Miami's Men of the Moment

BY Luis R. Rigual | March 20, 2017 | Feature Features

From an astronomy expert to a real estate maverick, the men shaping Miami's future couldn't be more different in their professions and approaches, but they all share one common trait: a no-holds-barred passion for what they do. Here, eight trailblazers sound off—in their own words.

The Newcomer
Former New Yorker Justin Lowe spends his days managing wealth and investments, but his driving force in life is enjoying time with his family and the best Miami has to offer.

“When people ask me what I do as the founder and managing partner of Northern Star Capital Holdings, the simple answer is that I manage a fund that makes a range of investments globally, principally in private equity and hedge funds. The past year has been one filled with both challenges and accomplishments. We purchased Capital Guardian, a wealth management firm with 20 offices in the Southeastern United States that was undergoing many changes. That was hard work, but we successfully turned it around, moved its headquarters to Miami and positioned it for growth. My job is hard, but I’m not enslaved to it. A client once told me: ‘Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.’ I try to follow that advice every day. I think that’s partly the reason my wife and I decided to move to Miami. I love the ocean and my passion is windsurfing, so I’m on the water as much as possible. Something that was very important for us in moving here was to maintain the connection to the arts that we had in Manhattan, where we lived for 15 years, so we’ve made it a point to do our part to help new cultural establishments grow and thrive by supporting them. And we’ve met great people doing that, so that’s a plus. I have lived in eight countries, and I can honestly say that I have never been so warmly welcomed as in Miami.”

The Night Owl
The newest managing partner of KNR Hospitality Group, Marko Gojanovic is nightlife’s latest arbiter of velvet-rope cool.

“Let me be honest: I fell into the nightlife business out of necessity. I was an ATP tennis player, but had to quit after undergoing two wrist surgeries shortly after moving to Miami. My friend suggested modeling and took me to Wilhelmina, and I signed with them. I was young and fell in love with Miami—and the girls here—right away, but I was a broke model, so when I was offered a club-promoting job, I took it. Within four weeks I met a business partner, and we were soon working 12 parties a week. Three years ago, I joined KNR exclusively, working on places like Mokai and Wall. That led to a great relationship with [co-owner] Nicola Siervo and, eventually, my current role. I think what gives our company the edge is the extra effort that everyone gives to enhance the guest experience at our venues. These days, people want more intimate spots where they don’t have to blow $5K on a table to have a good time. And you have to stay competitive. That’s why we have a renovation planned for Wall this summer as we enter eight years of operation, and we’re looking at new opportunities for hotel projects and restaurants. I really think the key to succeeding in this business is not to let the late nights get in the way. I’m out four times a week, maybe more, but I make sure to have set meetings and goals for the next day. Waking up late with a hangover? That’s for amateurs.”

The Thinker
When the long-awaited Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science opens its doors next month, Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego will finally get to show the city that the years of planning and hard work have been worth the wait.

“As a kid, I stumbled onto old episodes of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, and that was it for me. I didn’t just want to learn about astronomy and astrophysics, but to share that knowledge with others. Now I’m in the business of wonder. As the curator of astronomy and exhibition developer of the Frost Museum of Science, I spend my days learning and listening to others so I can turn complex ideas into inviting experiences. My job is to produce exhibitions that aim to facilitate people’s understanding of science and technology and fuel their critical thinking. As the opening of the museum nears, the biggest change in my life has been realizing its true magnitude when compared to its old self, but I’m ready for it as I believe our community is. I can’t wait for that day, but I also can’t wait for it to be over because I’m aware that our first day will also be the first day of what’s next. That’s when the challenges begin. That’s when we have to strive to keep telling compelling scientific stories in a world in which large amounts of information are easily available. That’s when we really get to work, but I’m certainly thankful for the opportunity. I may just need a vacation at some point.”

The Visionary
A year-plus into his role as director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Franklin Sirmans is happily settled into the position and ready to take the institution into the future.

“I’ve been at PAMM for a year and a few months, and so far, so good. I’m more comfortable in the position, which is not surprising, but what I’m proudest of is that since I arrived here we’ve increased attendance as well as grown the collection and the endowment. That’s my job as director, after all. A lot of people ask me if I was apprehensive about leaving LACMA to come to Miami, and my answer is always no. I did a show here when it was still the Miami Art Museum back in 2009 called NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith, which was an exhibition of paintings, photographs, videos and installations that addressed issues of spirituality in the Americas, so I was familiar with the curatorial team led by Tobias Ostrander and also aware of the great contributions of Peter Boswell as chief curator before him, and the directors who preceded me: Thom Collins, Terry Riley and Suzanne Delehanty. Because of Art Basel, like many others in the art world I had been spending a week in Miami every December since 2002, so I’d seen the city’s cultural evolution. I’m proud of every exhibition we’ve done so far, and the response they’ve had has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m also fortunate to work with a stellar team. As for what’s ahead, I’m excited to bring the work of Toba Khedoori to PAMM, and follow that up with exhibitions by Youssef Nabil, John Dunkley, Dara Friedman and even a show about dominoes. Plus, this month, our gala is going to be bigger and better than ever, and we’re honoring Lorna Simpson, whose works on race and gender have had a profound effect on the way we think over the last 30 years—what’s more timely than that? It’s a good time for PAMM, and we’re all ready to celebrate.”

