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Kodem: A David and Goliath story

Kodem is a development management company in Montreal specializing in every sector of real estate: residential, commercial, leisure, and institutional. The small but mighty firm harnesses the extensive capabilities of its team along with some childhood magic to plan and execute the impossible. Founder Benjamin Sternthal speaks to LUXE about the importance of play, and the potential for his industry to effect positive change in the community.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in real-estate development?

I just knew as a kid. I was always creating and building things, taking them apart and putting them back together. As a four-year-old, I would spend all day building sandcastles. It’s who I am.

In which ways is your career similar to your childhood playtime?

At the Museum of Ethnography in Ethiopia, I read: “Children must play because playing fosters dreams, and dreams build nations.” I spend every weekend playing with my girls in their sandbox in the park. That’s where my best ideas are born. The challenge in my job is to never grow up.

Take us through the evolution of Kodem from its inception to today.

We’ve done over 150 projects since starting around 1998. That represents about 8.5 million square feet of building, over 400,000 phone calls and probably 100,000 cups of coffee. I don’t know any other company that has that quantity of buildings developed in every sector of real estate. It’s a David and Goliath story. We’re David; small in size, but innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, and we’re creating the biggest projects in town.

How do you approach projects that require processes and resources that don’t yet exist?

The starting point for me is logic and vision. It’s really about understanding: Who are we developing this for? How do we make sure that the product meets the exact need of the end user? If we do that, the project is a success.

Name a few of Kodem’s biggest projects.

Solstice Montréal is the biggest project we’ve ever done as a single-phase. We delivered the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) headquarters on time and under budget. One of my favourite projects was Herzliah, a state-of-the-art private high school. The most meaningful project we’ve done was Shumargie School; a $20,000 2-room schoolhouse in Ethiopia, funded through a charity my wife and I started.

Share the Warmth was one of Kodem’s pro bono projects. How did you convince your peers to commit to that level of investment of time, labour, and material resources?

André Miller, who works with me, did everything on that file. He came to me with Share the Warmth as a potential client. As a company, we leveraged our purchasing power and clout in the industry saying, “Hey guys, as a real estate community, this is something we should be volunteering to do.” We forced that vision and rebuilt the whole thing as a donation. André deserves incredible credit for managing it.

How is Kodem changing the world?

We’re a pillar in the development industry in Montreal, creating amazing projects, which are sustainable, which actually change the urban landscape. Our projects actually work. There’s a real return for the investment group, and a real return for the communities they’re built in.

What’s next for Kodem?

The company is growing amazingly well. Aside from being small and nimble, we are very hands-on. I still put paper in my own photocopy machine, I am still on my sites, my construction boots are still in the car. I could see growing our team to a small, medium-size company because of the scale of projects we’re doing, but I wouldn’t want to grow into a bureaucracy.

Where do you see the city of Montreal in 10 years?

I believe that Montreal can be the future for North American cities. We are so innovative, so creative, so entrepreneurial. We do things so differently here, which drives the rest of Canada crazy. I see Montreal as a Rainbow Nation, formed by all of the different cultures in Quebec. I think the more people jump on that holistic, collaborative vision, the stronger Montreal will be.



Text: Jennifer Laoun-Rubenstein

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