David Cordish Named CEO of the Year by Baltimore Business Journal
Title: CEO and chairman, The Cordish Cos.
Power source: "My family. What they give you is a support system that you can win."
From his office at the Power Plant, perched like a beacon on Baltimore's Inner Harbor,
David Cordish says his hometown looks better every day — warts and all, and critics be damned.
The 81-year-old executive who has led the Cordish Cos. for decades is a former lacrosse standout at Johns Hopkins University who prior to that cut his teeth playing street basketball where he learned the need for and importance of teamwork.
Those gritty beginnings helped shape his character and his business acumen, he says. And they have served Cordish well over the years as he grew the company founded in 1910 by his grandfather, Louis, from a builder of local shopping centers to one of the top retail, residential, casino and entertainment developers in the U.S.
Though an octogenarian, Cordish says he is not slowing down. He still wields power with a vision that remains focused on expanding the company's gaming and entertainment goals, despite the pandemic's impact, with the help of his family's next generations.
There is no time, he said, to rest on any laurels.
The private Cordish Cos. financials are closely guarded, but its U.S. investments are in the billions.
The company's portfolio includes the historic Power Plant downtown and Power Plant Live. It also boasts the Maryland Live Casino and its $200 million hotel in Hanover that opened two years ago, and the Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Florida.
Most recently, Cordish Cos. developed a $700 million Live Casino and Hotel in Philadelphia and has sports-related entertainment districts under the Live! brand in Atlanta, Louisville and Kansas City to name a few. A $600 million bid to build a 250,000-square-foot casino and 300-room hotel in Richmond recently lost out to another gaming company.
State records show 2020 revenues at Cordish's Maryland Live Casino topped $479 million, according to an August research survey by the Baltimore Business Journal. And Cordish this year is expanding the Hanover casino by adding Sports & Social, a $10 million sports betting parlor in a former 500-seat concert hall there.
He runs the company with his three sons, Jon, Blake and Reed, and other family members including his wife, Suzy. Two grandsons are in waiting for company jobs when they graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. The company's diverse dossier holds 10 divisions that include gaming, hotels, private equity, commercial real estate, coworking space, entertainment districts and sports-anchored districts in several cities.
And Cordish has led the charge to expand that business mission over the past 20 years with his never-dull, aggressive push to train a new generation of family members and young developers to carry on. In many ways, he is just as competitive today as he was in the 1950s as a scrappy youth.
"Working with family gives you a support system that you can win," Cordish said, during a recent, wide-ranging interview with the Baltimore Business Journal. "They are not only related, but they are owners and they act like owners. People always have your back and their own. There is really no clock being punched. We go home, the business continues."
Cordish became chairman of the company in the late 1960s and has used his love of sports to help steer the corporate ship. He describes his style as fierce and competitive.
"We are all sports nuts, and all D-1 athletes," he said. "You learn that you have to stand on your own feet and you have to play by the rules. All that is very clear. On the other hand, you also learn teamwork. We hire a lot of athletes here at Cordish Cos."
Cordish said he remains true to his hometown roots and that has led him to consider ways to jumpstart the ills facing Baltimore's central business district today like crime, image woes and vacancies.
He has long held a solid place among the city's legacy leaders, a group of CEOs who have helped shepherd upgrades and redevelopments in Baltimore over 60 years.
From Charles Center to the Inner Harbor, the twin stadiums and his Power Plant developments, he has helped shape a vision to inject modern-day potential into downtown. In addition, Cordish Cos. last year shelled out $5.2 million in local philanthropy efforts to help accompany that quest.
Such staunch loyalty and activism come with a side of advice. He says Baltimore sits at a crossroads today with what is left of big corporate tenants shuffling around its waterfront to new office space like a game of musical chairs.
Harborplace, once the crown jewel of the city, is a shell of its former self and languishing in receivership, but could get a second wind — by adding a new retail structure andresidential units. Cordish has been rumored to be on a shortlist of interested buyers of the iconic development once it emerges from receivership, but said last month that any move forward for Harborplace would have to include public and private commitments.His ideas for a renewed Harborplace include making it more diverse, open and affordable to shop and dine.
"It's time to make Pratt Street less expensive and that may take the government's help," Cordish said. "It's worth it and they will get it back 50 times over. I've seen it before, and William Donald Schaefer is a great example. Harbor East started with a public-private partnership and today it is an unbelievable success."
He is optimistic for Baltimore's comeback, and says it will require a teamwork-like push for which he is ready to go.
"Today it's not great. And that's a shame. It doesn't have to be because we have the bones to be fantastic," Cordish said. "I'm a Baltimore City guy. I grew up in this city, went to 12 years of public school, and graduated from City College. I love this city."
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