At age 91, President Elliot Landsman is retiring from the company he founded, Landsman Development Corp.
Instead of the office, Landsman plans to spend weekdays at his Seneca Point cottage on Canandaigua Lake. While he will maintain some involvement as the firm’s chairman, his main focus will become civic involvement, he said.
Landsman already has won a long series of awards for philanthropy throughout his career, including the Harold Hecker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jewish Community Federation; the Dr. David Satcher Community Health Achievement Award from the University of Rochester Medical Center; and the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for achievements in philanthropy and the distinguished volunteer service award from the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.
Leaving Landsman Development is going to be difficult, he said.
"I’ve been in the office quite often. It’s hard (to leave) when it’s your life," Landsman said.
"I don’t make decisions now," he explained. "I cheer, and on occasion I complain, but that’s a privilege. The company is running without me in the sense that I’m the cheerleader."
Landsman leaves the company reins to CEO James Goff, who joined the firm as chief operating officer in 2001 after a 23-year career at Bausch & Lomb Inc. Goff became CEO in 2006. He calls Landsman a strong leader, a mentor and friend. Landsman’s decision to leave is huge, because the company is Landsman’s life and passion, Goff said.
"It would be very difficult to find a better person to develop a company and to balance the business matters, the employees, the regulatory issues and the community better than he has," Goff said.
Landsman founded the company in 1971 at age 51-when some people might start looking forward to retirement. Instead, he spent the next 10 years expanding the business to three separate subsidiaries, which today employ 150 people.
Before forming his construction company, Landsman started an electrical contracting company and an industrial supply business in the 1940s and 1950s. He then was president of Fannon Metals, which became Arnold Magnetic Technologies Corp.
Landsman got his first taste of real estate in the 1950s when he partnered with Irving Norry to refurbish the Symington-Gould factory in Rochester. In the 1970s, he shifted into a career of developing industrial, commercial and multifamily residential real estate.
The company has been able to maintain employment in recent years despite restrained growth because of the recession and increasing property vacancies.
Profits grew 10 percent from 2009 to 2010, down from pre-recession growth of 33 percent from 2005 to 2006, for example.
Increasing vacancy rates in Rochester have pushed the company to seek growth in other areas of its business.
While Landsman said the company has seen hard times before, Goff said the company has never seen the kind of mass vacancy in Rochester that there is today.
The high vacancy rate "is due to, for example, Kodak putting over 10 million square feet of vacancy on the market," Landsman said.
Xerox Corp., he noted, also vacated a 500,000-square-foot building that Harris Corp.’s RF Communications is now renovating to accommodate its growth-which means that RF Communications is moving out of the space it has rented from Landsman Development for years. Losing RF Communications from the company’s Carlson Park was a big hit.
"We will constantly re-adapt," Goff said. "We’ve met with a number of people who are looking. A number of people are out there kicking tires, but mostly it’s developers feeling from each other based on lowering rents. Rents we’re seeing now have been lower than we’ve seen in many, many years, but it’s just what you have to do," Goff said.
To cope with lower rent revenue, the company is strengthening its other subsidiaries and expanding into other markets such as Pennsylvania and Watertown.
The Building Services Group Inc. subsidiary was formed in 1980 out of the maintenance team for Landsman’s management operations. It since has become a residential and commercial general contractor, with recent renovation or construction projects such as high-rise apartments and townhouses on St. Paul Street at St. Simon’s Terrace, Pittsford Colony Plaza on Monroe Avenue and offices for plumbing company J.T. Mauro Co. Inc.
Building Services Group ranked 14th on the Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of commercial builders with $9.4 million in total dollar volume of non-residential projects, down from almost $9.9 million the year before.
Landsman Real Estate Services Inc. was launched in 1972 as the company’s property management arm. Today it manages almost 5.6 million square feet of industrial, multifamily and office real estate, most of which it owns in partnership with affiliates. The company ranked fourth on the Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of property management firms.
Real Estate Services has been doing more business as a third-party manager to compensate for lower occupancy at company properties. Among the third-party management projects is a homeless shelter slated for Dewey Avenue. A group out of New York City hired Real Estate Services for the job.
The company also will be managing several projects in Watertown for Buffalo-based developer Norstar Development USA, as well as some local properties for Rochester’s Cornerstone Group Ltd.
To increase revenue, the company has been turning to other geographic areas, such as Watertown and New Castle, Pa., where Building Services Group is constructing a medical office building.
"We’re trying different things to grow the company," Goff said.
"BSG, our construction company, has done a number of significant projects. The Stantec project in High Falls was completed recently. That was a BSG total renovation of the old Jillian’s, which was an adaptive reuse. They’re also doing a major renovation for Optimax, a really nice little optical company that is growing," he added.
"Despite the economic times, we’re finding ways to get through it and continue to grow the company and keep our people employed," Goff said.
Landsman said he and his family have complete confidence in Goff and his ability to keep expanding the company despite the economic turbulence. He will do it, Landsman said, by continuing to find operating improvements and efficiencies without affecting benefits, salaries and raises that go to employees, who he said ultimately are the future of the company.
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