Real estate mega-project developer speaks on work ethic, hiring and inclusion
Marc Weller is president of Sagamore Development, a real estate company working on one of the largest urban revitalization projects in the United States, called Port Covington, on more than two miles of Baltimore’s waterfront. Weller spoke to Adam Bednar, a reporter at The Daily Record, about how he got his start and what he sees as his legacy.
Portions of this interview have been edited.
Adam Bednar: Let’s start very light. Tell me how it got started. Lead me into the story here.
Marc Weller: You go way, way back when you really look at your career from from forty-five years. I think back to when I was about 15 years old, when we moved here (to Maryland) from Buffalo, New York, and my father bought me a tractor. The purpose of the tractor was to mow his lawn. He bought me some tools too. So he said, “I’m not going to pay you any money, but I’m going to give you this tractor, you’re going to take care of my lawn, and then you can figure out how to make money with the tools and the tractor and the trailer and so on that I bought you.”
So I proceeded to do that. I started in the neighborhood doing various odd jobs, and then that led to landscaping. Landscaping was an incredible opportunity, because professional landscapers are so expensive and we could do something similar at a lower cost. We would go out with our tractor, our tools and use our sales skills by knocking on doors, meeting our parents’ friends, and started doing mulch and started planting geraniums and other various bushes and so on.
At the end of the day, I not only got a handful of money, cash or check, but I also had great satisfaction. I was able to look back on what I did and really smile upon the day or sometimes two days’ worth of work. And I really felt accomplished. And I think that that was probably one of the key drivers in getting me to where I’m at right now, which is constantly being able to look, touch, and see what it is that I create and build, and leave in better condition than when I got here.
AB: How does that work ethic that you mentioned that was instilled early in you through landscaping apply still today?
MW: I’m really fortunate. And not everybody gets this incredible opportunity: every single day I watched my dad get up shave and put on a tie and leave for the office from house to go to work every day like clockwork. My mom also did that for most of my life as well. My father was an executive with a company called Service Systems in Buffalo that was bought by Marriott and my mother was an emergency room nurse who headed up the emergency room in Buffalo and then worked at Shady Grove Hospital here. But watching them go to work every day was a great example of what it is you’re supposed to do. And it didn’t matter what you did, but it just mattered that you worked really hard and were trying real hard and were passionate about it.
AB: You’re easy to talk to; you seem to engage well with people. How important is having these people skills in real estate?
MW: I think that people-to-people is pretty much everything, especially when you get to this level. I think if you’re going to run a company, it’s all about relationships. It’s about relationships with your direct teammates. It’s about relationships with your vendors. It’s about relationships with your banks and everybody in between. A lot of this business is done upon trust. Your proven track record and your actions all come down to how much people trust you. I think relationships and having that personality is really really important. I think also the type of personality you have to have isn’t necessarily one that is like a game show host, but maybe it can be just a sincere person that really is interested in other people and what they’re doing and what they’re trying to accomplish.
AB: You mentioned this was a team effort getting this done -huge project. Tell me about some of the qualities that you were looking for in people when you were building your team and the people that you wanted to surround yourself with to make this happen.
MW: Well the first thing about hiring a team is — and I think it’s one of the things that myself and some of the other teammates that I have are very very good at is hiring teammates — you want to hire people that can replace you, that are better than you. And I always encourage folks, especially the younger folks out there that are starting to make their hires for their teams, hire folks that are better than you, and if you do that, your team will be great. It’ll push everybody.
We do a multiple-interview process for anybody that comes on the team. You probably go through anywhere from three to seven interviews, and a lot of it isn’t about your background and your ability to do the job, it’s as much about your personality and your ability to play within the team structure that we have.
We’re looking for somebody that’s humble and hungry and really wants to under-promise and over-deliver and really thinks that it’s all about the team and isn’t looking for personal credit and isn’t necessarily looking to move their career along as quickly as possible sitting in the new position they’re going to be in.
AB: Has there been any one kind of experience that you’ve learned something from during this deal that you didn’t know before doing.
MW: There’s probably hundreds of things that I’ve learned during this deal. But I think one of my favorite things that I’ve learned about this so far is that when you’re sitting closer to the top of the food chain, you have the ability to effectuate change in thinking, particularly around inclusion and around some of the things that are very important to us: creating jobs, getting people back to work, inclusion and so on. We are able to dictate the tempo based on the fact of where we sit.
The contractors, the engineers, the architects, they’re waiting for leadership, and leadership becomes the larger developers and business people in the communities telling them, “this is how it’s going to be going forward.”
We’ve made a point to put that culture of helping people up and giving people a hand up through the process of inclusion in our jobs and in our projects, and I think that that will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest legacies that we leave.
Hear more of Weller in the “Insights” business podcast at bettersmb.com.