Reconnecting Residential and Retail

Josh Thompson leans on lessons from Northwestern Engineering's MPM program while leading a massive urban redevelopment effort across Canada as senior vice president with Cadillac Fairview.

Looked at in a certain way, Josh Thompson (MPM ‘06) is kind of like a time traveler’s assistant, helping transport people back to a past when they worked and lived in the same neighborhood. 

Thompson is senior vice president with international real estate developer Cadillac Fairview, where he focuses on large-scale urban redevelopment projects in major Canadian cities that add residential space to retail areas to foster tight-knit, self-contained communities.  

Josh Thompson

Those areas – known as mixed-use communities – harken back to the historical days of urban development, when people opened shops on the ground floors of their residences, lived upstairs, and built workshops in their backyards. The industrial age, with its massive machines and assembly lines necessitating large-scale manufacturing facilities, brought change, separating home and work into unique, and often far-flung areas.  

Thompson’s work with Cadillac Fairview is helping create a modern version of the past. The company has a goal over the next several years to add thousands of multifamily rental homes, condos, and affordable housing units to its existing retail centers across Canada.  

“Our purpose is building communities for a vibrant tomorrow,” he said. “Our retail centers and their surrounding lands are some of the last opportunities across Canada for large-scale urban redevelopment.” 

The theory behind these projects is that adding residential living space to retail areas is a benefit to both homeowner and business owner. The latter sees an influx of potential customers. The former has convenient access to goods and services without having to battle traffic, pay high gas prices, or negatively impact the environment with auto emissions.  

“Mixed-use design is considerably more challenging given all of the considerations within the multi-purposed buildings,” he said. “There is never a dull moment.” 

To this mission, Thompson brings the lessons he learned more than 15 years ago as a student in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program. He took on the challenge of earning his master’s degree while employed as the vice president of development for GGP, which has since been acquired by Brookfield Properties Retail Group. 

“Hard work pays off,” he said. “Going to school and working at the same time allowed me to continue my education while progressing my career development.” 

Not only was Thompson able to continue advancing as a development manager while a student, but he was also able to scratch a learning itch.  

“I’m an intellectually curious person,” he said. “The MPM program gave me an opportunity to take a number of classes to learn and improve my overall educational background.” 

Five years after graduating from the MPM program, Thompson joined Cadillac Fairview as vice president of development. Eight years later, he was promoted to his current position as senior vice president. Many of the skills he used along the way were picked up during his MPM days.  

“It helped me with many of the aspects of leading large-scale complicated construction projects, including problem solving, better planning and organization, and communication skills,” he said.   

Those skills come to the forefront now as he manages large-scale mixed-use development projects worth nearly $5 billion CAD across Canada.  

While homeowners and business owners enjoy the perks of a mixed-use community, the benefit to Thompson is the thrill of the challenge and the reward of seeing the results.   

“I love the diversity of the work, from design to budgeting to construction to municipal approvals to sales and marketing to project financing to negotiations,” he said. “The communities we build provide people unique spaces and opportunities to have memorable experiences.” 

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