Forbes Real Estate Council member Stephen Congel is the CEO of Pyramid Management Group, the largest family-owned developer of enclosed shopping centers in the northeastern United States — currently in its second generation. Its portfolio of retail-based, tourist, entertainment and hospitality destinations includes 17 properties located in New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia. He’s also a father of six, an avid outdoorsman, and an international traveler and skier.
Congel says he was groomed for his role in the family business. He studied entrepreneurship in college, then spent time working at Pyramid, getting a sense of the business and contributing to its growth. After leaving Pyramid to start his own real estate advisory firm headquartered in Singapore, he returned to the family business; this time as CEO.
For the past decade, Congel has led Pyramid to grow, innovate, and thrive in the face of adversity, adapting based on industry and market conditions. “We are a bottom-line driven business,” he says. “As such, we gauge success by our bottom-line results across each of our properties.”
Congel believes in “old-fashioned hard work, studying every situation, and placing an emphasis on knowledge. Knowledge always wins. Having knowledge of markets, assets, tenants, and competitors will always prepare you for success.”
Below, Congel shares his thoughts on working in a family business, developing ideas, employee growth, and the evolution of retail.
On Working in a Family Business
I was groomed from my early years to be exposed to all facets of the business and industry, including my time spent outside of the company. I started in the field at one of our shopping centers to learn the business from the bottom and moved into specialty leasing, then permanent leasing, to the development team at Destiny USA — our flagship property in Syracuse, NY — to my current position as CEO. My thirst for knowledge and learning has always propelled me forward.
On Developing Ideas
The best part of the work that I do is being able to take an idea from conception to completion and presenting it to the public for consumption — whether that’s a new store concept, new hotel, or major renovation to one of our assets. I’ve always been a believer in trying new ideas. If all of our ideas are successful, it means we are not pushing the envelope hard enough or trying enough new ideas.
On Employee Growth
I have found that you need to trust, empower, and delegate to people. By doing so, you grow in aptitude and attitude as a leader.
I am inspired by watching and playing a role in employee growth — seeing them take on more challenges and even be in demand outside of our company. We take great pride in the fact that our employees are actively sought out by our competitors. That’s a direct reflection of how much we invest in them and foster their potential.
On the Evolution of Retail
You can’t hide from change. If you don’t embrace it, it will destroy you. We’re seeing rapid changes in consumer preferences and a volatile retail industry. But I am a firm believer that adversity creates opportunity. Today’s challenges present incredible opportunities for transformation. Now is the time to re-define what’s next for the industry.
The industry has always looked to us for what’s next. We have always been first and fast, and well ahead of the curve in terms of incorporating exciting mixed uses in our properties, from experiential retail and entertainment to spa, hospitality, residential and more. We have an incredible opportunity to continue to redefine the next chapter of our industry — and we’re doing it.
Best day of your life?
There are six—each of the days my six children were born.
Historical figure you wish you could meet?
Who is your personal hero?
My father, the founder of Pyramid, Bob Congel.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t hesitate. That was from my father.