Simon S. Mass (BEng Manufacturing Systems – Engineering & Management 1991) is Founder & CEO of The Condo Store, a Toronto-based real-estate company with annual sales of over $500 million. He talks to us about work ethic, building a business from scratch and resisting the lure of reality TV.
"I’m driven to help current students because I wish I’d been given more nuggets of knowledge from industry professionals back when I was in school, rather than through books. The absorption of knowledge is much faster when it’s given in the context of real stories – interesting narratives can stay with you for a very long time compared to a lecture that may or may not really hit home.
"I’m still friends with a number of classmates and other friends from other departments who attended Bath during my tenure. Some of them have also now moved abroad, and we stay in touch by phone and email. We’ve even met up in other countries.
"My overall memories of university are all centred around the beauty of the architecture of the city. Hosting friends from other parts of the country was also always fun – the tourism value of the city afforded me the pleasure of having everyone who was invited accept the invitation to visit!
"I graduated in 1991 in the midst of a global recession, so I decided to try to further my education with a master’s. Things took an international turn when I enrolled in the MBA programme at York University in Canada. I took the drastic change of climate and region and moved to Toronto, then stayed there upon graduation as opportunities started to flourish for me.
"In the final year of my MBA, I fell into the world of real estate investing. Here, I uncovered an industry that allowed for my desire for independence and my ability to combine a number of interests from finance, design, architecture and marketing. I made an almost immediate transition from postgrad student to businessman with my initial successful foray into investment.
Plans for off-plan
"I felt like I had discovered a very new and niche market opportunity within the ‘off-plan apartment’ real estate space, where property is sold before it has been built. Within a few months, I managed to secure my own office space and team to begin my new adventure as a mid-twenties, new immigrant in Toronto.
"I put a focused and well-structured plan into place to seek out qualified and professional clients to invest in volume in the deals that we negotiated with some of the country’s largest real estate firms. I’m happy to say we still have some of the same clients we started with, and the entire business has grown from client referrals alone to become a $24 billion firm.
"Like all good things, getting there took lots of money, energy and work. There were long days, weeks and months where vacations were put on hold, meetings took place at all hours of the day and transactions were carefully constructed so that my clients achieved extraordinary returns on their investments.
A solid foundation
"My time at Bath gave me the foundation of hard work that my business has been built on. It was a running joke socialising with fellow students that Engineering was one of the hardest undergraduate degrees! It was ultimately even harder for me as I didn’t have a desire to be a professional engineer and that’s why I liked the fact that 40% or so of the degree was shared with the School of Management.
"What’s also important to me is that we’re helping to build generational wealth for many of the frontline workers dealing with the current pandemic. Medical practitioners, who make up around 75% of our clients, are working selflessly in both the UK and in Canada – and are not generally compensated in the same manner as in countries where the health care sector is largely privatised. Our support of their investment dollars and the significant returns that we’re able to secure for them give us a wonderful feeling of self-worth, as we see their nest eggs grow substantially.
"With the success of TV shows like Selling Sunset, it’s worth noting that in the late 2000s my partner and I were approached by numerous TV producers in Toronto about our own realty series. We passed on it as it simply didn’t fit into our business model. I have to say, we’re very happy we didn’t look at revealing the secret sauce for some TV ratings. Good, ethical business practices come first, and I really don’t think our clients would appreciate having their private investments showcased on TV!"