Man does a Michael Jordan

The Province

Henry Man is definitely a business bird of a different feather.

For starters, the Vancouver developer simply says, "I don't want to be greedy."

While that may seem like an oxymoron in this world of ever-inflating residential real-estate values, consider the following: Man's private development company, Magellen2020, contributes 20 per cent of its annual profits to local charities.

Company employees also benefit, with another 20 per cent being targeted for a profit-sharing plan. Everyone, he says, from himself to the receptionist, is a partner in the company's ventures.

He extends that to include the eventual homeowner.

"The buyer must be treated with absolute respect," he says.

And respect is something Man already has, both inside and outside the development community.

Sol Wassermuhl, principal architect at Page & Steel Architects in Toronto, the city's leading residential architectural firm, says: "I have never met anyone more knowledgeable in this field than Henry Man."

Secondly, Man is a devout Roman Catholic who believes everything is pre-ordained and points to the heavens when asked why he has come out of retirement and dived head-first back into the often vicious development game with a $52-million, 185-unit development in Vancouver's downtown south side called Freesia.

Man, 44, who by his own admission has more than enough to support his family of three kids and a wife, walked away from the business two years ago when he left the Concord Pacific Group, where he oversaw billions of dollars in real-estate investment in Vancouver and Toronto.

His personal property and investment portfolio afforded him the ability to cover his needs for the rest of his life, and he decided that jetting to Toronto and elsewhere every second of his life spelled danger for his family life.

So he took to the sidelines and spent much time doing family things and becoming involved with his church.

He even withstood a powerful invitation from Victor Li, son of fabled Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing, to relocate to Hong Kong as an executive in one of the Li empire's flagship companies.

And, that says Man, is where the "man upstairs" intervened again.

"I had no intention of ever going back into this business but, while lunching with a fellow church member, I discovered he was the owner of considerable land holdings [and he] asked me to assist him in planning and developing a downtown condominium project," says Man.

Well one thing led to another and Man agreed to lend his expertise to designing a condo tower for the site and eventually took over the whole development process.

He was back in the business he thought he had left forever two years before.

The result is Freesia, a 132,000-square-foot building at Seymour and Helmcken that will boast some of the best values in the downtown core. Construction of the Larry Doyle Architects-designed building will start this fall with completion set for 2006.

Prices will average about $400 a square foot and start at $198,000 for a 575-square- foot one-bedroom unit, ranging up to $765,000 for a three-bedroom, 1,650-square-foot penthouse.

Similar developments are currently fetching $420 to $440 a square foot.

How can he do it?

Attention to detail is probably understating the case. Man has put in endless hours designing the most space-efficient units possible. Some will even come complete with their own little rooftop herb garden, and there are other neat space savers, such as pull-out ironing boards that just slip out like a drawer.

"I believe we have achieved the absolute optimum usage of space in these units, which in turn translates into lower construction costs, which in turn gives me the opportunity to manoeuvre on pricing," he says.

"I do not wish to be greedy. I have no reason to be and can thus leave something on the table," the quietly spoken Man says.

Man holds an engineering degree from the University of B.C. and an MBA from the University of Calgary and is very centred on high business ethics and creating sound, lasting relationships.

He firmly believes that from start to finish a successful project has to be a collective effort that benefits the homeowner as much as it does the developer.

Man insists he is not back in the "development game" because he was bored.

"I firmly believe this is what God wanted me to do," he says, pointing to the heavens again. "This was certainly not something I planned. That luncheon with my church colleague, I believe, was a signal from God telling me to use my talents for myself and for others."

So, when Freesia is finished in a couple of years, will he retreat to the sidelines again?

Not likely. Man says there are residential projects in Kerrisdale and south Surrey on the drawing board.