The gig: Emile Haddad is president and chief executive of FivePoint Communities Management Inc., an Aliso Viejo real estate developer. Jointly owned by Haddad and Miami home-building giant Lennar Corp., the private company is building some of California's premier master-planned communities and redevelopments. They include projects at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine as well as Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Candlestick Point in San Francisco.
Growing up by the sea: Haddad, 55, grew up in Beirut, along the Mediterranean Sea. A typical outfit: bell bottoms, platform shoes and a "big afro." Haddad, who strummed the guitar in a rock band named the Icebergs, recalls fondly the energy of the Lebanese capital once known as "the Paris of the Middle East."
The building he grew up in had a hospital, a bank, a hairdresser and residential units, he says. Nearby, half a dozen cafes were open "almost all night."
"I was in love with the place," he says.
Leaving Beirut: The country's sectarian civil war forced him to leave. By 1986 — 11 years after fighting erupted — Haddad and his family had enough of the kidnappings, street battles and loved ones lost.
"Things got a little bit too messy," he says. "You started seeing a lot of people disappear."
Haddad left behind his waterproofing business that he started after earning an engineering degree from American University of Beirut. He and his family joined Haddad's younger brother in the United States.
A new life: The Haddads settled in the Ventura County community of Newbury Park. The small home was packed: Emile, his fiancee, an aunt, his parents, his brother and his brother's girlfriend. Haddad recalls utility bills getting paid with a credit card.
"Overnight, I was responsible for a lot of people. Missing a beat meant they would be on the street."
He sent out a barrage of resumes, but nobody wanted to hire a Lebanese engineer, he says. Three years earlier, 241 U.S. service members died in a suicide truck bombing of their Beirut barracks.
His first job in the U.S.? Construction work he secured with his brother's help.
Climbing to the top: After a flurry of jobs, Haddad joined Lennar in 1996. He came to the builder when it purchased Bramalea of California Inc., where Haddad was a senior executive focused on land deals.
With the purchase, Lennar gained entry into the Southern California home-building market — once dominated by local companies. Haddad helped build up Lennar's presence in the region and by 2006 was the company's chief investment officer.
Housing crash: The bursting of the housing bubble hit the nation's home builders hard. Lennar laid off thousands. "Those were tough days," Haddad says.
In 2009, FivePoint was spun off by Lennar. Haddad became chief executive, and the new firm took some of Lennar's premier developments, including the Great Park communities at the former El Toro Marine base.
A rebound and a change: Haddad sees strength in the housing recovery — and change. A growing number of Americans, especially the younger generation, want more vibrant, mixed-used communities, not a suburban house with a long commute, Haddad says.
FivePoint's master-planned communities reflect Haddad's bet on urbanism. In distinctly suburban Irvine, Haddad envisions "dropping a downtown" near the city's Metrolink and Amtrak station. "We are going to be building clubs and pubs and restaurants and everything," he says.
Those plans are part of FivePoint's Great Park Neighborhoods. Last year, the company received city approval to nearly double the number of homes surrounding the public park to roughly 9,500. In exchange, it will build out 688 acres of Irvine's long-stymied Great Park.
The Great Park neighborhoods will have a variety of housing styles: single-family houses, residential units above restaurants and shops, and live-work spaces.
"Most people don't want to acknowledge change because it's an emotional thing," he says. "I have no problem with change. I love change. I think change has been so good to me."
Management style: Debate is key. "I hate it when people tell me what I want to hear."
Haddad says he seeks to provide a vision, then leverage unique talents to make it a reality.
"I don't know how to play the trumpet," he says. "But I know how to make the band play together."
Spare time: Haddad says he has no hobbies — only family. Many Sundays, relatives from across Southern California arrive at Haddad's Laguna Hills home and gather around the table.
Haddad cooks, a passion he learned during a short stay in Jordan after the Lebanese civil war broke out in the mid-1970s. Cooking is a chance for quiet time. Sharing the food with others is a chance for joy.
"After everybody goes to bed, I sit out in the backyard with a cigar and cognac."
That, Haddad says, is his time to ponder what to accomplish next.