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Engineering grad at the helm of Cadillac Fairview remembers the learnings and friendships of his Concordia years

'Growing up, I wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to do the things I’ve done,’ says Salvatore Iacono
April 26, 2024
By Samantha Rideout, GrDip 10

Portrait of a man wearing dark-rimmed glasses, a dark suit, white shirt and dark-colored tie Sal Iacono, BEng 86, says he has long relied on the problem-solving approaches he picked up at Concordia. | Credit: Cadillac Fairview

If you live in one of Canada’s major cities, then you’ve likely set foot in a building owned and managed by Cadillac Fairview, the Toronto-based wholly-owned Canadian real-estate subsidiary of the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan. Last summer, Salvatore (Sal) Iacono, BEng 86, became its president and CEO. It’s a role that entails overseeing 36 million square feet of leasable space at 69 landmark properties worth roughly $30 billion.

Iacono isn’t new to the scene, having worked in real-estate development, sales and operations since 1989 and at Cadillac Fairview since 2008. Along the way, he contributed to the evolving skyline of his hometown, Montreal, by helping to develop soaring high-rises such as the IBM-Marathon Tower (now known as 1250 René Lévesque), the Deloitte Tower and the Tour des Canadiens.

Among the challenges Iacono has faced on the job, he says the COVID-19 pandemic stands out in his mind, in part because Cadillac Fairview’s portfolio features numerous large shopping centres — including CF Fairview Pointe-Claire on Montreal’s West Island, opened in 1965 as one of the country’s first enclosed malls — that were forced to shut their doors, at least for a while. But since then, he says, those properties have bounced back.

View of the TD building with CN Tower and city in background Cadillac Fairview manages prominent properties such as the 160 Front Street West office tower in downtown Toronto. | Credit: Cadillac Fairview

In fact, they’re generally performing better than they were before the pandemic. Back then, many retailers were planning to close most or all of their brick-and-mortar stores in favour of e-commerce, Iacono explains. “And when COVID happened, digital-channel sales obviously did shoot up, because stores were shut,” he says.

“But subsequently, the learnings were that when you do only digital sales as a retailer, it’s incredibly promotional all the time. You don’t have a physical link to help establish and maintain your brand and your emotional connection with your clients. People realized you need a balance of both.”

In the overall retail real-estate market, many spaces remain vacant to this day, Iacono observes. But environments that offer good shopping experiences can flourish in the post-pandemic era when people are looking for enjoyable ways to get away from their computer screens and be among other humans.

‘We hope this will inspire future students’

Despite his professional accomplishments, Iacono cites his marriage of nearly 34 years and his three sons as his greatest points of pride. “As a young person growing up in the Villeray area of Montreal, I wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to do the things I’ve done,” he adds. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work, but I was also given opportunities to do so, and I’m very thankful.”

Iacono credits his MBA from McGill University with opening the real-estate field to him and his electrical engineering training from Concordia with helping him to excel in it. “Had it not been for the engineering discipline and the problem-solving framework I learned from it, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful,” he says.

“In addition, we were problem-solving under conditions of pressure and discovery,” he recalls. “There were the pressures of scheduling our time, thinking on our feet during challenging exams and figuring out how to work with people from many different backgrounds. How could I have had better preparation than that?”

Iacono completed his bachelor’s degree alongside five of his best childhood friends, and the shared experience made them feel even closer. “We graduated more than 35 years ago and we still see each other as family,” he says.

When one of these grads, Peter Haniak, BEng 87, died of cancer last summer, the others needed a way to express their grief. The group decided to seed a scholarship for Concordia electrical-engineering students in Haniak’s memory.

“We all recognize that we got our career success through Concordia, and we hope this will inspire future students,” Iacono says.

Others have also now contributed to the scholarship, either because they had similarly formative experiences at Concordia or because they wished to honour Haniak.

“We wanted to create a proper tribute to Peter, for being a great husband, a great father, a great engineer and most importantly to us, a great friend,” Iacono says. “It’s a really gratifying thing to do.”

Learn more about the Class of ’87 Peter Haniak Memorial Scholarship in Electrical Engineering

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