Bentley Zhao, president, New Empire Corp., New York, NY.
Area of expertise: Commercial Real Estate
Bentley Zhao has made his career in real estate ever since completing his studies in Architecture at New York City College and in Economics at Baruch College. Zhao has been working in the fields of architecture, engineering, general contracting, and building supplies for the past 22 years.
What has been the biggest challenge in your particular role? The biggest challenge in this industry and role is the constant change in the market and environment, especially when it comes to interest rates and trends. Cost control has been a challenge as well when it comes to land acquisitions and construction budgets. To overcome such obstacles, it’s important for New Empire to buy at a fair market price with good chance of appreciation and standardize and optimize the construction process while ensuring the quality without compromising the efficiency. All in all, it’s always important to have a Plan B and remain nimble and flexible in an everchanging industry.
What about your current role at the company are you most happy with? My team’s work at New Empire offers residents a home and sense of community. Through our efforts, we’re seeing a social impact as well with direct and indirect job creation. Indirectly, we’re able to develop communities, and bring together local businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, etc., while directly creating more jobs in the construction/service space, as well as architects, engineers and more.
What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you succeed in your industry? Also, do you have any advice specifically for the next generation? The best piece of advice I’ve received is to “learn from the master.” When it comes to succeeding in the industry, it’s important to associate with people who inspire you, while observing how they think and make decisions, and learning from their past stories, projects, failures, and successes. My advice for the next generation is to stay focused, keep an open mind, and be able to make your own decision. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes if you learn from them.
Would you advise any younger person to begin a career in CRE? Yes, if it’s of interest and the willingness to learn. Anyone can start almost anything at anytime and anywhere, although there is no fixed formula for it. If it’s something one is passionate about, you can learn virtually, in a classroom, and through real-world experience – just depends on that person’s want and need to effectively grow. Everyone’s journey is unique, and I don’t think I would necessarily act differently or change from how I began my career, so I’d rather look ahead.
Please share with us an initiative that you are working on that you are most proud of. Currently, I am working on a modular development. It’s a new angle for New Empire that proves to be a cost-effective strategy and wouldn’t limit us to a specific geographic location. With this modular development, we’ll be able to expand rapidly and manage more risk since the development schedule is significantly shortened. If successful, this will ultimately result in New Empire gaining a larger national footprint.
In your opinion, what takeaways did we learn from the COVID-19 crisis? It’s important we remain flexible and open-minded, keep up with the market and trends and build quality projects that hold long-term value. Overall trends and takeaways we’ve seen and implemented into our future projects are developing near parks, offering outdoor spaces, and providing more furnished spaces with additional space for multi-use rooms.
What three words would you use to describe your work mindset? Be the best.