The recent book “Building for Eternity,” the life and legacy of Reb Moshe Reichmann, by Yisroel Besser (Art Scroll, 2021), is a biography of one of the most illustrious philanthropists and Jewish activists of the past generation. It is a chronicle of the life of a man who personified integrity and dignity at every turn with extraordinary emunas chachamim and yiras shomayim. As I turned the pages, I realized that when it came to business, it was as if Reb Moshe Reichmann stood in front of a classroom and taught us basic business acumen. The real estate empire he and his family built did not happen by chance. Instead, it was a combination of brilliance, foresight, and a sixth sense for opportunity that placed Reb Moshe at the top of his class.
I imagined myself in that classroom listening to this man of great fortune and even deeper insight. The Reichmann mantra was to take advantage of every opportunity with the full understanding that it always included risk. Their definition of opportunity was not the possibility of a pure gamble; it was a well thought out version of Talmudic logic that if situation A for example, combines with situation B, the end result will be a situation C that will emerge greater than the sum of the parts.
Besser sets the stage of the ideal character of the successful businessman: “From the very beginning, the Reichmann edge, people quickly realized, was their integrity. The buildings were elegant, their construction impeccable, their attention to detail precise – but it was the integrity of the developers that set these projects apart.” Herein lies the paradigm of success, impeccable integrity, delivering an excellent product or service, and a total honesty on what can realistically be delivered. Any business that sets out on such a lofty mission is destined to succeed.
Recruiting the best team was a particular trait that the Reichmanns followed. When they formed Olympia & York, they drafted Zohn Zuccotti, a former Deputy Mayor and Chairman of the City Planning Commission. He served under the administration of Mayor Abraham Beame when the city seemed on the verge of fiscal collapse. It seemed only right that when the Reichmanns were trying to reshape the landscape of lower Manhattan that they turn to a man of Zuccotti’s experience and competence. He was indeed the best man for the job.
One of the lurking dangers for successful businesses we recently learned is to be blind sighted as many were in their planning prior to the outbreak of Covid. Carefully laid plans lay asunder as the pandemic took its toll. When the British Prime Minister convinced the Reichmanns to build Canary Wharf as an extension to London’s legendary financial district, the Reichmanns believed that the banks and financial institutions would see the plan as visionary and move their headquarters there. They did not, which led to the initial collapse of one of the most prized properties in the world. It is fair to say that they were blind sighted.
The bankruptcy of Olympia & York was no doubt a devastating blow to the Reichmanns who suddenly found that they were no longer flush with cash, affecting even their unprecedented tzedakah machine. The numbers that were ascribed to their charitable giving were staggering and unprecedented but not surprising because they wholeheartedly believed in an hakoras hatov which meant giving back to causes that would help the broader community. It was something they learned from their illustrious parents Shmaya and Renee Reichman who used their refuge in Tangiers to be part of the hatzalah effort during the Churban.
Many businessmen are faced with having to master the art of negotiations. A background of integrity and honesty is no doubt a fundamental character asset. But those who observed the Reichmanns conducting their art of negotiations learned something very valuable. They showed a great deal of respect for whoever sat across from them at the table, never speaking down at them. They showered praises on their business associates but understood that the art of the deal was for both sides to feel that they would emerge as the beneficiaries. Convincing a municipal government to invest in a road or highway was not just to update the infrastructure, but instead to reap direct economic benefit.
I particularly enjoyed the genius that was behind Reichmanns ploy to attract prestigious anchor tenants to his newly built Battery Park City. “Realizing that the first few tenants would be crucial in sending a message and marketing the project to others, Paul convinced two prestigious firms, City Investing Corporation and American Express to sign leases.” How? Reb Moshe bought the buildings where they were headquartered and forgave the leases in those buildings. Then he negotiated new leases in his new buildings. It worked and the project was well on its way.
Back to the Reichmann classroom. Thinking out of the box is a key to winning over prospective business situations as Mr. Reichmann demonstrated in this situation. It wasn’t as if he was trying to con these huge corporations but rather to find a way for them to open their eyes to see the obvious which in this case was the future of New York’s financial district.
It is true that not every businessman can be a Reichmann but what we learn from their experience is to consider every opportunity with good logic and proper assumptions, to seek good professional advice, and occasionally to use a gemara line of logic to think out of the box.
One of the common fears that people confront in business is the potential for failure. The Reichmanns no doubt had their share of failures as almost every successful businessman has at one time or another in their business careers. But as many have learned, the greater the risk the greater the chance for a big payday. It is important to learn from the failures so that they are not repeated and that they help pave the way for future success.
The failure of Canary Wharf did not end the Reichmann empire; nor did the collapse of Olympia & York. A new generation of Reichmanns used the family business textbook to move on to other ventures and even to areas that were far removed from their original portfolio of real estate.
The beauty of this book is that it is multi-dimensional. So, if someone wants to learn about tzedakah and Chesed, it is all there. If caring for klal and for others is the objective there is plenty to fill that basket. But for all of us that are in the depths of the business world, the Reichmann legacy is a primer.