After sitting down and speaking with Frank Lonardelli, a couple observations will likely be made – one, Mr. Lonardelli knows what he wants; second, he’s not afraid to speak his mind; and third, he’s earned every ounce of his success. This last observation rings particularly true when you learn about Mr. Lonardelli’s modest upbringing – about how his father passed away at the age of three and about how his mother was forced to raise her children on her own as a first-generation immigrant knowing very little English, not to mention the fact that he, his mother and his three sisters spent nearly a decade living just blocks away from an area that was known as the “murder capital of Canada”; Winnipeg, Manitoba’s downtown core.
Mr. Lonardelli has always pushed himself to succeed. As a young man, he was able to create a name for himself, first as a successful entrepreneur in the food and coffee business, then in the residential real estate business in his Winnipeg hometown.
And today, Mr. Lonardelli is once more making a name for himself, in arguably a far more competitive, high-stakes industry, namely that of commercial real estate development. As founder and CEO of Arlington Street Investments, a mid-size, Calgary-based commercial real estate investment firm, this second-generation Italian immigrant now makes investment decisions that have a dramatic impact on the growth and character of the Calgary downtown skyline and beltline.
But, that’s exactly what makes Mr. Lonardelli’s level of success so interesting – the fact that he came from such humble upbringings and was able to work his way up. And that’s what we would like to try to explore today with Mr. Lonardelli.
First off, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak with us.
Frank Lonardelli: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Entrepreneurship is in many ways a double-edged sword. It can inspire great and sometimes quick success. But, it also carries with it risk and the potential for enormous financial failure. Your experience in the food services business was in many ways your first stepping-stone to your current position. Was there any specific quality of yours that helped you become a successful entrepreneur?
Frank Lonardelli: Well, looking back on my early childhood, I think many people would consider it something of a curse. But, for me, it taught me two values which I’ve always thought to be a key to success, especially business success: one, my experience taught me how to overcome adversity; and second, it taught me the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, no matter what the circumstances are. Despite all the adversity I saw when I was a child, I also saw tremendous opportunity. And having the ability to see opportunity, and to see opportunity that everyone else misses – that’s something I’ve always focused on personally and something I’ve urged my team at Arlington Street to focus on as well.
After your experience in the food services business and the residential real estate business, what inspired you to jump into commercial real estate development? Was it just the right time to reach for a higher, arguably more challenging career goal? And were there any particular experiences you had in residential real estate that helped in your transition to commercial investment?
Frank Lonardelli: Sure, that’s a good question. There were actually two reasons why I chose to move into commercial development: one, having been both a tenant and a small business owner, I knew that at that time, when I was moving into commercial development, there were very few office spaces in the high-end market with any sort of inspiring design work. The choices were, to put it pretty plainly, very vanilla. And so I knew that there was great opportunity in the market to build and design unique and inspiring spaces. So, that was one source of motivation.
Also, I’ve always been inspired by buildings and building design and I knew that moving into commercial development would give me an opportunity to work in designing and redeveloping some very inspiring buildings, which would be very exciting.
To answer the second part of your question, as far as whether there was anything that helped in my transition from real estate to commercial development, I’d say there definitely was. At Arlington Street, my team and I are always looking to stay ahead of the curve in our investments and in the development of our investments. We’re always looking to build ahead of Calgary’s growth, so that the market catches up to us and not the other way around. This is a strategy and investment disposition that I’ve always had and which was the same disposition I had when I was in residential real estate.
A quality of yours that stands out is your level of ambition. Is there anything that helps sustain your ambition? Or, in other words, now that you’ve reached a fairly high level of success, what keeps you hungry?
Frank Lonardelli: Well, first off, I don’t think we’ve achieved any high level of success at all. I’ve always believed that my past would be dwarfed by future success, and so that is always a source of inspiration that keeps me ambitious. But, the long and short of it is that we at Arlington Street have a long way to go and we have nothing but opportunity ahead of us.
Jumping to present day, what’s your greatest source of pride as founder and President of Arlington Street?
Frank Lonardelli: Another good question. First off, I’m incredibly proud that we’ve been able to build such an incredible team here at Arlington Street in such a short amount of time. That really excites me. And a second point of pride for me relates to something completely different. I learned early on in my career that businesses have to be the vehicle for the founder’s goals and not the other way around. It’s sad to say, but business owners rarely ever achieve what they set out to do by forming their business – in essence, they become slaves to their companies. Moreover, they rarely achieve what we all want, and that is freedom. I’m happy to say that Arlington Street has been a vehicle for me to do other things in life that I truly value, such as invest more of my time and energy into my Arlington Street Foundation Scholarship program. And that truly gives me a source of pride.
Not to take up too much more of your time, as a parting question, looking out five years from now, where do you see yourself and Arlington Street? Do you have any specific company goals or benchmarks in mind that you would like to see accomplished?
Frank Lonardelli: Absolutely we do. First off, Arlington Street Investments will have a billion dollar portfolio. We will also have Western Canadian assets, including assets in British Columbia, Edmonton, Vancouver and one in a Prairie province. We will be predominantly funded by pension funds and large institutions in addition to our accredited investor network and family offices. And, last by not least, we will be a direct conduit for investment education nationally.
Again, thank you very much for your time.
Frank Lonardelli: It was my pleasure.
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Envision what ought to be there. Not what is. Then be courageous enough to create it.