Goals, challenges and the future for CFM Development
BY BENJAMIN FANG
A veteran of the real estate development industry for 38 years, Carl F. Mattone has an impressive resume that spans nearly four decades.
In 1995, when he was appointed president of The Mattone Group, the Queens-based firm led by his father, Joseph M. Mattone Sr., he took charge of all facets of deals, from negotiating and handling construction to financing, putting tenants in place, and coordinating leases.
The Mattone Group developed both large and small lots, mostly for retail. The company was responsible for dozens of properties, including a row of restaurants outside Queens Center Mall, a shopping center anchored by a Stop & Shop in Springfield Gardens, and a 30,000-square-foot retail and office complex in College Point.
Perhaps their greatest achievement was building Jamaica Center, a 460,000-square-foot retail complex with two levels of underground parking, two levels of retail, and a movie theater on the third floor that boasts 3,200 seats and 15 screens.
“It was a great accomplishment for the family to work together and get it done,” he said.
But after decades of leading his family business, Mattone and his son, Carl J. Mattone, decided to venture out on their own.
Late last year, they formed their own real estate company, CFM Development, based in Whitestone. With the senior Mattone serving as president and CEO and his son as vice president, they’ve hit the ground running.
CFM Development has already closed on an office building in Bayside, and the firm is also working on closing a piece in Commack, Long Island, and a restaurant building in Woodhaven.
“It’s a little early to say the fastest-growing company, but six months to a year from now, we can make that kind of statement,” he said. “We’re in the process of getting there.”
Mattone said his father, Joseph M. Mattone Sr., is still chairman of The Mattone Group. He considers him a “great mentor” and role model who taught him a lot about real estate.
“But it just came time,” he said. “My son and I getting out on our own and doing our own thing, it’s really that simple.”
Mattone said his vision is for the new company is to have a great reputation, build a nice portfolio of properties, and work well with partnerships.
He’s still ambitious and has different ways and methods of growing the company.
“I still have fire in my belly and I want to keep going,” he said. “I want to keep building some deals.”
Granted, CFM won’t be doing the $100 million deals that Mattone is used to, but he said they will do smaller deals and have more fun doing it. The firm will then build a solid management team to manage their own portfolio.
“It’s a long-term play, it’s not that we buy and sell,” Mattone said. “We buy, hold, and manage, and we want to build a nice portfolio going into the future.”
The company’s tagline is “Build Great Futures,” which Mattone takes to mean not just developing, but sustaining relationships and communities. The real estate veteran has long been involved with philanthropic causes, as well as local politics.
“We’re not absentee landlords,” he said. “When we do a project in a neighborhood, we get involved in the local baseball or football league, the reading skills programs. We’re very community-based and have a give-back mentality.”
That’s especially the case in Queens, where the Mattone family is headquartered. Though CFM Development will build throughout the five boroughs and Long Island, Mattone said most projects will likely be in Queens because of how familiar they are with the borough, its zoning and retail needs.
“Once you’re a Queens person, you’re a Queens person for life,” he said. “You never leave your home, that’s just the way it is.”
Mattone also recognizes the real estate boom in the borough, particularly after the rezoning of areas like Long Island City, which spurred a lot of development. He said he believes in incentivizing the private sector to create jobs and build up.
“It’s just taking advantage of what opportunities are out there,” he said. “We don’t know how it’s going to change in the future, but we’re obviously going to keep our eye on it and try to anticipate changes in the market and capitalize on that.”
He also acknowledged some of the challenges ahead, particularly the “ever-changing, evolving” market. Companies like Amazon have affected almost every kind of business in the world, he said, including real estate and retailers who are trying to compete.
When the cost of doing business, especially in New York City, isn’t cheap, it’s easier to have a $2-per-square-foot warehouse as opposed to a $40-per-square-foot retail location, Mattone said.
His strategy is to anticipate what’s happening in the market globally, be open-minded and adapt. He will also bank on good relationships with the community, retailers and other partners.
“We’ve been very fortunate, over seven months, to have all these opportunities,” he said, “because we’re capitalizing on old relationships and reputations.”
Like any good business, CFM Development has both short- and long-term goals. Mattone said within the company’s first year, he would love to complete four deals. Next year, he would like to double that amount. He sees it as a reasonable expectation.
“Do I set the bar a little high? Yes, but I don’t set it so high that people get frustrated and can’t reach those objectives,” Mattone said. “In order to keep morale going, you have to achieve your goals.
“I push people, I raise the bar,” he added, “especially since we’re on our own.”
Mattone said he’s also tried to create a healthy and fun work atmosphere in the office. Several employees have been with Mattone for over two decades, and regular consultants come twice a week to discuss deals.
With integrity and a positive attitude at the core of the office culture, Mattone said everyone enjoys working there.
“Try to enjoy what you do,” he said. “Once something becomes burdensome and you’re not enjoying it, what are you doing it for?”
Long term, Mattone is training his son, who is 26 years old, to take over the company someday. He’s already been “baptized by fire” and thrown into the mix to learn about real estate development, management and maintenance.
“My goal is to retire eventually and turn things over to him,” Mattone said. “I’m a hardworking guy, but I’m not a workaholic. I’m not going to be behind my desk at 85 years old. It’s not me.”
Mattone said he’s pushing hard to get things done within the next ten years.
“By then, he’ll have 15 years under his belt,” he said, “which is more than enough to really understand what’s going on and how to deal with it.”
The younger Mattone said he’s been wathcing his father, effectively doing a “real-life apprenticeship.”
“I don’t want to stop at being as good as him, but be even better than him,” he said. “Like any father would, like any boss would, he wants everyone to do the right thing. I’m just trying to take it and run with it.”
One thing that Mattone wants to pass along to his son is the skill and art of negotiating. He said the key is to not allow issues get personal or emotions get the better of you.
“When you knee-jerk react or emotionally react, it’s like making a decision in the heat of anger, and it’s typically the wrong decision,” he said. “Your emotions are really driving the deal, not your business acumen or business sense.”
The elder Mattone hopes to also pass along that strong work ethic, integrity and reputation that his own father taught him many decades ago. His father, an attorney by training, lived through an era when attorneys were not allowed to advertise.
“He had to go out and hand out business cards almost every night, hoping somebody would call him the next day because he had seven kids to feed,” Mattone said. “That’s what my father taught me. If you’re honest and work hard, you’ll be successful.”