulldozer and knock it down. Do whatever the hell you have to do to get through that wall.’”

Fogelson shared this perspective with members of the Kellogg School’s Real Estate Club at an intimate luncheon in the James L. Allen Center. As the term’s final lecturer in the Executive Speaker series, he reflected on lessons from his career and how current affairs are impacting his industry.

Real estate is the arena where Fogelson’s expertise shines, but the leadership insights he has acquired there are relevant for any industry, he said. He emphasized the importance of using intuition when it comes to business: Even when the numbers are right, “if your gut doesn’t tell you this is a good deal, you’ve got a problem. You have to listen to your inner self.” Based on his four decades of experience, Fogelson said that when a person aligns a deal’s objective and subjective aspects, it almost never fails. “As you go on, you gain more and more experience that you can’t verbalize, and it becomes internalized.”

This has certainly been the case with his involvement with Chicago’s Central Station, an 80-acre mixed-use development on the city’s South Side. He purchased 67 of the acres in 1988, and today more than 5,000 residents call the neighborhood home, including the city’s Mayor Richard M. Daley. Through a partnership with Forest City Enterprises, the area is expected to be in excess of $3 billion upon completion.

Fogelson, who is also co-chairman and CEO of Central Station Development Corp., realized the development was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a legacy for his children and grandchildren, as well as for Chicago residents, a fact that his friend and attorney Leonard Schanfield pointed out to him. Fogelson said he agreed to the project as long as Schanfield would work with him. Schanfield then introduced Fogelson to Albert Ratner of Forest City Enterprises, and the team turned out to be a powerful force driving a real estate success story.

Fogelson’s passion for what he does has kept him in the business. “If you don’t enjoy [something], then don’t do it,” he told students matter-of-factly. “Anybody who doesn’t like what they do generally doesn’t do a good job at it.”

People always ask him why he still works at age 75, he said. His answer? “Because I still have as much enthusiasm every morning to get up as I always did.”