Moira Morris-Emslie of the Sorbara Group of Companies has a big job title — director of strategy, design and implementation — and the demanding life to go with it.
Just connecting with her to do this interview took some time. But, she assured me, she has finally hired a sales manager to help her with the ever-increasing workload as Sorbara expands its portfolio.
The Sorbara Group is a huge multi-tiered real estate development, investment and management company that began in 1942 when Sam Sorbara started a business known today as the Adriatic Insurance Brokers Ltd.
Sorbara now, however, owns, manages and operates commercial/ industrial, office and retail properties, a large residential apartment portfolio, as well as offering insurance services and construction management and planning and development services. This is in addition to the many lowrise and highrise communities it develops and builds to exacting standards.
I can see why Morris-Emslie is busy.
Condo Life: Can you tell me something about yourself? Where did you grow up, what is your background and career trajectory?
Moira Morris-Emslie: I am a very proud mother of three, married to my best friend and I love my work. I grew up in London, Ontario, attended high school in Thornhill, and returned to the University of Western Ontario to complete a BA in Urban Development. I have lived and raised my family in Richmond Hill for the last 23 years.
I started working as a planner with Landtactix (the planning and development division of The Sorbara Group of Companies) in 1990, the day after I wrote my final exam. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow with the Sorbara Group over the past 25 years as the planning and development division has grown from acquisitions, approvals and site servicing, to include the marketing, sales and construction of loft conversions and lowrise, midrise and highrise developments.
The Sorbara Group of Companies will see increased growth over the next 10 years in all aspects of the real estate business (including industrial, commercial, residential rental, highrise, midrise and lowrise). This keeps me inspired, and busy.
CL: What inspired you to join the building and development field?
MME: A third year feasibility analysis project on the then BCE place (now Brookfield Place) excited me as the proforma brought together market research, approval requirements, design, leasing and, ultimately, the financial feasibility of a development. This analysis, coupled with my summer work experiences in Vaughan, when it grew from a town to a city, allowed me to witness the enormous infrastructure, business and housing growth throughout the late 1980s and early ’90s. It moved me to join the development field.
CL: What have been the strongest influences in your professional life? Do you have someone you would consider a mentor?
MME: I have had the opportunity to work for and with many of our industry’s finest throughout my 25 years at Sorbara. Working through challenges with a positive attitude to achieve the best result for everyone is what I strive for. In terms of a “mentor” in this regard, my mom amazes me with her perseverance. She inspires me daily.
CL: There have been a lot of changes in the industry over the years. With the province’s Places to Grow policy and the Greenbelt restrictions, where do you see the real estate and housing market going?
MME: The impact of the Places to Grow policy and Greenbelt restrictions is evident as housing forms are growing up instead of out. These policies marked the shift from lowrise to highrise homes over the last decade.
For example, in 2015, highrise development comprised 80 per cent of the new GTA housing stock, a direct result of these policies. This shift, along with continued increasing pressure in land prices and housing affordability will continue to evolve into medium-density housing forms, particularly midrise and stacked townhomes designed for families.
Sorbara is currently working through the design and approval process for 500 stacked townhomes in Mississauga to bring to the market later this year. This form of housing is where I see the market going. The spaces are well designed, affordable, offer privacy and outdoor space — and help to meet the density requirements of municipalities across the GTA.
CL: What are the biggest challenges that builders and developers encounter today?
MME: We need to build homes in complete communities that people can afford. With the estimated GTA growth of 100,000 people annually, the 35,000 new homes required to accommodate the growth will need to be thoughtfully designed and be both livable and affordable.
One of the biggest challenges developers encounter is the lack of infrastructure services. New interconnected community infrastructure with a fair and reasonable funding strategy to move people, services and goods is essential for the continued success of the housing market. Overcoming this challenge will require a coordinated approach with the development industry and government policy makers.
CL: Sorbara has a great reputation for not only building quality homes, but for being community builders. How does that align with Sorbara’s business and philanthropic philosophy?
MME: When our founder, Sam Sorbara, started the company, his message was that “fortune and wealth are gifts that life offers us so we can share them with others.” Because of that, the Sam Sorbara Foundation was created. We believe strongly that charitable giving is an important part of our operations.
CL: You build communities and are very involved in those communities. Why do you go above and beyond and what sense of satisfaction do you get from it?
MME: We don’t just build houses, we construct neighbourhoods and homes in which people live, work and play. Smart acquisitions, carefully considered market positioning, community planning, thoughtful architectural design and the commitment of our construction team to the delivery of quality homes creates exceptionable neighbourhoods. Our team excels at executing the whole package.
My greatest work satisfaction comes from the positive feedback of our homeowners. We set the hard landscape in which people live. Success in our business is measured by the homeowner’s positive experience with the homes and communities we design and build.
CL: What has made you proudest?
MME: That’s easy! Jacob, Hannah and Kyle, my three children.
CL: What do you do for fun?
MME: Hanging at the cottage with family and friends. And being part of a forward thinking, progressive development, construction and marketing team keeps work fun.
CURRENT SORBARA PROJECTS
• Beacon Condos in North York
• 210 Simcoe in Toronto
• Crafthouse at St. Andrews in York Mills
• Copperwood in Kleinburg
• Crafthouse in Bayview Village
• Valleyview in Beeton
• Treetops in Allison
• Summerfields in Fergus
• Prairiewood in Stouffville
• Fairwater in Pickering