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Seven things you should know about Joel S. Marcus

Joel S. Marcus.
Joel S. Marcus.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Joel S. Marcus, founder, chairman, and chief executive of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, has focused the real estate investment trust on developing properties for the life sciences industry. While it operates in other biotechnology and medical technology hubs from New York to San Francisco, the Pasadena, Calif., company’s largest cluster of properties is in Greater Boston, where it owns 3.5 million square feet of space in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, along Route 128, and in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area. On a visit to Cambridge, the 67-year-old Marcus spoke with Globe reporter Robert Weisman. Here’s what he found out:

1Because he travels constantly, Marcus has mastered the difficult skill of sleeping on airplanes. That ensures he arrives at his destination rested and ready to do business.


“I can usually sleep standing up,” he said. “If you can’t sleep on red-eye flights, you’re really messed up. I was on a plane to Beijing last month, and I slept for 11 of the 12 hours.”

2Marcus, who lives in Southern California, comes to the East Coast about three times a month and often visits Alexandria’s local office in Cambridge’s Technology Square. That office, which has about 20 employees, is led by Greater Boston market director Thomas J. Andrews.

“If you look at our premise and our platform, urban innovation campuses that contain Triple-A buildings, this is one of the top locations. And I think for the life sciences industry, it’s really the number one location. There’s a pretty healthy demand for these sites.”

3Despite the high-profile move of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. to the South Boston waterfront, and Alexandria’s own development in the Longwood Medical Area, Marcus believes Cambridge — not Boston — will be the epicenter for life sciences in the future.

“I don’t see the industry gravitating to Boston in a significant way. The talent really resides here. Almost every CEO that we talk to is committed to Cambridge. So it’s a very highly focused industry here. And I think the tech presence is really here in Cambridge as well.”

4Demand for Alexandria’s properties in US innovation hubs is at an all-time high, with occupancy rates exceeding 97 percent across the company’s portfolio.

“That shows you that science and technology industry are really at a high-water mark. We have great projects we’re developing in almost every market. . . We’re looking at at least one other big market in the US. But we’ve got a lot to do here, a lot to do in San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, New York. . . We’ve got a $1 billion pipeline [of properties] that’s active, and another $1 billion-plus pipeline that’s right behind it in pre-construction.”


5Marcus grew up in Denver, the son of a developer. But after earning undergraduate and law degrees at UCLA, he began his career as a lawyer. He got into the biotechnology field in the early 1980s when he helped negotiate one of the industry’s first joint ventures between biotech pioneer Amgen Inc. of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the Kirin Brewery Company of Japan. Together they marketed erythropoietin, a hormone responsible for red blood cell production.

“That was the first big strategic alliance in the biotech industry. It turned out my brother needed that drug actually to save his life, strangely enough. So it’s kind of weird to see how sometimes things have a complete turnaround.”

6A passionate traveler, Marcus likes to visit countries off the beaten track. Last year he stamped his passport in Uzbekistan, Tibet, Laos, and Myanmar. Next up: Ethiopia and Namibia.

“I’ve probably been to 50 or 60 countries.”

7Marcus, a one-time Air Force medic, also likes jumping out of airplanes and off bridges with family members.

“I try to do unusual things. I’ve done a bunch of sky diving. I took my daughter on her 18th birthday. Not tandem, but true free fall from 13,000 feet. She likes rare air, too. I was in New Zealand and my wife and I jumped off the Kawarau Bridge, bungee jumping.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.