Entrepreneur of the Week

How CentreCourt President, Shamez Virani, is Rejuvenating the World of Toronto Real Estate

Shamez Virani loves Toronto.

With an MBA from Columbia University and experience as an analyst in investment banking for Goldman Sachs, you wouldn’t think Virani could wax romantic about the city. But really, the President of Toronto-based construction firm CentreCourt, Virani just might be the most hopeful Torontonian among us. And it is this passion, which he’s infused into CentreCourt, its offices and its ethos, that makes the company one of the most actively growing and modern in the city. 

CentreCourt is the Silicon Valley tech startup equivalent of a construction company in Toronto. “We’re sort of a high rise condo developer who does everything from the beginning to the end of the whole development process,” Virani says. And this process includes everything from land acquisition — attaining land suitable for high-rise residential sites — to re-zoning, taking the land to sales and marketing, and ultimately going to construction. Virani’s business partner Andrew Hoffman founded the company, and when Virani came to it, he infused it with 21st century philosophies surrounding ethics and work. This has resulted in exponential growth at CentreCourt over the past 10 years. 

Currently, CentreCourt has 18 high-rise residential condominium projects at varying stages of development; and 12 projects in varying phases of construction and pre-development comprising of approximately 6000 units and $3.2 billion in development value​. Cumulatively, CentreCourt’s developments are comprised of approximately 9,000 units, 6.6 million square feet of gross floor area, and $4.5 billion in development value.

Many of the projects, developed and developing, are located in downtown Toronto, with a few scattered throughout the greater Toronto area. CentreCourt, ultimately, is responsible for helping grow Toronto, and witnessing this growth first hand is something that, for Virani, is endlessly fulfilling.

“I started my career in investment banking and one of the things that I felt that wasn’t fulfilling about that life was you worked on spreadsheets and documents, and [with] a lot of hypotheticals,” he says. Much of the work was done on paper. “Whereas with condo development or real estate development, generally, I think what drew me to it from the earliest years […] was the fact that I was always captivated by the skyline transforming and seeing new things being built.” 

The projects CentreCourt works on can take up to five years to reach completion, ending when people have moved into a high rise. “But at the end of it,” Virani says, “what I love is that I can look in the skyline and — and I do this all the time where I point out to my family or my friends, our developments from various vantage points. And you feel a sense of accomplishment when you see a project that you were involved in from the formation stage just through to completion.”

Virani and all at CentreCourt are responsible for creating the Toronto that many of us live and work in. But within the offices of CentreCourt, you’ll be able to find, in addition to the implementation of modern tech, the multifaceted and diverse representation that Toronto itself is home to, reflected in microcosmic form. This is something Virani is responsible for. 

Historically and traditionally, real estate companies are hierarchical, with movement within and upwards being possible through the fulfillment of certain roles for a certain period of time. CentreCourt, however, is different. “We’re extremely flat,” Virani says. “We thought, in the way that we want to build an industry-leading company that has the best outcomes, the best track record within our industry, is we have to have everybody act and feel like an owner and feel really responsible for their outcome.” In this sense, CentreCourt is like a tech startup.   

This happened, according to Virani, just because it was the right thing to do. “If you walked through our office, you’d be walking through the streets of downtown Toronto,” he says. When it comes to hiring decisions, what the company looks for in prospective employees is whether their core values align with the company’s, and that’s it, Virani says. It’s personal for Virani, staying true to the diversity that is at the heart not just of Toronto, but of Canada. “My parents are immigrants to Canada,” he says. They arrived in Canada as refugees in the mid-1970s. “Canada was the best thing that ever happened in my family,” he says. “So to be able to now be in a position where we are building on that legacy through what we’re doing in CentreCourt — maybe that’s the most rewarding part about what I do.”

But it wasn’t smooth sailing to get to the point CentreCourt is at now. Because the company was doing something different in the world of real estate, Virani and Hoffman saw a bit of apprehension within the real estate community.

But Hoffman gave Virani some advice that helped him to surmount the difficulties, telling him to “never get too high, never get too low. Always try to stay as even keel and as unemotional as you possibly can because emotions, for better or worse, can get the worst of you.”

Within the office, Virani maintains a level head. “I think as a leader, it’s important to be an even keel manager, someone who can deal with the good times and the bad times,” he says. This level headedness, however, does not get in the way of Virani’s love for Toronto. “There’s kind of nothing like it in the developed world,” Virani says of Toronto.   

CentreCourt is different in the real estate industry for its refreshing diversity, authentic passion for the city it’s in, and its dedication to innovation, which allow for the company to grow and stay relevant. And this is due in most part to Virani’s passion and foresight. “The companies that will be the leaders, say 50 years from now, will be the companies that build the best organizations and that build the best approach to development,” he says.