Once, at a planning commission meeting in Los Alamos, a speaker resorted to scientific terminology to explain developer Paul Silverman.
The specific word, Silverman says, describes a process by which something becomes more resistant the harder it’s stirred.
“It turned out it was really the perfect description of my personality,” Silverman says from the Albuquerque headquarters of Geltmore LLC, the commercial real estate development company he launched in 1991.
Silverman knows he can come across as prickly. Usually, though, it’s just in the name of getting stuff done.
A restless workhorse who had his first job at 11 – sweeping and preparing hangers at the local dry cleaner – Silverman is on a perennial pursuit for progress. The native Texan even gave up on his medical aspirations in college when he saw just how long he’d have to spend in school and in training.
“I decided I could go into business and work just as hard in those 10 years that it takes to become a doctor and probably do as well or better,” he says.
His career began in retail, specifically a job as a women’s-wear buyer for the Foley’s department store chain. He was fired after 10 months, management having deemed him a poor fit for the company.
He couldn’t have agreed more.
“I decided that nobody else was ever going to tell me what to do,” he says. “It was very transformative.”
He found his way to commercial real estate. His development career truly blossomed after a move to Hobbs in the 1970s. Opportunity, he found, lurked in every corner of New Mexico.
Silverman has since been involved in nearly 50 projects – from mobile home parks in Hobbs to shopping centers in Albuquerque to a self-storage facility in Singapore. He estimates the developments have a combined market value of about $750 million.
And he has a collaborator who shares his drive, if perhaps not his temperament. Geltmore is now a family business. Paul’s younger son, David, returned to Albuquerque in 2012 after spending 10 years away getting his business degree (in Colorado) and working in retail real estate brokerage (in San Diego).
The father-son duo have teamed with Yes Housing – and numerous public entities – to develop the Imperial Building, a mixed-use project that will bring a new, full-size grocery store to the heart of Downtown.
“We’re really fortunate to have this business that we’ve always been offered a chance to be a part of,” David says of he and his San Diego-based brother, Adam, also a partner in Geltmore. “So, finally, it took a couple of things happening, but I got burned out and realized that we could have a great run here and learn. If someone’s willing to pass on all their knowledge and wisdom, it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.”
Q: Paul, what did your parents do for a living?
Paul: My father worked for Bell Helicopter (in middle management) and retired from there … but, before he worked for Bell, he did entrepreneurial stuff. … My mother ran a dress shop in our house. She was very entrepreneurial and I think I get most of my business sense from her. She would go over to the Dallas Trade Mart after they’d have shows four times a year. After they would have a seasonal show, she would go over, buy all the sample dresses from the reps (and) then bring them home and sell them off of pipe racks. She was also an excellent player of the stock market. … Her theory was (to) own a stock that started with every letter of the alphabet, and she started with Apple and ended with Xerox in the late ’70s and early ’80s. … She did very well.
Q: Is there any type of development you haven’t done in your career?
Paul: Not really. We’ve done single-family subdivision, we’ve built houses. In other, bigger markets, you can be a specialist. In New Mexico, you have to be a generalist or you starve to death.
Q: David, how much attention did you pay to your father’s work when you were growing up?
David: You know, I think it was kind of passive. I didn’t really start understanding things until I was probably in high school and even then I didn’t quite get it, but I started to think about it a little more critically.
Q: What were your career aspirations back then?
David: (Laughing) At my bar mitzvah, I said I wanted to be the general manager of the Lakers. That was when I realized I wasn’t athletically talented enough to be a professional athlete, so maybe I’d want to be on the business side of it. But as I continued to get older, I realized that that was pretty competitive as well. … Real estate was always a nice default, so I just pursued a business degree and figured that would give me enough flexibility to see what opportunities arose.
Q: Was this your goal for David? Did you want him here with you?
Paul: You know, I wanted them (David and his older brother) to do whatever they wanted to do but, in the meantime, you know, I wanted to build an asset base that if they wanted the opportunity to be in business for themselves, that they would have that opportunity, so it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted. I thought they’d be idiots not to do it, but it was presented that you either come home or I go to plans B and C on the asset base, because one day I’m going to die.
Q: What’s the advantage of having your son working with you?
Paul: It’s joyful. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s got a lot of contacts that are outside of my world. He has a view of the world, I call it the “millennial view.” He has a skill set in terms of technology that I don’t have and so we’re really pretty much totally compatible. And we’ve gotten to the point now where we finish each other’s sentences, so he’s been very quick on picking up the really important stuff. And my goal is to get both he and his brother through enough projects where they’ve got the confidence to carry on.
Q: The Imperial Building is your first Downtown Albuquerque project. What gives you faith in Downtown?
David: I don’t think we have a choice. I think we have to make it legitimate for the city to have any sort of hope for the future.
Paul: If you look around the world and see the cities that are attracting the millennial generation, they all have active, at least 18-hour urban areas, and the only place that that can happen in New Mexico is really the area between the Rio Grande river and Nob Hill along Central.
Q: How are you two alike?
David: Pretty meticulous, pretty anal, persistent.
Q: If you weren’t doing this, what else could you see yourself doing?
David: I would’ve loved to have been a ski bum. It’s kind of frowned upon, but I think I would’ve roughed it for a while.
Paul: I was in Future Teachers of America when I was in high school.
David: You would’ve been an educator?
Paul: Yeah, why not?
Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Paul: I think it was the turnout for the groundbreaking of the Imperial Building … . What was so gratifying is neighbors came out, residents came out.
David: When I moved on from my job in brokerage in San Diego to move to Albuquerque, my colleagues/partners there enthusiastically wished me well and assured me I was ready for the next step in my career.
Q: What is one food you can’t live without?
David: French fries.
Paul: Green chile.
Q: How would you describe each other in three words?
Paul: Pensive, determined considerate.
David: Courageous, enterprising, visionary.