You might not yet know the Ghermezian family by name, but you are almost certainly familiar with their work. Their development group, Triple Five Worldwide, is responsible for the creation, ownership and operation of the Mall of America, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and now the American Dream—the last of which is a massive retail and entertainment center spanning 3.2 million square feet that includes 350 retail stores inside its walls, with more phases to come that will include hotels and other cool concepts. These complexes are the first, second and third largest tourism retail centers—with a whopping 112 million customers projected to visit the locations annually. Altogether, Triple Five Worldwide currently employs 5,000 professionals around the globe, and has created over 50,000 jobs to date.
But they weren’t always at the top of the mountain. Long before the family ran a retail empire, they emigrated from Iran to Canada in the 1970s in search of a better life. To kickstart their entrepreneurial careers, the Ghermezians started a Persian rug import business, which they eventually grew into one of the world’s biggest distributors of its kind. Using this opportunity as a springboard, the family then ventured out and launched their new careers in the retail and development space.
We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Yonah Ghermezian, an owner and partner of Triple Five Worldwide to hear the lessons and insights he has gained over the years when it comes to entrepreneurship, both from his family and from his own experience. Here is what he wanted to share.
#1. Break down every complex problem into sub-tasks.
Challenges are bound to come up for any entrepreneur or working professional. Whether you run an independent coffee shop or a Fortune 500 company, every day will present you with complex problems, big and small, that you need to solve promptly. To tackle such issues, Yonah breaks every problem down into actionable, bite-sized tasks to make them more digestible and achievable.
“When I am faced with situations that seem like I may have a mountain to climb, I begin to break it down into smaller subsets of tasks which makes approaching it easier. This allows me to get the momentum to working towards success. It’s all about progression. In my opinion, the hardest part of anything is starting.”
By taking large projects and restructuring them into smaller sub-tasks, you will make them appear less daunting for yourself and your team. When done effectively, this can lead to higher morale, increased productivity and an overall better work environment.
#2. Never stop adapting and iterating.
Yonah and the rest of the Ghermezian family have seen a wealth of success, thanks in large part to their focus on the future. By taking inventory of current trends, adapting to them and iterating based on the results of those actions, their projects have withstood the test of time. Their American Dream project is evidence of this attention to detail. The world of retail is changing. In the first half of 2019 alone, nearly 6,000 U.S. retail stores closed and just 2,600 were opened. Additionally, the Harris Group recently found that 72% of millennials prefer spending money on experiences versus purely material goods.
What did Triple Five Worldwide do combat this shift? They made American Dream be an experience in itself rather than solely a retail center. The complex will have hundreds of retail shops, but also has a Nickelodeon theme park, a DreamWorks themed water park, an ice rink and even an indoor ski resort—giving visitors of all ages a wide variety of ways to spend their time and money.
No matter what business or industry you’re a part of, forecasting what the landscape will look like 5-10 years from now and being flexible enough to act on those changes will help position your company to win. Be adaptable, test, and iterate based on your findings.
#3. Don’t write off family as potential business partners.
In the American corporate world, it seems there are mixed feelings about doing business with family. Many advise against it, while others are enormous proponents. The former group will point to emotions potentially getting in the way of making sound business decisions, or the chances of nepotism seeping its way into company culture. Yet, as evidenced by the success of so many prominent families across the business landscape, it’s clear there are a handful of advantages to doing business with family members.
One of them is steadfast trust and loyalty. In a typical corporate environment, there are a great deal of self-interested individuals only concerned with working their way up the ladder by any means necessary. While there certainly are exceptions, most respectable members of your family wouldn’t act in a way that would damage or betray your trust. Additionally, because family members grew up together and are so comfortable with each other, they are not afraid to hide their actual thoughts, intentions and criticisms on business issues—as opposed to a typical employee who might fear their critiques would be misinterpreted or misconstrued in a negative light.
Lastly, people who grew up in a family running a business generally have the values and skills needed to make it successful woven into their DNA. This can put them at a distinct advantage when it comes to having the tools needed to succeed in the field in general. In the case of Yonah, he grew up watching his father negotiating and closing deals—giving him a masterclass nearly every day in sales and business development.
#4. It’s all about the end user.
Your company can be as innovative and forward-thinking as the industry allows it to be, but it won’t matter if your product or service offering doesn’t delight the end user. In today’s digital economy driven by smartphones, consumer attention is becoming a precious resource as opposed to a commodity item. Today, there are seemingly endless options available to customers along with just as many apps diverting attention away from a person’s physical surroundings.
As a result, every touch point that occurs between a brand and a consumer is more critical than ever. Products and features can be easily cloned by engineering departments, but a stellar customer experience is much more difficult to copy. Without a memorable customer journey and experience, your brand runs the risk of not making a lasting impression on an interested individual and missing out on sales.
The projects Triple Five Worldwide have created over the years are a direct testament to focusing solely on the customer. Visitors don’t only come to American Dream or the Mall of America for the stores. Instead, they come for the experiences and attractions, and purchase items from the retail stores as a result of being there. By providing customers with entertainment, Triple Five Worldwide is putting the end user above all else.
There is a lot of material circulating online geared toward helping entrepreneurs succeed—some of it is helpful while some of it is misleading. By examining and learning from individuals, families and teams who have actually found success in the business world, you’ll be able to avoid the missteps and mistakes they made throughout their own careers. Following Yonah’s principles are a great place to start.