Executive Spotlight: James Caulfield, Fields Development

Carrying on the legacy of his grandfather, Caulfield tells CPE how he and his brother continue to grow the company through expanding services and adapting to the market.

By Leah Etling, Contributing Editor

James Caulfield
James Caulfield

Carrying on a family legacy, brothers James and Robert Caulfield are continuing to expand their development and construction reach, with Fields Construction Co. currently building more than 2,000 apartment units and one hotel—projects valued at over $250 million.

James Caulfield, who, along with his brother, is partner in Fields Development Group and its affiliate, Field Construction Co., recently shared his thoughts on the New Jersey market and maintaining a strong business through good times and bad.

“Not only were we able to survive the sharp economic downturn around 2010, but we were able to adapt and strengthen our company as a result,” Caulfield said. “We auctioned several of our development products, allowing the market to set the price on our strongly positioned assets. As a result, our lenders never lost confidence in our ability to create value in our buildings, and we were able to build when no one else was willing to.”

Fields Development Group was founded in 1933 by Jim and Robert’s grandfather, Patrick Caulfield Sr. His two sons, Patrick Jr. and Jim (father of James and Robert), focused on civil engineering and architecture/engineering, respectively.

“Our father instilled the lesson that proper development should be performed with a true sense of purpose–one that positively affects people’s lives and not just a company’s bottom line. We were taught to analyze everything: demand from prospective residents, how a development might fit in a certain location, timing, etc. We’re always cognizant of the greater public impact of what we build, and we believe it’s made us better builders,” Caulfield said.

One key to pulling off that approach is adaptability, especially during tough times. As a result, the Caulfields downsized one of their pending projects.

“In one of our buildings, we converted a 52-unit community into 76 units, and we saw immediate demand. We listened to the market in order to adapt our products, while others let the market dictate their inactivity,” James Caulfield said.

Read on for more of the interview.

CPE: How did you begin your career in real estate?

Caulfield: My brother, Robert, and I grew up in the industry. Our grandfather and father were both civil engineers in Hoboken, N.J. We grew up surrounded by development and design, and our family’s commitment to quality ultimately laid the groundwork for our own careers in construction and development.

When we came out of college in the late 1990s, both Rob and I were working in third-party construction. Only nine months in, we entered the development business with the creation of an eight-unit apartment building in Hoboken. By 2001, we’d raised a fund of about $7 million, which led us to develop about 10 condo projects over the next several years. Today, our development arm has more than 400 apartments under construction, including projects in Hoboken and Jersey City, plus another 1,000 projected to start by 2018.

CPE: Tell us about your renewed focus on third-party construction. What was behind the return to this business?

Caulfield: By 2004, when Hoboken and neighboring Jersey City were in the midst of a residential building boom, what had become the in-house construction division of Fields Development Group morphed into a new business opportunity altogether. As our development company grew, we also grew this construction company that was very good at what it did: managing costs and approaching a construction project like we would approach our own developments.

Our construction arm continued to flourish, leading us to expand our services from just ground-up residential into commercial, hospitality and residential rehabs. Now, not only are we developing for ourselves in the market, but we’re building structures for many of the most active developers in the market—a majority of whom we might consider our competitors.

Today, rather than taking every job that comes along, we’re focused on developing long-term relationships, growing the company pipeline as our clients do the same. It is important to us to be disciplined in the growth of our construction business; we value the mutual relationship with our fellow developers, who entrust us with an extremely large financial commitment from capital partners.

CPE: You’ve recently expanded from your “home” market, Hoboken, into some secondary markets in New Jersey. In what other markets does development potential lie?

Caulfield: Our footprint now touches seven cities in New Jersey, and we’re exploring projects in South Jersey and Pennsylvania. Overall, our construction company is on pace to grow an estimated 10 to 15 percent annually for the foreseeable future.

We think Harrison, N.J., and Asbury Park, N.J., are emerging residential markets that do not have an established general contractor/construction manager with our track record. So our goal is to become that preferred contractor in those markets, where we also see development opportunities.

In total, Fields Construction Co. is building more than 2,000 apartment units and one hotel. That pipeline has allowed us to expand beyond Hoboken and Jersey City in recent years.

CPE: What kind of product do you foresee coming to market in these areas?

Caulfield: We’ll continue to see the residential boom that we’ve witnessed for the past few years. We also expect to see more activity from clients that have a lot of commercial space inside their developments; we’re starting an interior division that will be specifically focused on handling those fit-outs.

Ultimately, we’re highly invested in the continued strength of accessible (both financially and physically) communities that provide amenities that promote a high quality of life. We firmly believe that an essential component will be proximity to mass transportation.