Jordan Ross draws on his background in law to help run a successful multi-generational real estate business

December 21, 2017

Given Jordan Ross’s deep-rooted interest in real estate and construction, he always imagined that, at some point in his life, he’d end up working in that field. He just didn’t realize the path that led him to work with the executive team at M&R Holdings and Three R Property Management—two companies that manage and develop residential and commercial properties in the Greater Toronto Area—would have quite so many twists and turns.

It was actually an unexpected love of philosophy, discovered while he completed his undergrad at Western University, which sparked his unconventional journey. Originally, Jordan planned to study at Western’s Ivey School of Business upon the completion of the pre-requisite two years of undergraduate studies. Instead, he decided to follow his newly discovered interest in philosophy and economics. His passion for these studies led him to earn the gold medal upon graduation, and Jordan then started a Master’s degree in philosophy with the goal of becoming a professor.

“During my Master’s, I realized being an academic might not be my long-term goal,” he explains. “So I ended up in law school because the skills aligned to my interests.”

“Philosophy taught me a way of thinking, analyzing and using language that created a great groundwork for a legal career.”

A taste for law

After transferring into law at Western, Jordan applied—and was accepted—to complete an international exchange program with a university in the Netherlands. He spent the first semester of his last year of law school studying at a university outside of Amsterdam—an experience he says was invaluable to his future legal career.

“The academic side wasn’t that rigorous,” he admits. “But it was interesting to interact with other people in the program and hear their opinions about different issues that didn’t seem that contentious from a Canadian perspective. That definitely came in handy later in my career.”

Law school also presented him with another exciting opportunity in 2006, when he was invited to work on the NAFTA panel on softwood lumber as a research assistant. One of his professor’s colleagues was appointed as a panelist to sit on arbitrations, and Jordan was offered the chance to help provide information and synthesize information for that panelist.

“It was similar to clerking for a judge,” Jordan explains. “The NAFTA panels on softwood lumber are comprised of both Canadian and U.S. panelists that hear disputes. It was a really interesting topic and one that continues to be pertinent today. It was also a neat intersection of my interests—the economic, philosophical and legal angles.”

Following the NAFTA experience, Jordan articled at Osler and ultimately became an associate—an experience, he says, that played a huge role in his career.

“The lawyers and partners I worked with at Osler spent a lot of time honing the student program. They helped us find better ways to tackle client problems,” he recalls.

“I started to learn, after I left, that not everyone has an Osler background—and it makes a difference. That mentorship and professional mindset were huge influences.”

A new direction

After five years at Osler, Jordan was presented with the opportunity to join RBC on secondment as in-house counsel.

Jordan’s secondment turned into a six-year stint at RBC, first as a member of the RBC Global Disputes and Management Team and, later, as Senior Counsel, Anti-Money Laundering, Economic Sanctions, Cyber and Information Risk. In both of his positions, he was seen as a strategic advisor, rather than simply someone offering legal advice.

“I eventually learned that my primary job, regardless of my role, was to help manage risk while still acknowledging the bank’s business needs—and help them balance the two,” he explains.

“Effectively managing risk isn’t about not taking any on. It’s about figuring out what’s acceptable within the culture and business goals of the organization and helping them achieve it. My role was more of a strategic advisor, providing both legal and strategic advice.”

While Jordan enjoyed his time at RBC, he welcomed the chance to find his way back to his passion in real estate and construction. So in 2016 he decided to transfer his skillset into a multi-generational owned and operated real estate business.

“Having the right background is very important to succeed in the property management and development world,” he acknowledges. “Fortunately, my transition has gone quite smoothly in large part because of the experiences I’ve had. Understanding legal concepts, seeing things from a client’s perspective, knowing how to manage risk—these are all huge components of running this type of business.”

Today, Jordan helps manage several residential and commercial properties, while maintaining the strong, 50-year reputation of two multi-generational businesses. While every day is different, many of them start working at the head office with his team and dealing with property management issues as they arise.

“Sometimes we might have to deal with an issue at one of our multi-residential sites. Other days we’ll have to veer our focus towards planning—some of the buildings in our portfolio are 50 years old, so they often require maintenance or maybe strategic updating.”

Although it’s undoubtedly different than his job at RBC—a job he very much enjoyed—working in the family business, in an industry that’s always been close to Jordan’s heart, makes going to work seem less like a job.

“I’ve heard people say that when you start to feel like work isn’t really work, it’s a good spot. I don’t know if I ever bought into that. But I’m starting to understand it more,” he says fondly of his current work.

“Three generations have owned this business, so there’s a point of pride which makes ‘work’ more exciting…it’s more personal and more real.”

Words for the future

While Jordan no longer practises law, he learned some integral lessons throughout his career that can guide the next generation of lawyers. The first is to recognize the important role relationships play in the legal profession.

“The relationships you build with those around you are often as important as your technical skills,” he says. “In litigation, you often come across the same people, so it can be incredibly useful to start out on the right foot.”

The second piece of advice is how valuable it can be to go beyond simply offering legal advice—opting, instead, to put that advice into context.

“Some of the people I’ve supported as clients very much appreciate when you say ‘Here are the legal risks, but here’s what I think you should do.’ Go beyond an analysis of the law and give clients recommendations to help them solve their problems. Make a decision and stick your neck out a bit. Clients appreciate that,” he says.

Jordan also believes in setting aside time for yourself—and your family. For Jordan, this means taking time to clear his head through running—he often runs between 20 and 50 miles per week—as well as making sure he’s spending quality time with his wife and family.

“I grew up with a large extended family. My parents deeply valued those relationships and I learned to, as well. It’s very important to me to set aside a lot of time for the people that matter most.”

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