Meet Rick Caruso’s successor-in-waiting: Corinne Verdery

A chance to be LA’s next mayor has the billionaire retail magnate ready to hand over the reins

Corinne Verdery, a rendering of 333 La Cienega, and Rick Caruso (Getty Images, Caruso Affiliated)
Corinne Verdery, a rendering of 333 La Cienega, and Rick Caruso (Getty Images, Caruso Affiliated)

When it opened in 2019, the Rosewood Miramar Beach instantly joined the ranks of the world’s most celebrated hotels. 

The 161-key resort sits on 16 acres in Montecito, the Santa Barbara County enclave that’s home to such celebrities as OprahWinfrey, George Lucas and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. For upward of $800 a night, guests could admire the airy foyer’s checkered floor and Paul Williams-designed grand staircase, tap croquet balls on pristine lawns or mingle in the ballroom beneath eight Baccarat chandeliers. At the resort’s Michelin-reviewed restaurant, servers wore tuxedos and the seasonal prix-fixe menu came with an ocean breeze.

Earlier this year, the resort’s visionary, Rick Caruso, credited an underling, Corinne Verdery, with overseeing the project. Yet Caruso’s personal touch was in seemingly every detail, from the furnishings that resemble those of his yacht to the gardens inspired by his landscaper grandfather to the Buddha statue adorned with four children to match his own. It was Caruso who spoke at the grand opening and waxed to the press that the resort was “the home I’ve always wanted to build.” 

Verdery, who joined Caruso’s firm in 2016 — just before the groundbreaking — appears to have never spoken publicly about the resort at all. In her time at Caruso Affiliated, where she’s since been promoted to chief development officer, Verdery has stayed almost entirely behind the scenes.

She could soon become a lot more visible. In February, when Caruso jolted the Los Angeles mayoral race by declaring his candidacy, the billionaire developer promised that if elected, he would put his company into a blind trust. Verdery, who Caruso has called a “marvelously talented real estate executive,” would be its new CEO. 

Born into a prominent business family, Caruso became a city commissioner in his 20s and has spent the majority of his real estate career as L.A.’s best-known retail developer. Verdery, on the other hand, has remained a relative black box, and she appears content to keep it that way. 

Through a company representative, she declined to be interviewed for this article; the firm, likely with an eye on the mayoral race, declined to make anyone else available, either.

Verdery has rarely been quoted in the press. Her one-time boss, Beny Alagem, and a former exec at NBCUniversal, another prior employer, also declined or did not respond to interview requests. Several other industry vets, even longtime Caruso acquaintances, said they knew nothing about her.

But within the industry, Caruso’s reputation gives his endorsement considerable weight.

“As good as he is at building shopping centers, he’s very good at building teams,” said Sandy Sigal, CEO of retail developer NewMark Merrill. “The people he’s brought on may or may not have the right experience, but they certainly have the right passion.” 

Next in line 

Now in her early 50s, Verdery was born on Oahu but moved to Orange County as an adolescent and went to USC, graduating with an architecture degree. She spent more than a decade at NBCUniversal, picking up an MBA from Pepperdine. In 2006, she became a senior vice president of real estate development at Oasis West Realty, run by Alagem, the Israeli-born founder of Packard Bell, who transitioned to a career as a hotelier and luxury developer. 

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Just a few months after Verdery joined the firm, Oasis unveiled plans for a $500 million renovation and expansion to Alagem’s Beverly Hilton at the well-heeled intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. The project would bring the construction of the new five-star Waldorf Astoria hotel and spawn a protracted battle between Alagem and Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, who was pursuing his own luxury development nearby.

Verdery was charged with spearheading Oasis’ early vision for the site, which called for the new hotel and two mid-rise luxury condo towers. The entitlements process was intense, even for Beverly Hills; Verdery successfully navigated the proposal through 19 often-contentious public hearings and a 2008 voter referendum. 

Verdery did speak publicly on the project at least once — “We know people are concerned,” she told the L.A. Times — but her profile took a backseat to Alagem’s. Two Beverly Hills homeowners association leaders who opposed the project told TRD they never encountered Verdery at all, but they recalled multiple meetings with Alagem.

“We sat there and Beny just lied to us,” said Louis Lipofsky, a prominent Beverly Hills real estate attorney. “It was just confrontational and ugly.” 

An ally

Verdery’s style appears different. In 2012, she returned to NBCUniversal as the company’s chief development officer. The following year, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.6 billion expansion to Universal Studios, highlighted by the construction of a new Harry Potter-themed area. Ranking among L.A.’s biggest commercial projects in years, it drew concern from well-organized neighbors. The biggest thorn was the construction of 3,000 new housing units on a back studio lot.  

“It was just too dense, too much,” said Lisa Sarkin, a leader at the time with the Studio City Neighborhood Council. “And we didn’t want it to be sold off — we wanted it to stay a place where people would be employed.” 

Sarkin still recalls the first time she met Verdery. She’d dealt with developers before — “It’s normally like, ‘Well, we’re going to do this whether you like it or not’” — but when Sarkin brought up congestion, Verdery listened, she said. The executive, ostensibly an opponent, came to feel more like an ally, and the two sides eventually worked out a compromise to drop the residential component. Years later, Sarkin said she still occasionally chats with Verdery about her kids or other topics. 

“I can’t say enough about Corinne,” Sarkin added. “She was a very excellent advocate for both us and Universal … It always felt like this is a discussion. That we weren’t being told what was going on there.”

When Verdery joined Caruso Affiliated, she promised to dramatically expand its footprint. The company opened a relatively small complex at Palisades Village in 2018, but not much else. In February, Verdery told the Times that the firm would start building one already permitted luxury residential tower, 333 La Cienega, “as soon as the market meets us.” 

She could have plenty of time. If elected, Caruso has said he would return as executive chair after his time in office, but Verdery would remain CEO. He’s also said that he has “every confidence” in her ability to grow the company — a mandate made tougher by another promise: While he’s mayor, the firm would not pursue any new projects in the City of L.A.

Multiple industry sources told TRD they expect a smooth transition: Caruso’s shoes may be big, but he runs a well-oiled machine, they say, where employees are selected carefully and hew closely to the boss’ development philosophy of emphasizing details and experiences above nearly everything else.

“Seamless is not the word I would use — transitions always have difficulty and also have opportunity,” said NewMark Merrill’s Sigal. “If you’re number two, learning you’re number one has some difficulty. I just think … his firm is unusually well-suited for that.”