On Labor Day weekend, Don Peebles, Washington native and the founder and chairman of a multibillion-dollar real estate development company, hosted a charity benefit at his 10-acre estate here.
The former whaling village is part of New York’s Hamptons, the affluent beach community on Long Island that has been attracting wealthy summer residents for decades.
Against a backdrop of serenading Juilliard School violinists, a mix of celebrities and business executives mingled under an illuminated tent on a property fronted by a wrought-iron gate and entered through an alley of oak trees.
The fundraiser was to benefit Give Back for Special Equestrians, an organization that provides therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted scholarships for children and veterans with disabilities, including paralysis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Peebles and his wife, Katrina, were drawn to the charity, in part, because of their teenage daughter, Chloe, who is an avid horseback rider.
“It’s an enormous amount of work to organize, but it’s a labor of love for us,” said Peebles, 58, the son of a mechanic, who has built a real estate empire that includes a $5 billion portfolio of condo projects, hotels and office buildings.
The event raised nearly $50,000 for the charity and illustrates Peebles’s rise from modest roots in Washington to power broker in elite social circles and the competitive world of real estate.
The benefit also put his Hamptons home on display. He and his wife have listed the estate for sale through Douglas Elliman for $10 million.
The 7,140-square-foot residence was designed with Gilded Age amenities such as French doors that open to wrought-iron Juliet balconies and a Versailles-style double staircase off the back of the home that overlooks a large manicured lawn. The property includes three fireplaces, a pool and two guesthouses.
The couple purchased the six-bedroom home in 2007 for $5.3 million and say they plan to buy a smaller Hamptons property closer to the ocean when it sells.
“We’ve built a life in the Hamptons with our family and don’t plan to leave,” said Peebles, who shuttles to Sag Harbor by helicopter from the family’s Manhattan townhouse or by private plane from homes in Washington and Florida.
The property’s appeal goes beyond summer, said Katrina Peebles, a former public relations executive Peebles met in Washington and married in 1992. She’s principal and creative director at Peebles Corp.
“Fall in the Hamptons has always been more about family time for us, and less about socializing or parties,” she said, recalling family softball and football games played on the lawn.
“We love cooking Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners here,” she said, pointing to the large French country kitchen with copper sinks on the home’s lower level. “It was designed with a chef in mind, with two big islands and multiple ovens and counter space.
Peebles recently opened an office in the District, run by his 24-year-old son, R. Donahue Peebles III. He said the company plans to invest $1 billion in the D.C. market.
The company is about to break ground on a nearly 250,000-square-foot mixed-use project in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood.
The development at 901 Fifth St. NW will include the 176-room SLS Hotel, an adjacent 45-unit condo building and 10,000 square feet of retail space. As part of getting the development approved, the company agreed to build 61 units of affordable housing off-site.
“I’ve watched D.C. evolve into a world-class city, as opposed to just the nation’s capital,” he said.
“There’s more energy now, and that makes it an important place for us to target.”
Peebles grew up in the District’s Petworth neighborhood until age 8, when he moved with his mother to Detroit after his parents divorced. But the family eventually resettled in the District.
He dropped out of Rutgers after a year of pre-med studies to work as a real estate agent and property appraiser. His mother, who was 19 when Peebles was born, worked in real estate after her divorce, giving him early industry insight.
His real estate experience caught the eye of then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who appointed him chairman of the city’s real estate tax appeals board in 1984. Peebles, 24 at the time, said he benefited greatly from Berry’s mentorship.
“He opened doors for people like me at that time, when the doors of opportunity were closed for many African Americans in D.C.,” he said.
In 1986, still in his early 20s, Peebles started his career as a developer. His first project was a commercial office building in Anacostia, a once-bustling area that had endured years of neglect.
The project was a success and made Peebles an instant millionaire. It also led to the purchase of his first home: a $1 million property in the District’s Embassy Row.
After a $48 million office-building deal fell through in 1998, Peebles moved to Miami.
His redevelopment of the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort, a 420-room hotel in Miami Beach, became the nation’s first major hotel developed and owned by an African American.
His company is now one of the largest black-owned real estate development firms in the country.
Years of political and corporate connections have helped fuel Peebles’s ascent. A congressional page in high school who interned for then-U.S. Reps. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), Peebles became a staff aide for then-Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) before college.
Peebles has used his influence and wealth — estimated to be more than $700 million by Forbes magazine — to raise money for politicians including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
He twice served on President Obama’s national finance committee and is a former chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Peebles, author of two popular books on wealth and investing, and a regular on cable television, is mulling his own bid for public office.
