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ATL Business Chronicle

Portman Holdings evolves from the man to the brand

By Maria Saporta
Friday, Oct. 29, 2010

Portman Holdings is transforming itself from being identified with its founder to becoming a brand that is recognized around the world.

For decades, the face of the company has been John Portman, a world-renowned architect and developer. But Portman said that the company has become less about him and more about the organization.

In that spirit, the company recently named Ambrish Baisiwala as its new CEO and Richard Jones as its new chief operating officer. John Portman is chairman, and his son, Jack Portman, is vice chairman and has joined the company’s board.

For John Portman, who will soon turn 86, said the move is about preserving the firm’s continuity and leveraging its global ties.

“I’m not retiring. I’m not sick,” Portman was quick to say during an interview. “Things evolve. Nothing ever stays the same.”

Baisiwala, who has a global real estate background, has been with Portman Holdings since 2006. Jones, who has a background in hotel development, has been with the company since 2005. Both are in their early 40s.

“We have a great platform because there’s a great history of assets,” Baisiwala said. “We are already in the right markets — China, the United States, India and others. It’s a great platform to build from.”

In Baisiwala’s mind, Portman Holdings is “a very strong brand name” with “a strong reputation” around the world. “We want to reinforce that,” he said.

Portman Holdings is focused on developing projects, raising capital, building developments and managing real estate.

A sister company is the architectural firm — John Portman & Associates (JPA). So as Portman Holdings develops projects, it almost always partners with JPA to design the projects. “That’s a big part of the Portman strategy,” Jones said.

“What I’ve done here is put together an organization that reflects who I am,” John Portman said. “It’s holistic. I want the guys on the real estate side to understand the people on the design side. We are unique because of that combination.”

Jack Portman said the new structure recognizes the fact that Portman Holdings has gone from an entrepreneurial entity to a more professionally structured organization.

Both Portmans said they tend to be more focused on the creative, development and strategic side of the business rather than running the day-to-day operations.

“My experience, interest and skill set is stronger in the development of Portman” in both the architectural and real estate sides of the business as well as exploring new opportunities, he said.

JPA — the architectural firm — also has just been turned into a 10-member partnership. John Portman is the controlling partner and chairman. Jack Portman is a partner and vice chairman. And Grace Tan, who is Chinese and grew up in the Philippines, is president of the firm.

Both Portmans marveled at how international their companies have become including having a Chinese woman running the architectural business and a native of India running the real estate business.

“The future is global,” said John Portman, who said he has always felt that way. “My international mind-set really started back in the early 1960s. This is old news to me.”

But Portman also said the new leadership structure is well-positioned for those global opportunities. The economic downturn has slowed down some of its international developments, but Portman Holdings is prepared to respond when the economy bounces back.

“It’s been a very intense time and a very exciting time,” Baisiwala said of the company. “We are already in the right markets.”

Meanwhile, John Portman said he is “becoming a college professor” to the younger generation and “trying to teach more than I used to.” But he remains as active as ever, often working six days a week.

He noted the transition of a name from one individual to a brand occurred at Marriott Hotels, a brand no longer affiliated with the founder. He hopes the same will happen at Portman Holdings.

“I’ve tried to de-personalize all of this,” Portman said. “I know I’m not going to be around until I’m 120. These are entities that we have developed over the years.”

“We’ve been working a long, long time, and now we’re moving toward Portman Holdings standing on its own.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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