Rebuilding An Empire

On a flight from Chicago to New York, Quintin E. Primo III glances out his window and peers down at the skyscrapers that make up Manhattan’s world-renowned skyline. As the plane soars over the majestic towers of steel, concrete, and glass, Primo is filled with anticipation that soon he’ll be a major player there — and he probably will be.

This is a bold prediction, but Primo has made some bold moves to make it possible. By 2004, the Harvard Business School grad had already proven his industry mettle by building Capri Capital Advisors, a Chicago-based real estate investment management firm, into a $7 billion entity. The company, which Primo founded in 1992 with childhood friend Daryl J. Carter, was the largest black-owned business of its kind in the nation. But then Primo did the unthinkable. In March, he sold his firm’s mortgage banking unit — with a loan portfolio of $5 billion — to CharterMac, a $19 billion real estate finance company, and in return received millions in cash and access to CharterMac’s resources.

The latter was critical to Primo’s strategy to swim with the big fish, since substantial deals now require the backing of real estate titans. “There are trillions of dollars of capital represented by New York organizations that invest across all asset classes,” says Primo, 50. “To become a major factor in this business, we as a firm must have access to that capital.”

Just as important was establishing a business relationship with CharterMac chairman Stephen M. Ross. A heavyweight in the New York real estate scene, Ross is chairman and CEO of The Related Companies L.P., which specializes in different aspects of real estate development and management, ranging from commercial development in New York to affordable housing development nationwide. As the developer of projects such as the $2 billion Time Warner Center in New York, Ross is among the industry’s elite.

The alliance provides Capri with access to the expertise, contacts, and capital of Ross’ entire organization, giving Primo the tools he needs to create real estate deals that can elevate his firm to the upper echelon of real estate investment management companies. But the $2.5 billion real estate investment advisory portion of the business Primo still commands already makes him the most significant African American figure in commercial real estate today.

“Quintin is extremely charismatic and extremely focused on being the best in his space,” says Stuart J. Boesky, CharterMac CEO. “It is always energizing working with someone who wants to be the best.”

If Primo can successfully reposition Capri to profit from the next big trends in the real estate industry, then add the contacts and capital of Ross’ organization to his shrewd industry know-how, there’s no telling how much landscape in the real estate industry he will be able to control before he’s through.

Staying ahead of the market is a hallmark of how Primo and Carter managed to create the largest African American real estate advisory firm in the country. The two decided to take a stab at making