“I haven’t ruled out politics,” Peebles said. “I grew up in D.C., and my goals were formulated there, so I’ve been engaged in politics all of my life.”
He’s contemplating a run for mayor of New York, a campaign he considered last year after consulting with former Obama aides and pollsters who worked for former mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“My interest would only be in a place where you could be transformative, and I think that’s at the chief executive level,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Peebleses are enjoying their getaway in the Hamptons.
The home was designed by Peter Cook, a Hamptons architect who has created several celebrity homes on the East End.
Peebles initially rented the property in 2004, before purchasing it in 2007.
The layouts of the rooms inside the home “are exceptionally well thought out and rather old school,” Katrina Peebles said. The main floor includes the formal dining room, with French doors on either end, the drawing room, a solarium and a large foyer.
The living room has furnishings from interior designer Todd Hase, including two gray mohair sofas. “I call it the tangerine room,” Katrina said, referring to the walls, which are painted in orange hues. She recently turned the space into a TV room after hiding a plasma TV disguised as art above the fireplace. “The interior stylings reflect a clean and very contemporary feel,” she said.
In the foyer, a walk through double French entry doors reveals views of the grounds and gardens behind the main house. A large charcoal figure painting hangs above small antique tables that rest between two French-style chairs covered in Scalamandre fabric. “The decor is me having fun with scale and pattern,” she said.
The solarium opens directly onto the back deck and gardens. The couple use the space for entertaining because it allows for indoor and outdoor living. The solarium has recently been redecorated to include Baxter sofas by designer Jonathan Adler. Katrina said she removed a whole suite of French, silk-covered armless chairs and settees “because there were complaints about the lack of comfort.”
The recreation room, with a full-length, handcrafted billiards table is on the home’s lower level.
One of the most influential African American businessmen, Don Peebles, is an inspiration to many people around the world. He is a real estate developer, a successful entrepreneur, author and the official owner of the Peebles Corporation. With a net worth of around $700M, Mr. Peebles has undoubtedly made a benchmark you can follow for a successful path in business.
He was a Rutgers University drop out planning to become a physician to help people in need. During his small duration in college, Peebles was already earning a considerable amount of money-all thanks to his inspiration in real estate business, his mother, Ruth Yvonne Willoughby. During his time at school, he also developed a strong work ethic which according to him — he gained through assisting his father who was a car mechanic at the time.
After his decision to leave college, he started his firm in Washington DC. His first input in the business world came in 1982 where he made some useful connections. Marion Barry, the notable mayor of Washington DC at the time, saw the potential in Don and gave him the opportunity to increase his influence.
The mayor helped him secure a position in the city tax appeal board. Don who was 23 at that point of time, learned a lot of tactics and gained some valuable information which made him the chairman of the board after just a year. That was just a start to one of the most influential and successful careers paths that must be taken as an example by both modern and future entrepreneurs.
The first deal he made was in a commercial district where he worked as a broker. He resolved a quarrel on a project where the seller was demanding a sum of $150,000 more than what the buyer was willing to pay. According to the owner of Peebles Corporation, he learned a lot from his first deal especially concerning the areas where you have to listen to both the parties for securing a successful deal.
According to Mr., Peebles, the deal that taught him to move forward and the other essentials required for a successful deal is the Royal Palm Deal. He bid for the agreement in 1996 where he successfully secured it. It was a considerable risk as the property was full of contaminated soil required a hefty sum of $80 million to be spent on. That was because of the extremely deteriorating condition of the site. The deal required a lot of patience — another lesson and virtue that young entrepreneurs need to build on!
Peebles is like a traditional development company which has a knack for taking big risks. The Royal Palm Hotel and the Bath Club deals are examples of some of the risks taken by Don on his way to success. There are special evaluations done before investment to see if it will be successful or not. In case of a loss, the company doesn’t look back which is a valuable lesson for any initial investor.
The respectful business personality has turned out to be a motivational figure who aims to provide more opportunities to the underappreciated minorities in his business ventures. Anyone individual who dreams to achieve a lot in the world can look up to Don Peebles as someone who despite all odds, is now an inch closer to becoming a billionaire. You can learn more about his successful life in his book, ‘The Peebles Principles’ which gives everyone the opportunity to learn more about securing a winning mentality in life.
It is one thing to start a family business. It is an entirely different thing to keep it alive.
