CEO Of The Month, Michael A. Pollack

Michael Pollack1

By Dan Baldwin

Michael A. Pollack describes his management style as conservative aggressive and very Old West. “I shoot from the hip, shoot quick, and try not to miss.”

Pollack is the president and founder of Pollack Investments, one of the largest independently-owned and operated real estate companies in Arizona. Pollack Investments specializes in all aspects of real estate in Arizona, Nevada and California. He has more than 40 years of experience in the dynamic real estate industry and has been involved in more than 12 million square feet of commercial projects in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Louisiana.

“I’m very conservative, yet I’m very aggressive at the same time. That sounds like a dichotomy, but it’s not. I’m conservative until I see what I want and then I’ve been known to become very aggressive,” Pollack says.

“I don’t micromanage. I have good people and I let them do what they do really well. When it comes to the creative side and when it comes to figuring out whether a project is going to be successful that comes down to me. I take the blame if there is any to be had. I don’t try to pass it off,” he says.

As an example of his conservative aggressive style, Pollack relates the story of when he was in competition with six investors who wanted to buy a specific shopping center. The seller was preparing for a trip to Germany. Pollack found out what flight the seller was taking and booked a seat on that flight. “I was determined that by the time we landed in Germany I was going to be the one chosen to buy his shopping center. That’s about as aggressive as you can get,” he says.

The Renovation King of Distressed Property
Pollack started his real estate career in San Jose, California in 1973. Because he had an extensive background in construction and development he invested the first seven or eight years in developing new homes and new apartments. The economic downturn of 1979-80 caused him to make significant changes in his business strategy.

Interest rates in those years were spiking as high as 19 percent and builders were finding it difficult if not impossible to finance and build new properties. Pollack says there was just no way to make the numbers work profitably. “I had to reinvent myself into something that would be more sustainable and that would work in that particular moment in time.” That’s when Pollack began the journey into redevelopment of apartments and retail centers earning him the title, “Renovation King of Distressed Properties” and later to be referred to as the “Plastic Surgeon of Commercial Real Estate.”

Pollack’s definition of redeveloping is to reposition an existing asset or assets and make them far superior and better than the day they were built. That is not as simple as it might sound, he says. “Redevelopment to me is a lot different than it is to others. Redevelopment to me is not tearing it all down and starting all over again. To me that actually is developing a new site. I approach an old, tired existing retail center and redevelop it into the new millennium. New exterior treatments that include new fascia’s, paint, roofing, tower features, rock and stone siding, new landscaping, new parking lot and plenty of expanded glass.”

Redevelopment is more than a matter of just dollars and cents to Pollack. “My goal is to bring a project from dream to reality and when it hits reality it’s going to be something that both the neighborhood and surrounding communities can be proud of,” he says. “Most importantly, it doesn’t matter to me what economic area it’s in. It doesn’t matter to me what the demographics show or don’t show, I’m in the business for the long term.”

A Lifetime in the Trades
Pollack’s exposure to the building trades, construction sites and real estate began at an extremely early age and that experience is one of his and his firm’s greatest assets. His father and his grandfather were in construction and built apartment complexes, multitenant buildings and single-family houses. When he was just able to walk, his father took him for a walk to one of his father’s construction sites.

He started working job sites at the age of seven and throughout the years he gained hands-on experience in practically every trade in the construction industry. “You name it, I pretty much did it. There’s nothing like hands-on experience. At the time it was a lot of hard work. I was just a kid. But today, I look back and I am very grateful and wouldn’t change a thing for that experience,” Pollack says.

Before moving to Arizona, Pollack was a general contractor and real estate salesman in California. He managed and owned more than 10,000 apartment units at one time. Although people know him as someone who’s been in the retail business in the Arizona marketplace, his start was in single family, multifamily and industrial properties and he didn’t get into retail until the mid-1980s. As with construction, there are very few aspects of the real estate industry that Pollack has not done at one time or another.

The hands-on background has proven invaluable in terms of keeping within budget, staying on schedule, and in building a reputation for quality work. “Early in my career a man with a spray rig told me it was going to take him three days to spray exterior walls of an apartment project,” Pollack says. “Even at my young age I could spray those same walls in a day. And I did. Budgeting, scheduling and quality control is what’s important. The man with the spray rig was not going to pull any wool over my eyes.”

He says that the work they do today is more detailed by far than what they used to do. Although some of the projects are smaller, that’s a result of learning to be conservative after living through the most turbulent time of all times in the real estate business second only to the great depression from 2008 to 2012 – a four year dry spell. “I even predicted in the media way back in 2006 that the great depression in commercial and residential real estate was coming, and it did. Today, no matter the income level of an area, when I complete a project it’s something the neighborhood, the surrounding community and I are going to be proud of. That is more important than anything; I won’t compromise quality for profits,” Pollack says.

Today, Pollack is optimistic about the commercial real estate industry. “As the real estate market has started to improve in the last year and a half the only thing that has gone down significantly when it comes to real estate people is prescriptions to antidepressants,” he says.

Supporting the Communities He Helps Build
Pollack has received extensive city, state and national awards and recognitions for his redevelopment projects, which in many cases have revitalized entire neighborhoods. In a recent proclamation from the City of Chandler, Arizona, Pollack was recognized for the more than 400,000 square feet of shopping center space he has redeveloped and repositioned in the community.

Pollack has also invested considerably in sharing some of his passions with the community.

Pollack collects fine art – mostly modern art and a significant amount of his collection is of three dimensional art. Some of his biggest collections are in the Pollack Advertising Museum, located in a 10,000 squarefoot space in his corporate headquarters in Mesa.

The collection houses more than 8,000 pieces including such diverse collections as advertising works dating back to the 1700s to slot machines dating to the late 1800s. Some slots were used in the Chicago speakeasies owned or operated by the infamous Al Capone.

Pollack shares some of his other collections in his one-of a- kind, discount movie theater, Pollack Tempe Cinemas in Tempe, Arizona.

Pollack has completely redefined the theatre with new state of the art video and sound plus all new high back theatre seating throughout. All of this and at a discount admission of only $3.00.

Pollack is very active and has supported more than 40 civic and charitable organizations and causes throughout Arizona.

Applying his conservative aggressive approach to art and culture has been applauded by the general public and has been a source of personal joy and satisfaction to many. Pollack says, “The best part of my job is being able to bring a smile to others and an appreciation of life. We do our best to give back to the community on a regular basis. I think being there to help others at this particular point in my life is one of the most important parts of my career,” Pollack concluded