A conversation with Stephen Clark II
08/12/2012 8:36 AM
08/08/2014 10:11 AM
Steve Clark and Johnny Stevens are known for developing the10-year-old Waterfront at the northeast corner of 13th and Webb Road. Increasingly, though, there’s a new public face at the development: Stephen Clark II.
Clark, 32, joined his father’s Clark Investment Group in 2009 and has helped with several Waterfront deals that are now getting attention. That includes the recently announced Waterfront Plaza on the northwest corner, which Whole Foods Market will anchor, and a new 4.3 acre mixed-use development within the Waterfront on the northeast corner.
That intersection means more to you than just the Waterfront. Why?
“My mother passed away at that intersection after being hit by a reckless driver in … 1989.”
Isn’t regularly passing it painful?
“It is, but at the same time, I take pride in what we’re doing there. It’s special to us. … We want to make sure it’s a nice area.
“Now we control two of those corners, and the other two corners are controlled by good, strong, meticulous ownerships.”
Growing up, what did you want to be?
“I always knew exactly what I wanted to be: I wanted to be like my dad.”
“I don’t know. At a young age, I saw what he was doing.
“I like creating things. … I like taking something and making it better than it was, whether that’s taking a piece of ground and putting a building on it, whether that’s turning land into a building that people appreciate.
“When I drive down the street, I see everything as I would do it.”
What did you learn from your father while you were growing up?
“I was learning from a very, very young age just because … he would always talk about business. I was talking about things I probably didn’t even understand. But I always listened, and so as I heard things over and over again through the years, I was ahead.”
After getting a degree in management and entrepreneurship with an emphasis in real estate from Wichita State University, what did you do?
“I asked (my dad) for a job. He said, ‘Go do more school.’ So I looked around and ended up being lucky enough to get to go to Columbia in New York and got my master’s there in real estate development.
“When I finished that, I asked him for a job. And he still said, ‘No.’ … He said, ‘Go work for someone else.’ So I did that. I worked for a small company I found by chance. They were developing self-storage facilities. I have been around storage a lot in my life. About 80 percent of what we do is real estate development, and half of that is self-storage.”
Then your father finally hired you. How is it to be back?
“It’s good. I miss New York, of course.
“Now the training continues. I spend most of my days with Johnny Stevens and Steve Clark, and professionally speaking, how great is that? I couldn’t ask for better teachers.”
What have you learned from them since coming home?
“Oh, everything. Just listen. That’s all I have to do. … How to negotiate things. How to structure things. How to deal with people. What’s involved in a construction process.”
Much of what you learned in school, too, but this is different?
“When it’s really in practice, and you’ve got real experts to hear how they handle things … it’s good to get different perspectives.”
What is your role at the company?
“All of us wear a lot of hats. I am predominantly new business. We get pitched deals, you know, probably a couple a week from somebody somewhere in the country that’s looking to … do a development.”
It seems like you’re doing a lot of work in Wichita these days, particularly at the Waterfront. Is that the case?
“It has been lately just because we’ve got so many things we’ve got coming to fruition. These are things we’ve been working on for years, though.
“A year ago, I spent 180 nights in hotels. So it just kind of depends.”
What was it like landing Whole Foods?
“That was a big deal to us. As a landlord and a customer, I’m excited.”
Do you have dream businesses that you’d like to land?
“There are a lot of things that I wish Wichita had. We’ll get a lot of those things, but it’s still Wichita, Kansas, and unfortunately in other parts of the country, that doesn’t mean as much to people as it does to you and I. … Landing Whole Foods will help us sell that argument.”
What’s your long-term goal?
“I just want to continue to build upon the things that my father’s invested a lifetime building, and I want to preserve what we’ve got and hopefully add to it over time.”
What’s it like these days with your dad after hours?
“If we could, we would always talk about business, which I love. He and I are fairly stoic if you step outside of our comfort zone, and our comfort zone is business.
“I’m kind of a machine. This is what I was built to do. … Part of that is probably genetic, and part of it is my choice.”
Anything keep you up at night?
“My mind’s always going.”
You take a break each year to go to Comfort Zone, a California bereavement camp for kids?
“I was very impressed and just saw the impact it has on kids. … You’re a big buddy to a kid for a week.”
Including an 8-year-old you met with?
“We were in kind of an alone time. … (I asked him), ‘Well, do you have anybody who are friends you can talk to?’ And he looked at me, and he goes, ‘Well, you.’ ”