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Becoming The Wealthiest Real Estate Investor in the World: How He Bought, Managed and Expanded The Company?
Episode 20019th June 2024 • Commercial Real Estate Investing From A-Z • Steffany Boldrini
00:00:00 00:24:49

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How did Mr. Donald Bren buy, manage, and expanded the company that made him the wealthiest real estate investor in the world?

Read the entire interview here:

Buy the Transforming the Irvine Ranch book here:

You both participated in writing a book called Transforming the Irvine Ranch which one of the heiresses, Joan Irvine, also participated in, how did you get to write a book and what was the reasoning behind it?

Michael: We've always loved history when we were together at the Irvine company. We looked around and asked questions about the background of the company, we read the book, and we talked to other people who had lived it. Fast forward 40 years after talking about it many times, Pike called me one day and said, "Why don't we write that book." Ray Watson had written six chapters, and he gave a 500-page oral history. And with that as a base, we set out to write the book and had a great time doing it.

I would love to understand how Mr. Bren got himself into the Irvine company from your perspective.

Michael: Donald Bren had an interest in planned communities as a young man and as a builder. He started his own building company in his late 20s. He was 31 years old when he and some partners purchased 11,000 acres of what is now Mission Viejo, which is south of the Irvine Ranch. Bren was very interested in whole communities and design. Unfortunately, that was a bridge too far. Bren sold out after 3 years and eventually, Mission Viejo was bought by Philip Morris, they had deep pockets. He kept his eye on the Irvine Ranch, and built houses on the ranch. And in 1976, it became apparent that the ranch was going to go up for sale. Bren rounded up $100 million, and was prepared to join the bidding and it very quickly exceeded that. He was invited into the winning group, which was headed by Al Taubman from Detroit and included Joan Irvine. And in 1977, Bren owned 35% of the Irvine Company. But he did not have control and the other owners rallied around Al Taubman. And Taubman for the next five years became the real force in terms of decision making at the ranch.

What shapes Mr. Bren’s focus is an incredibly broad bandwidth of perspective, as compared to most people involved in real estate. For example, he will spend quite a bit of time looking at a site plan and making sure that the houses next to each other do not allow people to look in the other person's house. Then, he can look at the entire ranch to figure out the purpose and intent, and begin to think about how to implement open space and habitat preserves that amount to over 50,000 acres. There are very few people that can work across that dimension of detail.

The other element of this was Brent surrounded himself by very energetic people. They were well paid, they were motivated, and when things needed to be done, the usual response was: "We'll figure out how to get it done, and tell us the resources you need to make that happen." The Irvine company never had a lobbyist in Washington DC, we ended up hiring somebody there and it made a tremendous difference in some of the issues that we had to deal with at the time. Bren was very willing to spend resources, he was not a spendthrift, there were budgets but it was a huge property, it was a huge job.


Pike Oliver

Michael Stockstill





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