Jim Pederson is an oxymoron — a Democrat and a developer.
And he’s reached a pinnacle with both of his seemingly contradictory passions. Pederson is president of the Pederson Group, his own retail development company, and chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.
"I don’t do well working for somebody," he said. "I’m a horrible employee. I never held a job for more than three or four years."
Pederson took leadership of local Democrats in 2001. Since then he has helped elect a governor and attorney general and turned the late Barry Goldwater’s home base into a swing state for the presidential election.
His goal is to "make Arizona into a two-party state."
As a developer, Pederson has built or redeveloped 19 shopping centers, including the regional-mall-sized Promenade in Scottsdale.
He still owns most of them. And wishes he hung on to many of the ones he did let go.
Pederson considers sensitivity — to neighbors, city needs and a shopping center’s surroundings — just as essential a building block as bricks and mortar when he develops a shopping center. When a later owner disrespects that, Pederson considers it, "a stain on the Pederson name."
"I’ll never sell another project," he said. "It breaks my heart to drive by a project after two or three years and see it diminished."
Pederson’s leap into political power wasn’t much of a surprise to those who know him well. He claims to have always been "a political junkie."
He finally jumped into the fray because he believes that items of importance — good schools, higher household incomes, affordable health care — were not being addressed.
He believes revving up the local Democratic engine is advantageous for all Arizonans, regardless of their political leanings.
"The lack of a two-party system — the lack of competition — makes legislators lazy," he said.
His career as a developer was almost accidental. In 1970, Pederson was a young Phoenix city staffer with a longer-term goal of becoming mayor when local developer Sam Grossman recruited him to join Grossman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. Grossman lost but kept Pederson on the payroll as promotions director at his Chris-Town shopping mall.
From there Pederson went to work for mall developer Westcor and then to the Murdoch Management Co. He learned the retail ropes and built enough confidence and contacts that when he forged out on his own, financial backers signed on.
He started Pederson Group in 1983. The 1980s were tough times for developers, but Pederson is proud that he never lost one dollar for any of his partners.
In the 21 years since, he left his imprint on 18 Valley shopping centers of varying sizes, including Terravita Marketplace in Scottsdale, Val Vista Marketplace in Gilbert, Tempe Square and Mesa Shores. He rehabilitated aging centers such as Scottsdale’s Chaparral Plaza and built huge complex retail meccas, such as Promenade, from scratch.
He has tenets that he believes spurred his business success.
Be patient. "Nobody accomplishes anything overnight. It took 21 years of hard work to get here."
Have a solid idea of what you want to accomplish, but don’t sketch out the timeline. "Don’t allow your long-term plans to extend beyond 90 days."
Be realistic about what it will take to get there. "Spend money, thought, time and effort in the original design. Start with a good concept, good location, good anchors, good entitlement and integrity. Don’t short cut. If you have to cut the budget, you are in trouble."
Be flexible. "Sometimes people focus more on setbacks than on successes. Some stuff doesn’t pan out, and it’s discouraging. You have to have the ability to deal with setbacks."
Build on personal strengths. "Everybody is different. There is no mold or pattern for a successful developer. It should come from inside. Don’t try to copy somebody you perceive is better than you. Follow your own head, or heart or whatever body part you want to follow."
Jim Pederson Business: President of The Pederson Group, a retail development company
Family: Married, three children
Resides in: Phoenix
Tips for success: Be patient. Be flexible. Be realistic. Build on personal strengths.