Only 30% of family businesses survive past the first generation, and only 12% make it to the third. A dismal 3% of family businesses last to the fourth generation and beyond. In an industry as legacy-focused as commercial real estate, the ability to last beyond a lifetime can seem like a miracle. Bisnow reached out to some of the leading families in the industry for a new series on living a life of legacy in CRE. From making one’s own mark to selecting a worthy heir, the importance of working beyond the family business to the struggles of working for mom or dad, we spoke to some of the industry's biggest names to learn how they plan to pass the torch. The first installment asks a trio of leading East Coast real estate families how to overcome living and working in the shadow of the previous generation. From juggling college coursework and closing deals to injecting political power into the family business, the younger generations of these families have all found a way to muscle ahead and make a name for themselves.
While most college students were splitting time between midterms and keg parties, Donahue Peebles III was closing deals. The 23-year-old spent much of his time at Columbia University working on the affordable housing component of a project his family business, Washington-based Peebles Corp., was bidding to develop at Long Island Community Hospital in Downtown Brooklyn. The younger Peebles was the influencer behind the affordable component, as he had been encouraging his father, Don Peebles, to do more in that sector. “Donahue came to the business with a fresh set of eyes while sharing my values,” Don said. “He encouraged me to more broadly use our business activities as a tool for change and become part of a solution for the NYC affordable housing crisis by building some ourselves.” Affordable housing in New York was not the first occasion Donahue had pushed his father in relation to the industry. “Generally, it’s usually the father pushing the kid to be in the business,” Donahue said. “For me, I was pushing my dad to teach me more.” R. Donahue Peebles the elder got his first taste of real estate from his mother, who was a real estate broker and appraiser at Fannie Mae. While he was learning the ropes of real estate as early as age 8, Peebles said his mother still made a point of showing him life beyond P&L statements. He did the same with Donahue, encouraging his son to leave a unique footprint — be it with the Peebles Corp. or elsewhere. “My mother did what I did with Donahue. She exposed me to real estate, but also to things like law and politics, so I knew there was a broader world out there,” Don Peebles said. “My job as a parent was to make sure the world he saw was a very big place, and there were many things he could pursue.” But the real estate world was one Donahue knew he wanted to be a part of from a very early age, and his father did his best to accommodate his son’s growing interest. The Peebles Corp. spent the late 1990s and early 2000s redeveloping Miami’s The Royal Palm from its 1930s-era configuration into a modern, 400-room luxury hotel. Don found a way to get his son involved. The Royal Palm project manager had a 5-year-old Donahue shovel dirt from one pile to another.
Today, Donahue leads the company’s D.C. developments, including the SLS Hotel and Residences, a planned 176-room, 35-residential unit complex in Washington’s Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood. He attributes persistency from an early age as a key to his success. “For a fourth-grade career project, all my friends wanted to be a movie star, an NFL player or an NBA player. I said real estate developer,” Donahue said. “We did it again in the eighth grade. By then, all my NFL and NBA friends were doctors, lawyers or diplomats. I was still a real estate developer.” With such drive to enter the industry, Donahue maintains any new direction he takes the Peebles Corp. in will always reflect the initial vision created by his father. “What I try to do is further my father’s legacy by taking our shared cultural and ethical values and applying them to new business models,” Donahue said. “It’s the second generation’s responsibility to continue to push the boundaries of convention — to remain cutting edge, while still paying homage to the values and practices that serve as the foundation to the family’s success.”
