Louis Haddad, CEO and president of Armada Hoffler Properties, voted Top CEO and Best Local Leader Making a Difference
By Gail Kent
Louis Haddad’s approach to employee relations and company culture can best be illustrated by the way he handled the recession due to COVID-19 when business dropped and finances became tight.
As CEO and president of Armada Hoffler Properties, he and board members took substantial pay cuts so that employees not only got their full salaries, but also their raises and bonuses on time.
“A recession is the best time to build employee and brand loyalty,” says Haddad, voted Top CEO and Best Local Leader Making a Difference in CoVa BIZ Magazine’s annual Best Of Business Awards.
“It’s important to us to provide a positive environment with a lot of rewards and accolades, and we do a lot of team-building activities. As you can imagine, that was a lot harder during COVID via Zoom, but we tried to nurture that as much as possible.”
Haddad, 63, a personable and soft-spoken man with salt-and-pepper hair and heavy, expressive eyebrows, sat in his tidy Virginia Beach office, dressed casually in an open-collared sports shirt. He talked about his career and the remarkable growth of Armada Hoffler, headquartered in Virginia Beach, now one of the largest commercial real estate companies in Virginia.
Perhaps best known locally for its Town Center development in Virginia Beach, the 42-year-old company has developed, built and managed many high-quality office, retail and multifamily properties in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. Other Hampton Roads projects include the Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School complex, the Marriott at City Center and multiple buildings at Hampton University, including the Hampton Proton Therapy Institute.
In 2013 Haddad spearheaded the company’s initial public offering and transition to a publicly owned company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Since then, the company has increased its property holdings to 51 large commercial assets and has developed more than $800-million-worth of new projects.
Haddad left college after a year because he was eager to get out of the classroom and begin his career in the building industry. He began at Armada Hoffler in 1985 as an on-site construction superintendent. After several promotions, he was named president of Armada Hoffler Construction company in 1987, just shy of his 30th birthday. He continued up the ladder and was named president of Armada Hoffler Holding Company in 1996 and CEO in 1999.
He credits leadership lessons from his father and from his mentor, Dan Hoffler; a very strong sense of curiosity; and tirelessly reading books by strong leaders—especially those advocating for service leadership—for his business and management acumen. “I try to live the ideals of being communicative, transparent, and inclusive, and giving credit to others.”
His employees say he has succeeded with those efforts.
“Lou Haddad is one of the most generous, kind individuals I have ever met,” says Darlene Farley, director of human resources. “His leadership over many years has brought Armada Hoffler through good times and challenging times as he made personal sacrifices for employees.”
Jennifer Harris, senior development manager, says her leader inspires employees through “family devotion, hard work, empathy and integrity.”
“There are two things I believe sets Lou apart from a lot of leaders I’ve met,” says Ryan Arcese, senior asset manager. “First, he is the epitome of ‘cool, calm and collected,’” allowing him to make sound, calculated business decisions. “Second, he makes Armada Hoffler feel like one big family.”
Haddad believes that a strong employee culture is essential to ensuring quality. “Quality is everything,” he says. “We build products that are the top quality in the market, whether that’s Virginia Beach, Atlanta or anywhere else. Our philosophy has always been to be above the norm without overbuilding for the market.”
Haddad’s eyes light up when asked about his family. “I like to say that 38 years ago, I hit the jackpot twice within six months,” he says. “I married my wife Mary, and I came to work at Armada Hoffler. And every day since then, I can’t wait to get to work in the morning and I can’t wait to get home at night. So, I won—big time.”
The parents of four grown children, all of whom were adopted, the Haddads co-founded the Louis and Mary Haddad Foundation in 1999. The foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged and at-risk children by providing scholarships for children who would not typically be eligible, supporting early childhood education and vocational schools, and providing computers to schools with a high population of at-risk students.
In conjunction with Armada Hoffler, Haddad also has donated to and volunteered with many youth and medical charities, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, American Heart Association, Governor’s School for the Arts, Special Olympics, United Way and the March of Dimes. He was appointed to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors in 2019.
Despite the long list of his philanthropy and community service activities, Haddad is humble about his accomplishments. “I think you have a responsibility to be a force for good in the world,” he says.
“Maybe you can’t give a lot of dollars, but even if you have three employees and you’re barely scraping by, you can still be a force for good by the way you treat your employees. If we all create goodwill in the world, maybe we’ll wind up in the right spot.”