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South Florida's Best and Brightest
Originally published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 (12:00:01 a.m. ET)

Claudio Stivelman
Shefaor Development Co-Founder & Principal Claudio Stivelman. (Photo courtesy of Shefaor Development).
Claudio Stivelman
With the landmark properties, Artech and Uptown Marina Lofts, which are situated along the tony Aventura waterfront known as "Thunder Alley," Shefaor Development quickly has made an indelible impression on the city's skyline. (Among its other high-profile projects are Lincoln Pointe, which is adjacent to Williams Island, and Arden Park in Hollywood). Shefaor, which, in Hebrew means "blessings and enlightenment," was formed when Claudio Stivelman partnered with Gilbert Benhamou more than a decade ago. It was Stivelman who gave the region its very first county-approved condo-hotel when he developed the Ocean Point Resort and Beach Club in Sunny Isles Beach. A former president of Brazil's Consumer Credit Association, Stivelman amassed in that country more than $1 billion in real estate sales in the 1980s. He has degrees in civil engineering and economics, and sits on the boards of directors of the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Center and the Shul of Bal Harbour.

Q: What advice would you give youngsters who want to embark on a career in your industry?
A: The best advice that I could give youngsters is not to be afraid. Don't be afraid to ask questions, don't be afraid to take chances, and don't be afraid to be different. The true leaders in development are those who have been able to step outside their comfort zone and take risks. Not all risks pay off, but those that do pay off in a big way. Also, don't be afraid to start small. A successful project, no matter what the size, increases credibility and confidence in both the developer as well as the rest of the market.

Q: Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
A: With more than a billion dollars' worth of development projects behind us, it may seem strange that the professional accomplishment that I am most proud of is knowing which deals not to do. Real estate development is an industry driven by emotion and feeling, which makes it extremely difficult, but necessary, to walk away from a deal because of a seemingly insignificant factor. It is for this very reason, though, that even during one of the worst real estate downturns in U.S. history, Shefaor Development remains strong and a leader in the South Florida market.

Q: What's the most challenging part about your work?
A: The most challenging part of my work is learning to constantly adapt to what the market demands. We are in an industry that is completely market-driven, which means that we must choose our projects based on this demand. What makes it difficult is that what people want today may not necessarily be what they want when the project is completed. That's why it is so important to constantly exceed expectations and manage our clients' outlooks.

Q: What did you envision doing for a living when you were growing up?
A: Growing up, I was quite conflicted about what I would do for a living. On the one hand, I grew up in a banking family that instilled the idea of corporate community and structured job security, yet I always knew that I was more of a free-spirit who rebelled against corporate norms. That made me more of an entrepreneur. I knew from early on that whatever I did in life would include making deals that could, in turn, yield great returns.

Q: In ten years' time, I will be _________________.
A: For those who don't already know, I am quite a superstitious person. I don't like to predict where I will be in ten months, let alone ten years. My philosophy is that we need to live for the day and live each moment to its fullest. The way we live each day creates the opportunities that will ultimately shape our future. That doesn't mean that one shouldn't set goals, but rather that the goals that one sets should be more personal.

Q: Who are/were your professional role models and why?
A: My father has and always will be my professional role model. I am a firm believer that, with determination, most obstacles can be overcome, and my father has demonstrated this in the most extreme circumstance. My father is a Holocaust survivor who made it out of extreme suffering and moved to Brazil to begin a new life. There, my father was able to create an extremely successful business and support a family without ever complaining about how difficult it was to achieve.

Q: If you could do anything else in the world for a living, what would it be?
A: I am lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to do anything in my life that I wanted, and I chose to be a businessman. It gives me the freedom to move and change the direction of my business depending on where my passion lies. Having said that, I would not choose to do anything other than what I am already doing.

Q: What's the best part about your job?
A: The best part about being a real estate developer is two-fold. I would be remiss if I did not admit that it is an incredible feeling to drive past a building that you developed and feel a sense of pride and achievement that you helped to shape a community for generations to come. However, I think that if I had to pick my favorite part, it would be the excitement felt at the closing table when a project becomes a home for one of our clients. Whether it is a first place for newlyweds, a holiday home for vacationers, or an investment property for a businessperson, the pleasure felt when the keys are transferred makes the hard work worthwhile.

Q: What's the worst part about your job?
A: The worst part of my job is the dependence on uncontrollable factors. The market, the economy, political situations, and even the weather can make or break a project.

Q: What's the one most important thing that experience has taught you?
A: Not everything goes according to plan. One should always expect the unexpected. When I first entered the market, I thought that by analyzing every deal and every contingency, I would be able to predict how a project would turn out. The truth is that one can only get an idea, as opportunities and obstacles can pop up down the road that cause you to drastically change course and readjust the goal posts. The key is just to go for it. If a deal looks good and the numbers make sense, make it happen. Don't spend all of your time planning and none of your time doing.

Q: What's the best career advice anyone has imparted on you?
A: As a young child, I played chess on a competitive level. My instructor taught me that before I made any move, I should put myself in my opponent's position and anticipate their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I employ this advice each time I step into a negotiation.

Q: What one thing would you do different/better if you could start it all over again?
A: I would have invested it all in Microsoft!

Q: What's your favorite South Florida charity?
A: I am an avid believer that no one charity is better than another. A charity by definition is designed to promote the public good and how can the promotion of one public good be better than the next one? I enjoy participating in charities across many aspects and couldn't possibly choose a favorite. At the moment, I am most active with Chai Lifeline, which is dedicated to providing services and assistance to children with terminal illnesses, and their families.
Archive: 20 Good Questions
Best & Brightest: June 2011