Some developers become fascinated with buildings during engineering classes. Others chance to start their careers in real estate, when the promise of its wealth grabs them. Still others appreciate the power of large buildings at a very young age – and Jorge Perez, chairman of The Related Group of Florida, is part of this last group.

Perez's interest in development began during his travels to different cities as a child, accompanying his mother and father, a wealthy businessman from pre-Castro Cuba. He was not only intrigued by the big buildings that dominated the skyline but by the communities and culture that sprang up in their shadows. After an early career in urban planning, Perez moved into development, where he has achieved his greatest success – which convinced Multifamily Executive to name him the Multifamily Executive 2004 Builder of the Year.

"My focus became to build buildings as an integral part of bigger neighborhoods," he says. "Since I was a kid, I remember going to cities and being fascinated by the way people interacted."

Jorge Perez, chairman of The Related Group of Florida Jeffery Salter
Jorge Perez, chairman of The Related Group of Florida Jeffery Salter

Perez's has turned this fascination into a passion. And, in the dog-eat-dog world of condominium construction in southern Florida, he has needed this enthusiasm, along with a strong vision, to stay ahead of the pack. Employees, bankers, partners, and friends marvel at his knowledge of the real estate market.

"When he goes into an area, you begin to see other people follow along behind him," says Gary Fitzgerald, senior vice president for the real estate financial services division of Wachovia, one of the company's lenders in Miami. "He gets in, takes advantage of the disconnect in the marketplace, is successful, and then moves to other opportunities."

Plus, he will build in locations that other developers overlook, like Lantana Bay, Fla. Perez developed this strategy from 20 years of building affordable, garden-style, and luxury buildings in South Florida. This experience not only helped him gain an intimate knowledge of the market but a network of loyal friends and local notoriety that help him secure deals.

Combine this with a template for success that includes taking calculated risks, creating urban environments, and having a passion for the business, and you can understand how The Related Group earned $965 million building 5,000 units in 2003 – a dynamic jump from the $297 million it earned building 2,000 units in 1998.