Edgardo Defortuna came to the U.S. from Argentina simply to master English. But he ended up altering Miami’s skyline with his own projects and by finding foreign investors for others.
Defortuna’s Fortune International Group, which has more than 1,000 real estate agents worldwide, specializes in generating a buzz for Miami projects overseas. The brokerage also has a commercial real estate division.
Fortune International’s development arm is involved in projects with a cost of about $2.5 billion, including Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach, Hyde Resort & Residences in Hollywood Beach, Auberge Beach Residences & Spa in Fort Lauderdale and the Ritz-Carlton Residences Sunny Isles Beach.
Defortuna said the strengthening of the U.S. dollar against many foreign currencies has caused a slowdown of buyers in parts of Miami, but there’s still tremendous opportunity for growth in the city, and real estate there is a good value compared to other major world cities.
What was your first job? I was an electrical design engineer for my father’s company in Argentina. … I always looked forwarded to studying engineering – until I figured out this business was a lot more profitable.
How did you end up in real estate? My dad started diversifying in real estate and had some assets in different classes in his company. I helped him manage those assets, and that really increased my desire and understanding for real estate development.
Why did you move to the U.S.? I came with my sister about 30-some years ago to do an English as a second language course for three months. I thought I would go back to Argentina. I loved the lifestyle so much, they are still waiting for me to come back. The safety, the level of professionalism, and both the physical and financial security was significantly better than in Argentina, and the parameters to do business in the U.S. were more stable.
How did you start your U.S. business? I started a real estate brokerage and management firm. That led to a big real estate brokerage and marketing organization that developed into the development side of the business.
Who helped you learn the ropes? My first big development was with a joint venture, Jade Residences at Brickell with Swire Properties. Steve Owens was very helpful and open to teaching me the key components of real estate development.
Who are your favorite architects? I am somewhat biased, but I love to work with Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architects who are designing Jade Signature for us. I am also a fan of Carlos Ott, who designed Jade Ocean, [and] Bernardo Fort-Brescia from Arquitectonica. He always comes up with creative solutions.
Where are your favorite vacation spots? I love skiing in Colorado in the winter. The south of France – pretty much anywhere there – is beautiful in the summer. I must have been Italian in my past life because anywhere in Italy is wonderful for me.
Which areas in South Florida do you expect to have the most growth in property values over the next five years? I’m a huge fan of Sunny Isles Beach because, if you compare that on the ocean to values a few minutes south in Bal Harbour or South Beach, then it has tremendous growth appreciation potential. Edgewater and the Biscayne corridor from 21st to 36th streets is attractive for waterfront property. Fort Lauderdale is coming up and will eventually mirror the values we are getting in Miami.
How has your firm been so successful at reaching international buyers? [With] a lot of work and consistency … attending events, seminars and fairs, and being [at the forefront] for over 25 years. It’s about relationships and people trusting you to provide the right products and services. In some cases, we have offices in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico. In others, our international team of 12 to 15 brokers from Miami travel all over the world. We have people who understand their idiosyncrasies and speak their language.
Born: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Residence: Key Biscayne
Current position: President and CEO, Fortune International Group
Current boards: University of Miami, Argentine American Chamber of Commerce of Florida
Education: Electrical engineering degree, University of Argentina; M.B.A., University of Miami