Business Lessons From Yonah Ghermezian: The Man Behind the World’s Largest Retail Center


If you’ve ever been to the famed Mall of America or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, then you’re familiar with the work of Yonah Ghermezian. As the owner and partner of development giant Triple Five Worldwide, the Ghermezians built and operate three of the largest retail centers on the planet—which have employed over 5,000 individuals around the world and generated more than 50,000 jobs to date. 

Their most recent project is the most ambitious one yet: the American Dream. In total, the New Jersey-based retail and entertainment center spans 3.2 million square feet and includes 350+ retail stores inside its walls, with additional phases to come that will include hotels and more. The American Dream is already garnering rave reviews among patrons—both online and offline.

With all the success they’ve sustained since the launch of Triple Five Worldwide decades ago, Yonah Ghermezian will be the first one to tell you it wasn’t always this easy for him and his family. In fact, the Ghermezians emigrated from Iran to Canada in the 1970s in search of a better life and began by launching a Persian rug import company. Through hard work and thoughtful expansion, this business eventually grew to become one of the world’s largest Persian rug distributors. From there, the Ghermezians used their funds from the rug company to jumpstart their foray into retail and commercial development—and haven’t looked back since. 

How did this all come to fruition? How has Yonah Ghermezian and his team been able to grow Triple Five’s influence and expand its empire so steadily and for so long? We recently had the opportunity to sit down with him to gain more insight on his business success—here’s what he had to say.

#1. Loyalty Is Currency

Largely, when it comes to running a business, the more successful you become the harder it is to determine who’s truly loyal to your company and who’s in it only for their own personal gain. Zeroing in on, hiring and retaining individuals who are loyal and perform their job well should be a top priority of any organization—whether for entry-level positions or C-level roles. This is one of the primary reasons Yonah continues to do business with family members given how trust, team chemistry and loyalty are practically a guarantee when it comes to family.

When asked to elaborate on the topic, Yonah Ghermezian explained, “My father and his brothers have always preached that no matter what happens within our business ventures, as long as we stick close as a family, showing each other the utmost respect and admiration, we will always be strong and accomplished. This lesson of loyalty and unity has been ingrained in us since we were born.”

Whether you choose to work with your family members, close friends or just people you believe would be a great fit for your company, remember that loyalty is currency. Because of that, hold on to talented, loyal employees as long as you can—compensate them fairly, ensure they feel valued and give them a prominent seat at your company’s table.

Create loyalty with customers by creating something special that provides customers with a sense of place.

We asked Christian Vind, a Minneapolis-based hip hop star and co-founder of viral online marketing agency Because You Can, to explain how the Mall of America has been able to thrive in a time when Amazon and other online retailers are putting brick and mortar stores out of business right and left: “The success of Mall of America goes beyond the stores. It’s a place where all generations can come together to have fun because there’s something for everyone. There is a strong sense of community pride and a feeling of belonging when you’re there that brings people back over and over. It’s safe to say the mall has been apart of my past, it’s part of my present, and I hope to open a store there as part of the next phase in my business.”

#2. Recognize and Embrace Change

Much of Ghermezian’s success can be attributed to his focus on the future. By taking inventory of current trends, adapting to those findings, and iterating based on the results of those actions, Triple Five’s projects have withstood the test of time. Their American Dream project is evidence of this attention to detail. The world of retail is rapidly changing. In the first half of 2019 alone, nearly 6,000 U.S. retail stores closed and just 2,600 were opened. Additionally, the Harris Group recently found that 72% of millennials prefer spending money on experiences versus purely material goods.

What did Triple Five Worldwide do combat this shift? They made American Dream an experience in itself rather than solely a retail center. The complex will have hundreds of retail shops, but also has a Nickelodeon theme park, a DreamWorks themed water park, an ice rink and even an indoor ski resort—giving visitors of all ages a wide variety of ways to spend their time and money.

No matter what business or industry you’re a part of, forecasting what the landscape will look like 5-10 years from now and being flexible enough to act on those shifts will help position your company to win. Be adaptable, test, and iterate based on your findings.

#3. Learn From the Best

When it comes to becoming the best version of yourself as an entrepreneur or working professional, the value of firsthand observation and experience is incalculable. There’s only so much knowledge you can gain from going to school or reading a book. 

On this topic, Yonah Ghermezian says, “I believe that there is no such thing as a self-made person. Of course, people come from various backgrounds and have different toolsets available to them relative to others, but ultimately, anyone who has been successful has had a mentor or someone who has sparked inspiration in them and pushed them to accomplish great things.”

No matter where you’re at in your career, there’s always room for growth when it comes to knowledge and enhancing existing skill sets. Whatever situation you’re currently in, whether you’re an intern or a CEO, pay attention to the habits and insight of the successful people around you. By viewing them closely and asking them thoughtful questions, you’ll get a front-row seat to their decision-making process, how they overcame obstacles you might be facing in the current moment and so much more.

#4. Take the Time to Break Down Complex Problems

Challenges are bound to come up for any entrepreneur or working professional. Whether you run an independent coffee shop or a Fortune 500 company, every day will present you with complex problems, big and small, that you need to solve promptly. To tackle such issues, Yonah Ghermezian breaks every problem down into actionable, bite-sized tasks to make them more digestible and achievable.

“When I am faced with situations that seem like I may have a mountain to climb, I begin to break it down into smaller subsets of tasks, which makes approaching it easier. This allows me to get the momentum to work towards success. It’s all about progression. In my opinion, the hardest part of anything is starting.”

By taking large projects and restructuring them into smaller sub-tasks, you will make them appear less daunting for yourself and your team. When done effectively, this can lead to higher morale, increased productivity and an overall better work environment.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, ambitious professional, artist, or something else completely, it can be difficult to effectively navigate the world of business. Yet, by applying principles and lessons passed down from individuals who have already walked the path you’re currently on, you’ll save yourself a massive amount of time and energy—and leveraging Yonah Ghermezian’s lessons laid out in this article is a terrific place to start.

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