Hometown Pride

How Howard Luckoff and his childhood friends are revitalizing downtown Detroit

When Howard Luckoff was in high school, he worked as a pizza delivery man with his friend Dan Gilbert. Luckoff and Gilbert had known each other for a decade at this point. They grew up together in metro Detroit, where they played on the same little league teams and went to elementary, junior high, and high school together. As they drove through the streets delivering pizzas, they had no idea that one day they would each play a role in transforming the landscape of the city around them.

After attending Michigan State University together, Luckoff and Gilbert both went on to receive law degrees, albeit from different universities. “I went to law school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Luckoff recalls. He began practicing as a transactional lawyer, and when Gilbert became involved in commercial real estate, Luckoff represented him, eventually representing Gilbert’s Family of Companies for nearly two decades as outside general counsel. “We have a very close-knit community in the Detroit area,” Luckoff says. “Most of my clients were my friends from growing up.”

After thirty years in private practice, Luckoff went in-house as general counsel at Rock Ventures LLC, the company that serves and connects Gilbert’s portfolio of more than one hundred companies.

Luckoff has seen Detroit change since his childhood, and through his work with Rock Ventures LLC and Gilbert’s Family of Companies, he has been a part of the change. The real estate company Bedrock, which has brought national retailers such as Shake Shack and Lululemon to downtown Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, is an integral part of the Family of Companies. “I don’t think there’s a real estate lawyer in the country today that has had the opportunities that I’ve had working with Bedrock and Gilbert’s Family of Companies,” Luckoff says.

Bedrock has purchased vacant buildings, repurposed existing structures, and built new retail and residential developments that incorporate Detroit’s historic industrial design. In December 2017, Bedrock broke ground on a building that will stand at the location of the former Hudson’s department store, a mainstay of the Detroit of Luckoff’s youth. “One of my earliest memories of Detroit was coming downtown during Christmastime to the Hudson’s Department Store with my grandparents,” he says. “There was a special area devoted to children, where the children could go and buy gifts for their family. There were no adults allowed.”

Hudson’s, once the tallest department store in the world, closed in 1983, and the building was demolished in 1998. The fifty-nine-story tower planned for the site is set to be the new tallest building in Detroit, and it will hold retail, office, residential, and public space.

“I feel like I am making a difference. Before, I felt like I was just practicing law.”

Howard Luckoff

In helping to revitalize downtown Detroit, Luckoff is involved in the creation of a commercial hub, where generations for years to come will form memories such as those he formed at Hudson’s. “Kids are going to create memories on that site, but the kids’ memories are going to be a lot different. They are going to go to the observation deck, which will be the tallest point in the city Detroit and see houses in the suburbs on a clear day,” he says.

Luckoff has seen his friends transform along with the city, but he likes to remember where they come from. “We talk about delivering pizzas together. From time to time, to create levity in a meeting, I’ll pull out a picture from our yearbook in 1978,” he says. Along with Luckoff and Gilbert, these pictures include Bedrock CEO Jim Ketai, who grew up on the same block as Luckoff and two other executives with the Family of Companies.

For Luckoff, working alongside old friends is similar to working alongside family. Their shared history creates a deep level of trust. “It is fun sharing experiences with people that you’ve known all your life,” he says. “You have lived with them through thick and thin. You have been to each other’s bar mitzvahs when you were thirteen years old. Your kids have grown up together. You know that you have their back, and they have your back.”

What Bedrock and the Family of Companies are creating is a new Detroit. “It’s a different city today than it was three years ago. It’s a different city than it was five years ago,” Luckoff says. “I had a sophisticated law practice, but nothing compares to what I have here. I feel like I am making a difference. Before, I felt like I was just practicing law.”

Helping to Build a Collaborative Culture

The culture at Rock Ventures and its Family of Companies is a mix of camaraderie and professionalism. The culture is based on nineteen philosophies, known as ISMs. The ISMs are published in an illustrated paperback book that highlights both the company’s professional expectations and the creative atmosphere. The philosophies largely revolve around being attentive and proactive to achieve the best business outcomes, but the illustrations, like the office where Luckoff works, are bright and informal.

“It’s a fun and collaborative work environment,” Luckoff says. “You want to come to work, and you want to create something.”

We at ColburnColburn value our partnership and consider it a privilege to work with Howard Luckoff and The Family of Companies. It is our adaptability in the face of complex and frequently intricate challenges that positions us as a proven provider of an exceptionally wide range of insurance, risk management, and consulting services. Our diverse client base includes leading real estate organizations, general contractors, gaming and hospitality properties, international and domestic manufacturers, technology companies, and high net worth families and individuals. We have protected the operational and strategic interests of clients in over fourty states, fifteen countries, and five continents. The relationships ColburnColburn seeks are long-term and achieved by a company-wide commitment to empowering clients to make the most cost-effective decisions. We are proud to offer Howard our most sincere congratulations on a well-deserved recognition and look forward to future collaborations.