There is no room for nepotism in the Epstein family. “In the next generation, there are no charity cases,” The Abbey Group CEO and founding partner Robert Epstein said. “Everyone is very bright, diligent and confident. All joined at a point when we needed to bring someone in, and they were the best hire.” The Abbey Group is one of the largest development firms in Boston, and its founders attribute the growth to each family member on the payroll bringing his or her own strengths. Robert and his brother, David, grew the business from the Abbey Cinema in the city’s Kenmore Square into a company known for some of the most striking developments on the skyline. The new generation of projects also presented an opportunity for the next Epstein generation to advance the family business. David’s son, Jason, joined The Abbey Group while it was moving forward with 45 Province, a 32-story luxury condo building in downtown Boston. He previously worked for Boston-based construction firm Suffolk, but eventually his construction expertise was needed closer to home. “Jason came when we did 45 Province and had a serious need for somebody with that construction knowledge. He was comfortably situated at Suffolk,” David said before joking, “We likely drew him out prematurely.” David’s son-in-law, Shane Baron, also joined the company around the time of 45 Province, bringing with him significant experience in residential property management. Robert’s son-in-law, William Keravuori, joined the Abbey team to lead construction, permitting and new opportunity analysis after honing his development skills at two real estate firms in New York City. Robert's daughter, Audrey Epstein Reny, who previously worked at Bain & Co. and taught at Northeastern University, joined when her decades of marketing and communications experience were needed. The family needed her skills for Exchange South End, a 1.6M SF tech and life science campus the company is proposing that has been touted as a possibility for Amazon HQ2 should the city win the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters. “We each brought our outside experience that helped build upon what Bob and David created,” Audrey said. “The first construction project my dad and I did was my doll house when I was 9. It’s exciting to think what we might do with 1.6M SF in the South End.” The younger generation’s outside experience is how it can leave its own mark on the company while adding to its legacy. Audrey points to an ongoing push to use new technologies in marketing to a younger demographic as to how they are advancing their own initiatives while building upon Robert and David’s vision. While it might seem difficult to transition from a corporate setting of strictly professional relationships to one where your colleagues in the boardroom are the same people showing up to the family dinner table, Audrey said it has been the ideal working environment. “What was interesting is I had worked in management consulting and at other big corporations, so coming into a smaller family business was interesting to bring an outside perspective,” Audrey said. “Working for family members is much better than working for strangers. They are who you can trust the most in the world and be honest with.” As more Epsteins join the family business, it would be easy to think legacy had been Robert and David’s ulterior motive all along. But there is no strategic business plan for the next generation to take over, David said. The brothers want their children to pursue their own dreams. “I don’t think I did or did not think of whether my daughters or potential sons-in-law would be in business with us,” Robert said. “There wasn’t any scheme to work with us. There were schemes to get them to live locally.”
The Paolino family of Providence encourages its members to find a career beyond their fourth-generation development company to propel their own brand forward. It also means each generation eventually leaves its own mark on the family business. “I’m better in real estate development because of what I learned in the public sector,” former Providence Mayor and Paolino Properties Managing Partner Joseph Paolino Jr. said. Before joining Paolino Properties in 1996, Joseph was mayor of Providence from 1984 to 1991 and the U.S. Ambassador to Malta from 1994 to 1996. “I’m more patient with government," he said. "I’m very respectful of government officials and can be critical of them when I think they’re being stupid, because I know what they can do and what they can’t do.” Paolino Properties was founded in 1900 and specializes in real estate investment, development and the management of properties throughout Rhode Island. Joseph and his sister, Donna Paolino, run the company, but while real estate may dominate the family bloodline, Joseph’s affinity for politics has distinguished his tenure at the company from prior generations'. After he was mayor, Joseph Paolino served as the director of the Rhode Island Department of Economic Development. His time in public service made him a better developer and investor, he said. He could bring his deep knowledge of the Rhode Island political system back to Paolino Properties and more efficiently navigate projects through government. He encourages his four children to take similar time away to explore their own interests before committing to a life on the Paolino payroll. “You can’t hold these young kids back. Let them do what they want to do,” Joseph said. “Eventually, I think the younger generation will be here, but they have to do it on their pace. I didn’t do it until I was 42, so why should I expect them to in their 20s? If they choose to enter this business, I hope they work elsewhere before coming here so they can add something to enhance and grow the company in their own way.” While Joseph attributes the company’s position today to his father, he also sees where his time in the public sector has been a boon for business. “When I joined the company, he was getting older and needed someone to expand it and reinforce the family brand that downtown and Providence is our base,” Joseph said. “I’ve been able to expand the portfolio and bring it to a different era. I had a bit of a head start because of the public positions I held.”
Joseph’s three daughters and son have each pursued careers in real estate or public policy away from the family business. While he has cast a large shadow in both spheres, Joseph’s children are finding ways to navigate their own course. Jennifer Paolino, 33, works at Brown University’s Swearer Center for Public Service, where she runs several academic programs providing civic engagement opportunities and practical work experiences to students. She was previously deputy director of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships during the Obama administration. “When I was growing up, and for the majority of my childhood, my dad didn't work in real estate. He worked in politics and government,” Jennifer said. “The only pressure that I experienced was both of my parents instilling the importance of public and community service. As a result, I never really considered a career in real estate.” Like her father, Jennifer recognizes public service can still be a useful tool in making her own legacy in a later real estate career. “It wasn't until my grandfather suggested that I take a leadership role in the company someday that it crossed my mind,” Jennifer said. “It would be incorrect to imply that I don't see myself working for Paolino Properties at some point in the future. I am still figuring out if there is a clear path for me to get there. I've always believed that it is important for me to bring something new to the company.” Another of Joe’s three daughters, 31-year-old Christina, has embraced a career in commercial real estate before her sister. She worked at Suffolk in Boston before moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, and working for a residential remodeling company. Now back in Rhode Island, Christina has her real estate sales license and contractor’s license. She has plans to get her broker’s license this spring with the goal of eventually selling properties for Paolino Properties. “My dad has had a lifetime to become ‘Joe,’” Christina said. “I want that opportunity as well. As I continue to grow in my career, I think I just keep hoping that the more people I meet and the more I do on my own, the more I will be able to create a name for myself, and be ‘Christina.’ That is super important to me.”