The Innovator
As one of his major projects comes to fruition and others begin to take shape, Terra Group President David Martin continues his mission of developing real estate that makes a difference.

“We believe responsible development can improve neighborhoods over the long term, so we look for voids in markets and places where we can unlock value and meet demand for a specific type of product, be it residential or commercial. Our biggest accomplishment in the past year was the opening of Grove at Grand Bay in late 2016. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, this was one of the first developments that Terra launched following the recession, and it’s the first luxury high-rise to be built in Coconut Grove in more than a decade. The project fully encapsulates our development philosophy: beautiful design, low-density, respectful of the neighborhood. I grew up in the Grove, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world, so that’s quite special for me. Going forward, Terra will continue to be more diverse than it’s ever been—both in terms of what and where we’re building. We’re developing Class A offices and urban retail at our Mary Street project, multifamily apartments and lifestyle retail centers in Pembroke Pines, single-family homes in Weston and Doral, and the luxury high-rise Eighty Seven Park, designed by Renzo Piano, in North Miami Beach. There, we’ve committed $10 million to the city to overhaul the North Shore Open Space Park in tandem with a master plan created by West 8. Once finished, it will be one of the premier public parks in the country. Staying diverse is critical in all types of businesses, but especially in South Florida’s competitive real estate landscape.”

The Communicator
CNN’s Miami-based national correspondent, Boris Sanchez, has been on the ground at most of the major news events of the past year. It’s grueling, no-nonsense work, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There’s no sugarcoating my job: I chase news around the country. Riots, natural disasters, tragedies... I’m there to tell viewers about it. That means I’m always on call, ready to jump on a plane at 3am. In the past 12 months, I’ve witnessed some unbelievable moments. I followed presidential candidates on the campaign trail. My crew was the first to go live after the airport shooting in Fort Lauderdale. I dodged flying debris covering Hurricane Matthew in northern Florida. And I got to see hundreds of families become overwhelmed with emotion outside Versailles after the death of Castro. Nothing compares to being at the scene of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, however. That day still haunts me. I’ve seen a lot of history and raw humanity in a very short amount of time. Since I started my career, I’ve spent every holiday, birthday and anniversary in a newsroom, and I always have a suitcase with 10 days of clothes and toiletries ready. But journalism is my life. The idea of a free press, constantly speaking the truth to power, is something unimaginable in the Cuba I was born into, so I take my responsibilities as a journalist very seriously. And it’s not like I don’t have a life. Moving back to Miami was definitely a highlight. The fact that I can drop by my parents’ house in Hialeah at any time for some moros and lechon is priceless.”

The Creator
As the head of Eventstar, Alain Perez has seen his business grow into one of the country’s leading providers of state-of-the-art temporary structures. Up next? A new company division and a major expansion into Central and South America.

“I had plans to go to college, but after working part-time at a tent-rental company when I was 17, I guess you can say I found my calling. Eventstar started as a tent-rental business servicing South Florida, but we identified early on that in order to give our clients more unique options, we would need to manufacture our own structures. We now do that, with more than 30 different styles of tents as well as temporary and permanent modular buildings, and work with clients like the Kentucky Derby, LACMA, Visa and just about every art fair in Miami during Basel. We’re currently working on the Drones exhibit structure in New York City and various build-outs for Coachella. Foremost, our projects are about precise and well-orchestrated logistics, so I’ve learned that without clear communication, my business doesn’t work. Lately, my focus has been on Centro. This is a modular building system that’s in a class of its own because it can be used as a temporary or permanent shelter that can be as high as four stories. Getting Centro running took us three years of research, engineering and patenting, but it’s been worth it because we can’t keep up with demand. In terms of the future, we are planning to open offices and manufacturing facilities in South and Central America in the next 12 to 18 months. I have two daughters, so I try to travel as little as possible, but that’s going to be very difficult given our growth and expansion these days.”

The Comeback King
Marketing executive Manny Machado decided retirement just wasn’t for him, so he formed a new partnership and proved it’s never too late to start over.

“The day I started my first job more than 30 years ago, I realized that there were people who wanted to hear what I had to say on brands, trends and how to reach the masses. That’s when I knew what I was doing was meant for me. When it comes to marketing and advertising, I’ve pretty much done it all, so a couple of years back, when the chance to sell my former business came up, I thought it was a natural step. I was wrong. I can admit that now. I wasn’t ready to retire, not by a long shot. I was so bored after one month, I was crawling the walls. I don’t golf, and you can only have lunches with friends so many times a week. My best decision at that point was to unite forces with my business partner, Luis Gonzalez-Esteves, who had founded his successful firm C-COM, and together we positioned ourselves for a great new business opportunity... and we did it in record time! We reached out to client partners of many years, and they took a chance on us. Thanks to that, we’re thriving. In the last year, we’ve worked on very successful campaigns for Florida Power & Light, Neutrogena, Aveeno and Southeast Toyota, whose latest spot just won us a Silver Addy from the American Advertising Federation. We’ve built a solid integrated team, but it’s been challenging... lots of late nights... yet I feel energized every day. Our focus now is to continue to grow our digital and channel-integration divisions while staying true to what got us here, and I think about that 24/7. Reinvention is nothing new to me. I’ve done it a million times... and if I have to, I’ll do it again.”

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