Giving back Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Edward P. Roski Jr. wasn’t born in Southern California, but

he’d be quick to tell you that he and his family made it their

home when he was just 3 years old.

And with the exception of a stint in the Marines that earned

him two purple hearts, he’s lived there ever since. In that

time, he’s become a billionaire and seen Majestic Realty Co.,

the private real estate company his father started in 1948,

continue to grow, as it now owns, manages and leases more

than 70 million square feet of property.

Working on notable projects, like the renowned STAPLES

Center, the company’s continued success has expanded to

other markets but has always started at home.

So, as Majestic continues to grow by nearly 4 million

square feet of property managed per year, it was logical that

Roski, who also is a minority owner of the NBA’s Los

Angeles Lakers and the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, would

center his philanthropic endeavors on L.A. Of course,

Roski’s challenges go well beyond just thinking about how

to help the community.

“When you talk about the challenges in business, I think

having a company that has continued to grow over the

years and having employees that want to work with the

company and that really feel they’re being satisfied is the

big one,” says Roski, Majestic’s chairman and CEO. “I want

it so that it’s not just a job, they are looking forward to coming to work, even with the traffic in L.A., and want to put

forth a real effort.”

So as Roski redefined what his company could do to help,

he analyzed how a charitable contribution could do more

than just push good ideas back into his hometown. He realized that by building up the community he was in, he would

strengthen his company’s core. In that process, he created

avenues to ask the 650-plus employees within Majestic’s

businesses how they wanted to help out and created charity programs that gave employees a chance to help in different and engaging ways, giving them a new reason to battle

that rush-hour traffic every day. As a result, his company’s

growth has continued while the average tenure for top

managers in the company has pushed beyond 20 years.

The case for charity

Plenty of companies give to charity, but when Majestic

started the Majestic Realty Foundation in 2002, Roski wanted the company to do more than just write a check every

year. Instead of giving blindly, he wanted to use the company’s resources to help build strategies for nonprofit organizations and help with management initiatives. The idea was

basic enough: Don’t just give to charity, make an impact in

the community where you work. To that, Roski says you have to think of how your work will affect the community

and be sure to consider strengthening it wherever possible.

“I’ve always felt it’s critical to think in the long term in the

deals that you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, to think about

what you’re doing and what you’re building.” he says. “Our

growth pretty well depends on not just growing our business but growing in the cities and communities that we’re

involved with. We’ve always been committed to building

long-term relationships with our business partners, and I

think fostering solid partnerships with stronger communities kind of creates a foundation and you can really continue to grow.”

That brings Roski back to the evolution he made to start

the Majestic Foundation instead of just pouring more money

into local charities. Roski says the fact of the matter is

you’re probably going to be giving to a charity anyway, so

you might as well help that investment along as you would

any other. By taking a more active role in the process, you

might find that Roski’s theory about building a stronger

community will help grow your company.

“We’ve always been involved in the community, and we

wanted to take basically a more active role than just passively making donations and stuff like this, so I founded the

Majestic Foundation and that really gave us the opportunity

to actively work with the different nonprofits and to make

a real impact,” Roski says.

“Most business do try to contribute and give back to the

communities that they are in. And, as we became more and

more active in that side of things, we thought that we could

take that next step and provide some guidance and maybe

some business principles to help nonprofits accomplish

their goals, so it’s just the next step in an evolution.”

Ask employees what they want

Roski’s desire to build a charitable foundation doesn’t just

serve his love for Los Angeles, it also acts as glue for his

company. In order to keep growing, he knows that he needs

to do more things to keep his employees involved, and

charitable projects give employees a chance to do something more than the daily grind.

Roski has always had an interest in philanthropy, but he

found out that employees want in on the action, too. So as

he decided that the company should make the evolutionary

step to starting the foundation, he wanted as much employee input as possible. To do so, he did something many executives rarely have time to do, he walked up to his employees and asked for that input. In fact, Roski makes regular

communication with employees a part of his weekly schedule.

“I set it up so that I can spend time with them,” he says. “I

enjoy talking with them and finding out what they’re all about

and what their desires are and what they really want. In my

experience, everybody wants to be working in a place where

they enjoy working there. It’s not the money they make, it’s the

satisfaction they get out of where they are and if they’re really

doing something to make a difference. And you find that out by

just spending time with them to find out what they want.”

Of course, the chairman and CEO of a company can find it

quite hard to just talk to people and find out what they want.

There is no question that a barrier exists between employees

and senior executives, and Roski says the way you can shed

that is by making employees comfortable by being yourself.

“Everybody puts their pants on the same way,” Roski says.

“Everybody is contributing, so you just try to be comfortable

with who you are, and then they can be comfortable with who

they are, and you can try to communicate.

“It’s getting out there and talking with everyone. It’s really

spending time, not just with the individuals that are running

the office but spending time with everybody in the company.

They have to feel like they can talk to you.”

To Roski, the basic summation of his ability to open up with

employees comes from one word: empathy. He says he does-n’t always know what employees are thinking, but he’s willing to take the time to try.

“In other words, they are not operating out of fear or anything, they are operating in a situation where they feel their

contributions are being recognized and, in one word, there’s

empathy,” Roski says. “When you’re dealing with people, you

really can’t imagine how they think or feel, what you basically need to understand is what they want. You can’t just tell

people to do something, they really have to want to do it.

That’s the one thing that I’ve learned.”

Not only does the time Roski spends talking to employees

help fill him with ideas, but he says it also gives employees a

reason to feel empowered.

“I think it honors them, it gives them a reason to think that

what they’re doing is worth something,” Roski says. “Instead

of just coming in and punching the clock, they are coming in

and they have something to say and somebody is going to listen to it, too.

“You make them part of the process. The most important

thing is the role that the employees play in every aspect of

the company and that they are actually involved in all the

planning and execution. We’ve been very fortunate most of

these people have been with the company for many years,

and for a company, especially a smaller company, employees

are your whole resource.”

Build some company pride

Majestic’s employees were quick to take to the charitable

ideas thrown out by Roski, and even he was surprised by the

extent to which they wanted to help. Though he knew that he

wanted the company to do more than just sign checks, employees came back willing to work with nonprofits on many levels,

offering up time and energy as well as expertise.

As a result, Majestic began to build teamwork within the

company around this charitable work. The big business goal of

Majestic still existed for employees, but there was also a more

personalized charitable goal that made people feel good about

themselves.

“We’re actively involved and hire consultants for them and

make sure they are really focused and accomplishing their

dreams because there’s quite a few nonprofits out there that

are founded on great ideas and dreams, and sometimes they

also need help to accomplish those things,” he says.

As a result of helping with different options in areas beyond

financial giving, Roski noted that involvement with the

Majestic Foundation is blossoming.

“Our company is extremely involved in all the foundation

work,” he says. “I would say we probably have 85 to 90 percent

participation from the company, whether it’s the fund-raisers

we do or actually working in different nonprofits, not just supporting their kid in little league but actually getting very, very

involved, and it’s kind of contagious — as people get involved,

others get involved.”

At the end of the day, Roski doesn’t get 100 percent of his

employees throwing themselves into the charity program, but he

knows that the foundation works when it comes to building

something for both community and company pride. If you can

make that step, he sees it as a big boon to your ability to fulfill

employee desires.

“I think people have to really be proud of where they work,” he

says. “If they are, and they think where they work is really making a difference in the community where they live in, with all

other things being equal, that’s where they are going to stay. And

I think in our company, it’s probably one of the reasons that people stick around so long is they really think they are making a difference.”

HOW TO REACH: Majestic Realty Co., (562) 692-9581 or www.majesticrealty.com