At the desk of: George Xu
The Flushing developer on being “a rooster,” his bullish approach to building and his respect for Hillary Clinton.
George Xu is building himself a dream home: a duplex penthouse in his planned Farrington development in Flushing, where he will be able take the elevator straight down to his office or the gym. “I’ll never need to leave my building,” he said of the 14-story mixed-use project. Xu, a 48-year-old Chinese-born real estate developer, joined his older brother Chris in the business in 1999 — leaving behind a career in computer science. The two brothers now run their own companies and are developing hotels side by side on 35th Avenue in Flushing. “I own half of the block, he owns the other half,” said Xu. Since 2007, his firm, Century Development Group, has completed or started development on more than 1 million square feet of real estate in Queens. In the decade he spent establishing his firm, Xu became closely connected to the Chinese business community and well positioned to capitalize on Flushing’s recent development boom. Xu serves as vice president of the New York Chinese Business Association, and is considering replacing his brother as the group’s president after the next two-year term. His current office at 35-06 Leavitt Street is decorated with awards, photos, his children’s artwork, and trinkets from China and other parts of the world that signify good fortune and wealth.
This red envelope was handed out at a Chinese New Year party in 2015 — the year of the goat — and has a U.S. dollar bill inside. The party favor was part of a new year’s tradition in which family members, friends and associates bestow “lucky money” as a sign of good wishes. The current Chinese year, which began on Jan. 28, is Xu’s year. “I am a rooster,” he said. “When it’s your year, you’ve got to be careful. Hopefully, it’s going to be a good year, but I have to watch.”
Wall Street bull
This replica of the Wall Street bull represents Xu’s view of himself and his business. “I’m more bullish than bearish,” he noted. “I’m just more optimistic.” Specifically, he said he’s bullish on Flushing, and the demand for his and his brother’s hotels. Unlike the other trinkets that adorn Xu’s office, he bought this one for himself.
This six-inch tall statue from Jeju Island in South Korea — famous for its life-size rock statues — was a gift from a staff member. The figurine is holding oranges as an offering and is said to bring good fortune. “I really appreciate it,” Xu said of the gift. “I think this statue brought me a lot of luck.”
Hillary Clinton appears in at least four framed pictures in Century’s offices. In one of the two on his desk, Xu is posing beside Clinton at a fundraising event during her run for the United States Senate in the late ‘90s. The same photo, enlarged several times over, hangs on a wall in the company’s conference room. Xu said he was surprised when Clinton lost the presidential election in 2016. “[But] you have to trust the system,” he added, expressing his optimism. “Hopefully Trump is not going to do anything foolish.”
Xu frequently uses this drafting triangle scale to read the architectural drawings for his real estate projects. That and a well-used zoning handbook are evidence of his hands-on approach to his work. “I’ve got big plans,” said the developer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
Xu keeps a 10-pound dumbbell under his desk for a quick workout when he has a free moment. The developer plays tennis and golf, and the small weight helps preserve his swing, he said. “It can also be a good stress reliever,” he added.
Xu is the father of three teenagers — twin boys, Mark and Michael, and his oldest, Megan. The bamboo decal has Megan’s name on the back. She made it for her father when she was in second grade. Megan is now getting ready to graduate high school, and Xu told her, half-jokingly, that if she wants to leave the East Coast for college she will need to get into Stanford.
Bi Xi is a figure from Chinese mythology — the sixth of nine sons of the Dragon King, the Chinese water and weather god — and is said to prevent bad luck. The palm-sized statue has the head of a dragon, symbolizing power and authority, and the body of a turtle, which signifies a long life. Xu compared the mythology to that of the Greek and Roman gods and their children.
Xu hired a company in China to make this glass model of his Farrington hotel, condominium and retail development. The miniature version runs the full width of his custom-made marble conference room table. “This is going to be my penthouse,” Xu said, pointing to the northwest corner. The model of the 350,000-square-foot property also shows its planned gym and pool, an outdoor LED screen and stores with miniature “Dior” and “Cartier” signs. “It’s a sizable hotel,” Xu said. “It will be one of the biggest in Flushing.”