September 9, 2010
Today on Buzz Talk we bring you our interview with Jack Winberg (right), CEO of The Rockport Group (note: the hatted-guy on the left is BuzzBuzzHome’s Matthew Slutsky).
If you’re unfamiliar with Rockport, they’ve built successful projects all over Southern Ontario, from Aurora to Ajax and Scarborough to Pickering. You’ll also see that they are a true jack-of-all-trades when it comes to land development. Condos, industrial buildings, shopping centres, Rockport has done it all.
Unsurprisingly, it seems Mr. Winberg is a jack-of-all-trades himself…
How long has The Rockport Group been in business?
It was started in 1957 by my father Burt. I came up through business school and then law school and practiced law for about a dozen years until I joined my father in the land development business in 1988.
That’s quite a change going from a law practice to land development.
No they’re quite complementary to be honest with you. I was predominantly a land problems lawyer. Many of my clients were developers or municipalities, so I spent a lot of time dealing with the problems that people who owned land and wanted to develop it had to face. My training was very complementary to the business I’m in now.
How many projects has the Rockport Group built?
Ridgewood was our 90th completion. We’re gettin’ close to a hundred. That’s all kinds of projects though – shopping centres, golf course communities, we’ve done a bit of everything. We’ve probably done 30 or 40 condos and single family homes.
What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on four projects. We’re completing Ridgewood One and we’ve just launched Ridgewood II[map], which is a 145 suite condominium across the street from Ridgewood I. We’re working on Twenty-One Clairtrell[map] at Bayview and Sheppard. And also we’re hoping to get started on a fabulous new retirement community in Unionville called Main Street.
What’s up next for Rockport? You’ve got the retirement home coming up, but is there anything else in the future?
No, we stay pretty close to the market. After we survived the 1990s recession we made the decision not to have a deep inventory. We try to stay attuned to the market and buy products that are ready to go or close to ready to go so that we can have products that are ready to go to market and meet the needs of the communities we think we can serve.
We’ve had a wonderful run of being able to keep projects coming and to go from one to another. Right now I’ve got 400 units of condos underway and 275 units of retirement homes and we’re always talking to people about new projects and we continue to find new projects to undertake.
Houses or condos, which do you have more fun building?
I have much more fun building the condos. They offer more opportunities to incite the design talents of my people, the marketing tends to be more interesting and I’m able to focus all the efforts on one building instead of 250 separate single family homes. It’s just a very different operation. I think the condo business just incites the creative juices of the Rockport Group more than the housing or low-rise business.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you got your start?
Depending upon how you look at it, our industry has continued to respond. Our world has changed dramatically over the past forty years; in terms of technology, in terms of transportation, in terms of energy. And our industry has responded and has continued to meet the demands of the ever-changing needs of society. I can’t really point to one specific change because it’s constantly evolving.
Do you wear a fancy watch or a more practical watch?
I don’t wear a watch. When I was a lawyer, I used to live life in six-minute increments. You used to have to keep track of your time in tenths of a minute because that’s how lawyers billed for their time. When I left law I took off my watch and haven’t put it on since.
A weekend taking in the theatre in the city or a weekend at Algonquin Provincial Park?
I’d take Algonquin Park all the way. My friends and I always go up there once a year and as we often say, the bank can’t call you with a problem when you’re up in Algonquin Park. It’s nice to be completely away.
Do you prefer reading a paperback books or electronic books? Do you need all the latest technology?
I do both. I’ve got my iPad sitting by my side here today and I was just visiting my father and we read the Globe and Mail online. I like to think I’m quite an early adopter of this technology. That being said, when I’m up in Algonquin Park, I’m perfectly happy flipping through a paperback book.