By Patricia Rogers – Research Director, Austin Business Journal
Apr 2, 2020
Home is where the heart is. For some, it's also where their business is.
That's the case with Jeff Novak in Georgetown. An admitted homebody, Novak has built a development and construction business around the concept of home. And he works with several family members.
Novak Brothers, established in 2010, brought the first true live-work-play mixed-use development to Georgetown, called The Summit at Rivery Park. It has been a labor of love that has taken eight years and $230 million to realize. The final phase has commenced with the start of construction on Summit Lofts –– a 246-unit "wrap" project with apartments for rent and retail space wrapped around a parking garage.
Perhaps lesser known is that decades prior, Novak got his start during the early the 1990s building spec homes in the area while still in the National Football League. He had discovered Georgetown while attending Texas State University and later partnered with a college friend to build the homes. Wanting to start a family with his bride but needing a place to nest, Novak kept one of those first spec homes for himself and sold the rest.
Since retiring from football, Novak has continued to develop custom home communities in Central Texas. In 1999, Novak built his forever home in Georgetown by the San Gabriel River and enjoys a three-minute commute to work.
Novak was a football journeyman with a professional career that took him from San Diego to Canada to New York to Florida over the course of nine years.
"I was always fighting for a job, so I never really defined myself as anything other than a husband and father first," he said. "I always worried about my career after football and was not sure when that would begin. I started a couple of businesses while still playing football and was able to transition after my ninth year right into a company that was profitable and could pay me a salary."
Novak credited his experience with real estate marketing firm Intra-Focus with learning how all the pieces of a real estate deal work together to create value. That has led him to carefully pick the retail tenants at The Summit to fit the atmosphere he envisioned. Novak also named the streets in the development after streets where he grew up and other meaningful things from childhood, such as Hershey, named after a brother’s dog.
The following Q&A was conducted just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Novak reached out with the following statement:
I did this interview weeks ago, at a very different time for all of us. It goes without saying that my perspective on business and life has changed dramatically since this interview. The relevance of a person, a project, or a company in Georgetown, Texas or New York City for that matter, is at best trivial. As I reflect on this interview from weeks ago, I’m reminded why “team” has always been the most important thing in my life. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum, everything we’ve all done is a result of a team of people that supported us, encouraged us and believed in us. Now more than ever we need to pay it forward, be the best teammates we can be, pick people up, practice grace when we can and support each in ways that may not make good business sense. My prayer for our country is that we stop picking sides and start being better teammates.
Personally, what’s the biggest thing to happen in your life in the past year? I celebrated my 30th anniversary. Also, I was honored to be awarded and recognized as a distinguished alumni at Texas State University. Since 1959 only 208 people have been presented this award of almost 200,000 TSU alumni. I don’t know how I ended up on this list.
How do you top The Summit — what’s next? We have a number of projects that are in analysis, design or underwriting. We are focused on the Southern Gateway Project on Westinghouse Road [in Georgetown] and a 76-acre project we have spent the last few years entitling and assembling partners on. (Novak expects to start moving there dirt by August 2020.)
How did you make your first dollar? I was a paperboy for a couple of years starting at 12 years old.
What was your first job with a paycheck? Working in Safeway stores.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A football player like my dad.
How has football helped you in the business arena? Hard work, accountability, putting team before self, understanding singular purpose — those things transcend athletics and provide incredible value in the real world.
What do you think is the toughest part about starting a business? Forecasting cash flow.
What are the pros and cons of working with family? Family is always looking out for each other, always trying to do their best. However, there needs to be a hard line at work that the relationships are professional, accountable and respectful. Family has to outwork everyone else or they are viewed as “the coaches' kids.” That cons include that it is tough for team members to communicate problems when they know they are being critical of family.
What was the best advice you received, and what do you find yourself saying the most when others ask for advice? Do what you say and say what you do. Be humble and respectful.
Best place to meet for networking? Anywhere and everywhere. Everywhere I go, there are people I will find some common interest in that makes meeting them a benefit.
What is your most effective time-management tactic? I write down the most important things I need to get done each day with boxes next to them. I make sure those boxes get checked before going home.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as leader? I keep people too long that aren’t performing.
What challenges do you face now? Growing people and processes to support new business.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business and what did you learn from it? Over-leveraging real estate. I learned that even though equity is more expensive than debt the tradeoff isn’t worth the returns.
What are you learning now? I am learning that sometimes companies outgrow leadership, that I need to always be asking if I am the right person to lead our company through the next phase of growth.
What is the most outrageous or impulsive thing you’ve ever done? I signed up for an Ironman race in Tenby, Wales. I told everyone that I was doing it ... so I had to spend the next nine months preparing for it. It ended up being a blast.
Do you have any collections? Football stuff, including dad’s old Green Bay Packers stuff.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure? Trappistes Rochefort 10 Belgian ale.
Do you have a bucket list? My bucket list is simple: Show up for family every day until Jesus decides my work is done.
If not real estate, then what? I have a real issue with politics today, on both sides. I think we can all scream and yell and complain or we can be a conduit for change and get involved. If not real estate I would work to have an impact on the disfunction of our political leaders.
What’s something others may not know about you? I graduated from college 30 years after I enrolled.
What are you most afraid of? Letting people who believe in me down.
What is your worst habit? Letting my phone distract me when I am in the company of someone.
What was your first car? A 1972 Toyota pick-up. I had to buy my own car. I worked at Safeway all through high school and saved for the truck. Then I sold it and bought a nice '78 Camaro and fixed that up.
How do you start your day? With a couple cups of coffee. Then an hour at the gym, shower and in the office by 8.
Were you ever the coach for your kids' sports teams? I coached all my kids in all sports until they were in middle school. I always believed the most important job of a coach was to help a kid fall in love with the game, to want to come back.
Title: Founding partner, president and CEO, Novak Brothers LLC
Family: Wife of 30 years, Kim; children Cade (26), Cole (25), Calli (21) and Corinne (20)
Hometown: Born in Arlington Heights, Ill.; grew up south of Houston in Seabrook, Texas
Education: Bachelor's degree, Texas State University
Phone: (512) 931-7774