Over the past 50 years, John Lam has carved out a name for himself as a hotel and real estate mogul in New York City, but also has strong ties to the fashion and garment industry and banking.
BY JON CRONIN
In 1969, Lam immigrated to the United States with his large family.
“We had no experience, no job and no money. We started from scratch,” Lam said. “I was the biggest of my brothers. They sent me to work.”
At age 17, Lam was expected to help provide for the family. He said that he had two jobs he worked during the day, and all of the money he earned went to his family. Lam said that he took another evening job, so he could save and build his own business.
Over the next two and half years, he was able to save $5,000 to start his first sewing business with 20 employees in Manhattan.
“In five years, we were the biggest sewing factory in town,” Lam said.
By 1980, the sewing business had increased so much that Lam had begun to create his own fashion labels. He also had his first brush with real estate when he bought more buildings to satisfy his company’s growth.
By the end of the decade, Lam said that his fashion company had made $100 million and he employed 35,000 workers throughout New York City.
In 1997, Lam saw that fashion trade production had started moving overseas and sold all his labels.
“I realized I had to do a different kind of business,” he said.
Lam still has ties to his old industry. He is now the honorary president of the Greater Blouse Skirt & Undergarment Association and serves on the board of directors for East Bank.
Lam said that, in 1995, he met his business partner Sam Chan and together they bought foreclosures from banks and began their hotel business. One of their first properties was a hotel in Philadelphia, but he quickly learned that many of the properties he bought could not be renovated or expanded. After this, he took a different approach toward his hotel ventures. Lam realized that he needed to build from the ground up.
Now, almost 30 years later, Lam is one of the city’s most prolific hotel developers and his company, the Lam Group, has developed 50 buildings. Of those buildings, he said that approximately 26 are hotels and the rest are office buildings, residential apartment buildings and shopping malls.
The Lam Group currently has two residential buildings and five hotels under construction in Manhattan. He notes that he currently has 1,300 hotels rooms, 200 apartments and 100,000 square feet of commercial space under construction.
“Right now, I’m 100 percent focused on Manhattan,” Lam said.
He said that while he enjoys working in Queens, he has been “priced out” of the borough. He added that he continues to bid on jobs in the World’s Borough, but is consistently underbid.
“Every time there is land to bid on, I’m there,” he said. “The price is too expensive and it’s a limited market. It’s a family area.”
Meanwhile, the Lam Group currently has 1.2 million square feet “in the pipeline,” Lam said. Of its current projects, Lam said that the new Virgin Hotel is the most exciting.
“It’s a new brand for Virgin,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
The 400,000-square-foot project is located at 1205-1227 Broadway, between 29th and 30th streets.
The Lam Group also owns 14 hotels and manages 75 hotel properties.
“We can build it and manage it. That’s the difference in our company,” he said.
Lam pointed out that his group always creates jobs for the communities in which it builds and then train its new employees.
“When you do that, you get better customer service and loyalty. If I build in Queens, I want to create jobs in the Queens area,” Lam said.