A successful developer who doubles as a sought-after media personality, writes books and has political aspirations. No, not now-President Donald Trump.
Peebles Corp. CEO Don Peebles and moderator/McDermott Ventures founder Pam McDermott at Bisnow's Trump Era Forecast event in BostonThe above is referring to Peebles Corp. Chairman and CEO Don Peebles, who founded the firm in 1983. Peebles has steered the privately held real estate investment and development firm into a national player with more than 6M SF and $5B worth of projects completed and underway in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami Beach and Washington, D.C. Peebles' accomplishments do not stop there. The author of “The Peebles Principles" has also appeared as a guest on CNN and Fox and is a political mainstay. At present he is chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and a former member of President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee. He also has mulled running for office in the past, especially as mayor of New York City. Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry? Peebles: I am the equivalent of a movie director and producer combined. I don’t have any specialized skill or technical expertise, but I bring vision and leadership. I attract talented people to work on our projects and give them the autonomy to apply their skills. A more technical and generic description is I buy land or existing structures and create value by transforming them into the highest and best uses. That may include office buildings, residential buildings and hotels. Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do? Peebles: I would be mayor of New York City or president of the United States.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had? Peebles: There is really no such thing as a bad job! There is honor and dignity in any job and there is always pleasure that comes from those feelings. The job that was the hardest was when I was 13 and I worked on a janitorial crew cleaning the offices of a large orthodontist practice. My job was to pick up all of the wires removed from the patients braces that ended up on the floor. The floor was industrial carpet and the wires would get stuck in the loops of the carpet. It was very frustrating and time-consuming, especially for a 13-year-old boy. Bisnow: What was your first big deal? Peebles: My first big deal was in 1986 when I was 26 years old. I proposed building a 100K SF office building development in an economically blighted area in southeast Washington, D.C. I secured a lease from the government of Washington, D.C. I completed the building in 1989, still own this building today and the city is still the major tenant. In fact, my son is overseeing the renovation of the building as we speak. Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure? Peebles: Luckily, to this day, I have been able to mitigate most losses associated with developments that haven’t gone as projected, especially as a result of the financial crises of 2008. The biggest failure I have experienced as a developer was losing an election ballot initiative to rezone a 90-acre site I owned on the Pacific Ocean in a town called Pacifica in California, just outside of San Francisco. After campaigning for several months we lost the vote by about 500 votes. I ended up selling the site a few years later for a small loss. Bisnow: How do you define “making it”? Peebles: Being able to have the trifecta — A happy and loving family life, an enjoyable and profitable career, and the means to pay it forward. Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve? Peebles: Incompetence. Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor? Peebles: My mother. She taught me compassion, empathy and determination. She encouraged me to dream big and to develop the self-confidence to make those dreams come true. She taught me by action that it wasn’t how much you had, but what you were willing to give.
Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten? Peebles: “Focus on the down side and the upside will take care of itself.” Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance? Peebles: Flying private. It’s a big time-saver. Especially, taking a helicopter to East Hampton to visit my summer estate in Bridgehampton or to Teterboro Airport to the plane. Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world? Peebles: Louis XV in Monaco. Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say? Peebles: I know President Trump and met with him shortly after he was elected. I am intensely focused on creating an environment of equal economic opportunity, especially in the real estate business, which has always excluded diversity. The president and I had a positive discussion about working together to drive this agenda forward. When I see him again, I plan to remind him of this discussion and encourage him to implement the plan of action we discussed. Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken? Peebles: Dropping out of college and giving up on a career in medicine. Bisnow: Whose work do you most admire? Peebles: My friend Robert Smith. He is an immensely successful entrepreneur, a committed father and husband and spends his time and money giving back by supporting causes that improve the quality of life for many forgotten people in America and around the globe. He sets the standard of a world citizen. Bisnow: What keeps you up at night? Peebles: My wife and children’s safety, good health and happiness. Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about? Peebles: Outside and inside of my work it’s my family. I spend every possible moment with my wife and children. They are my driving force and the reason I strive to be a better person and to succeed in all that I do.