Joe McMillan is the Chairman and CEO of DDG. The company — which launched in 2009 and initially focused on buying distressed properties — has developed real estate valued at $2.5 billion, including luxury condos such as 41 Bond, 12 Warren and 345meatpacking, which made headlines in 2012 when the firm wrapped it in a giant banner designed by artist Yayoi Kusama. McMillan — who graduated from the University of Virginia and is an openly gay military veteran — worked for a dozen years in private equity at Greenhill & Co. and at Och-Ziff Capital Management Group before shifting to real estate. Unlike builders focused solely on development, DDG has teams dedicated to capital investment; architecture and design; and development and construction. And McMillan personally invests in every deal. The Tribeca-based company, which also has offices in Florida and California, is currently teaming up with Westbrook Partners to convert the former Standish Arms Hotel in Brooklyn Heights to condos. DDG is also building a 48-unit, 50-story condo at 180 East 88th. The project is nearly topped out.
DOB: November 11, 1971
Hometown: West Grove, Pennsylvania
Lives in: Manhattan
TRD: What were you like as a kid?
JM: When I was very young, I was incredibly studious. I wore a suit to school, I carried a briefcase up until probably 10 or 12. That’s when I became a little more rambunctious.
TRD: What was your childhood like?
JM: I had a good childhood. There were six of us that lived in a two-bedroom house. My sister had a room, my parents had a room and my two brothers and I slept in the attic. I lived in the house until I was 18 years old, when I enlisted in the Army.
TRD: What made you enlist?
JM: I grew up in a very small town —1,800 people, one traffic light. My father had been in the Navy, my brothers had been in the Army and Navy. There was not a lot of opportunity. I had been on a plane once in my life. [Joining the Army] picked me up and transported me half a world away. I went to college on the GI Bill.
TRD: What military habits have stuck with you?
JM: I tend to like things that are very orderly. [The Army] taught me discipline and work ethic.
TRD: What was the transition into the military like?
JM: When I first went into basic training, I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Let’s just say that my level of physical activity was not what it needed to be.
TRD: What was your first ever job?
JM: Shoveling snow, mowing lawns and landscape work. I worked after school, on weekends. I needed money. I was living in the attic! When my brothers and I were first pushed up to the attic, there was no electricity. There was no heat. It wasn’t always Bond Street.
TRD: What was your relationship with your parents?
JM: I was incredibly close with my mother. [She died] when I was 28. It was like my heart was ripped out. My relationship with my father was more estranged. I had come out as gay. He was a conservative minister then, so we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye. We [later had] a fantastic relationship, but there were some tense years.
TRD: How and when did you come out?
JM: In stages, starting in my late 20s. I came out to my sister first. I visited her in Atlanta and I told her in a Waffle House around midnight.
TRD: What was her reaction?
JM: She said it’s a phase. And I was like, “No, I don’t think so.” I told my mother about a year later. She cried. I thought she was upset, but it was because I had never told her before — and that I felt I had to keep it from her.
TRD: What made you pivot from private equity to real estate?
JM: I’d been doing a number of deals, [grappling with] the passing of my mother and looking at where I was personally. I looked back at what I really enjoyed. I like the creative aspect and I wanted to do something tangible. I wanted to build things.
TRD: Before DDG, what kinds of investments did you make?
JM: I bought some spec land and was a passive investor in five or six deals. [I did] well enough to quit my job and start a company.
TRD: Do you have a favorite project?
JM: 41 Bond was an acquisition we did in 2009. We bought a piece of vacant land and we built our first building, so that will always be truly special.
TRD: You live there, too, right?
JM: I do.
TRD: You said you used to smoke three packs a day. How about now?
JM: I actually don’t drink or smoke. I don’t drink coffee or soda. I drink more water and green tea with honey.
TRD: Do you have vices?
JM: I have a weakness for vanilla cake. I probably will eat pretty much any type of cookie in front of me.
TRD: You grew up without money. Do you resent those born on third?
JM: I don’t resent people who inherited money. What I find offensive is when someone acts as if they worked really hard for it, or they don’t treat other people well. I’ve been a waiter. I’ve been a busboy. I’m a good tipper. It’s the sense of entitlement and arrogance that some people have that I find offensive.
TRD: Are there any deals that got away?
JM: We were looking at 432 Park when it was distressed. But when you’re starting a new company, 432 Park is not going to be the first thing you do. Investors are not going to support that. I think it was a missed opportunity.