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Sternlicht: ‘We just work a lot harder’

The Starwood Capital Group founder reflects on his career as he receives PERE’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

For Barry Sternlicht, there is a simple reason why he and his firm are among the top names in the private equity real estate industry: hard work.

The founder of Starwood Capital Group – which now has $52 billion of assets under management – traced his and his firm’s achievements back to the culture he built when founding the firm in 1991.

“We just work a lot harder,” he said in an interview with PERE in the penthouse suite of his 1 South Beach Hotel in Miami. “We used to work at Christmas when everyone else was on vacation because the banks had to sell stuff by year-end.”

That hard work has translated into a decades-long winning streak, with highlights ranging from a multifamily portfolio sale to Sam Zell that tripled his then-young company’s money, to creating Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide out of a nearly bankrupt real estate investment trust.

Investors have been pleased with Sternlicht’s track record, too: as of September 30, Starwood has generated a gross return of 30 percent and a net return of 17 percent for its real estate funds and its co-investment vehicles since the firm’s inception.

Among Sternlicht’s latest accomplishments is winning PERE’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

In PERE’s Annual Awards issue, Sternlicht related the highs and lows of his career – from getting fired from his first job after business school through Starwood’s ups and downs in its 16-year history.

Other industry heavyweights weighed in on Sternlicht’s success too, including Equity International’s Sam Zell, Greystar chief executive Bob Faith and Blackstone real estate head honcho Jon Gray.

“When you talk about 2017 and the real estate industry and you raise the question about who has the platforms to truly make a difference and change markets, there are very few people – Barry, Jon Gray – that have both built a reputation and a platform that can have real change,” Zell told PERE.

Click here to read the full profile of Sternlicht, the first PERE Lifetime Achievement Award winner.