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Solid foundation was the start for SJP's growth Careful attention, 'lucky timing' helps Pozycki stay ahead of trends in commercial real estate

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'Without Steve Pozycki and his team,' Panasonic stays out of Newark, an executive says. Here, Pozycki in his office.
'Without Steve Pozycki and his team,' Panasonic stays out of Newark, an executive says. Here, Pozycki in his office. - ()

It might look like Steve Pozycki is always reading the tea leaves of commercial real estate, but it's only because in more than 30 years, he's never stopped paying attention.

In the early 1980s, with New Jersey's suburban office boom still in its earliest stages, SJP Properties' founder set out to build more than 500,000 square feet of speculative space in Parsippany. The Morris County submarket was churning, driven by corporate titans like AT&T, and after acquiring a site at the nexus of interstates 287 and 80, he was confident about the location of the future Morris Corporate Center I and II.

"We were able to do extremely well financially on that first project," said Pozycki, who found the building 88 percent leased by the end of construction. "So looking back, it was lucky timing. And we learned about the process and have tried to do better ever since."

For the Parsippany-based developer, embracing office parks in the state's western suburbs started its history of "studying our region" to guide the company's evolution, he said. It continued in the late 1990s, when SJP saw the early trend lines toward waterfront urban hubs, like Hoboken and Jersey City, followed by its move into multifamily development in 2004.

The firm is now making its next bid to adapt by placing a new focus on third-party construction services, Pozycki said, citing the growing pool of tenants reassessing their space needs and an aging office network. And SJP counts one of the state's most high-profile projects among its early assignments — it's serving as project manager for Prudential Financial, which is building a new office complex in downtown Newark and will retain ownership of the property once it's complete.

Pozycki said the shift builds on a long body of work with corporate clients, including some 32 build-to-suit projects among its 25 million square feet of developed office space. It's also a nod to the institutional knowledge within his ranks — SJP has never had mass layoffs since its founding, he said, and the average tenure of its executives is about 20 years.

"If you look back over the history of SJP, this is really a natural extension," said Jeffrey Schotz, the firm's executive vice president for leasing and marketing. He and Pozycki said the same teams that have overseen its own development projects will do so for third-party clients, from design and entitlements to demolition and construction.

That's not to say the company is backing away from the projects that have given it one of the deepest pipelines in the state. SJP broke ground late last year on its new 500,000-square-foot office tower in Hoboken, to be anchored by Pearson Education, while its residential arm started work on the Modern, a mixed-use redevelopment project in Fort Lee with two 47-story residential towers as its centerpiece.

And within two months, the company will open Panasonic's new North American headquarters in downtown Newark, a project in which SJP's corporate credentials may have been especially vital. Joseph Taylor, chairman and CEO of Panasonic Corp. of North America, said the continuity of Pozycki's senior team appealed to him early on as he chose from four potential sites, including two in Newark.

"That gives you a very significant insight into how he runs his organization, and how he views his people and how he views his customers," Taylor said, also praising Pozycki's candor on issues such as construction timelines, despite the project's sense of urgency: "He was always brutally honest with us, even if it may impact them detrimentally."

Taylor added that Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker were "absolutely the key components" to Panasonic's decision to move to the city, "but in hindsight … without Steve Pozycki and his team, I don't know that it really happens."

While it relies on its senior staff, SJP has also sought to buttress those executives with younger, talented employees "to make sure we're in a position to have the next generation be able to move forward," Pozycki said. The firm started about 10 years ago to bring in those new employees, including Pozycki's daughter, Katherine Pozycki, who works in SJP's residential division; and his son-in-law, Enrique Alonso, a senior vice president who handles business development and investments.

And despite his willingness to move the company outside its comfort zone, Pozycki said a key to its success has been staying within the New York metropolitan area.

"We made it a conscious decision because we saw developers that did well in certain markets, and then jumped into other markets and got crushed," he said. "And when we're going to give somebody advice on major real estate transactions, we feel we know the whole market here cold."

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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