"You sort of sit back and say 'OK, if there are 1,100 malls in the country, where do I see this industry going long term?'" he said. "If that number is 800, then what percentage of that 800 do you want to own? So it became fairly straightforward to me that the better malls would continue to do better and the lower-quality malls over time would continue to deteriorate."
It's that same attitude that's shaped Mathrani's road map at GGP. In 2012, the company spun off 30 so-called B malls into a separate company. Though "B" malls are far from the destitute centers that grab headlines, Mathrani has made it well-known he wants to own only the country's best centers. Since that spinoff, GGP has sold off roughly 30 more properties, and now has a total near 120. Long term, Mathrani said he sees the company owning somewhere between 105 and 110 malls.
"We see what's happening to the top 500, 600 malls in the country. They're just thriving," he said, explaining that demand for space is at an all-time high, and sales continue to climb. "What I want to be is the owner of 100, 105 of the top 400 to 450 malls in the country," he said.
Investing in the company's crown jewels has reaped benefits for GGP. Back in the late '90s, the company purchased Hawaii's Ala Moana Center for about $900 million. At the time, Mathrani said, that price was "out of the stratosphere." But thanks to continued investments into the property, when the company sold off a 25 percent stake in the center last year, it was valued at about $5.5 billion.
The company's results illustrate the dichotomy happening in bricks-and-mortar retail: As subpar malls fall by the wayside, top-tier properties are only getting stronger. Yet with so many people bashing the mall industry, Mathrani has some advice for how to drown out the noise.
"Keep your head down and keep working," he said. "Numbers prove themselves."