图片提供 Michael McWeeney
I lived very modestly. In 1975, I was 26 and living with a girlfriend in a loft with no windows. If I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, there were always mice running around. One night I woke up with a mouse on my shoulder; we moved the next day to an apartment in a building I owned.
In the late ’70s, I moved into co-op sales, which made three to four times what you’d get in a private investment sale. Over the next seven years, we converted 100 buildings in New York, approximately 10,000 apartments, into co-ops.
Not long after, I had room to breathe. I realized that all the property I owned was in New York City. I began to look for markets that others were ignoring or not seeing potential in. Around 1985 I started buying property out of town. Two years later there was a change in real estate tax law, and Black Monday occurred. Suddenly we were in a major recession that spiraled into the S&L collapse.
It was a very difficult time for us. We had loans we couldn’t pay because our buyers couldn’t get mortgages. The value of the buildings went down, and I owed more than the buildings were worth, so we sold some buildings to pay the loans. Somehow we survived.
Then, in 1990, my first son, Alexander, died in an accident. I cried every day for one year. I had two choices: to join him in the hereafter, or go on living and know that I will join him eventually. I chose the latter.
Hardships give you an ability to empathize with others. My second son, Morgan, has suffered from mental illness since he was 3. In 2012 he was arrested for stealing $20 from a taxi driver. When he was tried, I started studying what happens to mentally ill people in the justice system. Sending them to prison is not the answer, so I founded the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice to do advocacy work.
Part of what drives me is a sense of optimism. Things are not as bad as the market indicates. Berlin was depressed after Germany unified in 1990, and real estate became inexpensive, so we bought there. Today, Berlin is one of the favored real estate places in Europe. We’re now buying a lot in Holland.
I didn’t see 2008 coming at all. I felt a great deal of fear, but my job was to do the best I could. We made sacrifices, taking decreases in pay to avoid firing people.
Every successful businessperson should get involved in philanthropy. One of the best ways to use the fruits of success is to give back to society. My father worried a lot about money. I think he’d be quite astonished and proud of the things I’ve done.
My Best Advice
Francis Greenburger CEO, Time Equities
Exercise Independent Thinking.
A lot of the world thinks New York is a wonderful place to invest, and it is, but not if prices are too high. I don’t think the upside of New York’s investment real estate value is in balance with the downside right now.
Go to the Person Who Controls the Problem.
If you don’t have rent money, you might want to go to the family or the bank for a loan. But the person who really controls the problem is the landlord. So talk to your landlord and work out a solution, before the rent is due.
Start Early and Stay Organized.
I start my workday around 4 a.m., doing emails and correspondence until around 9 a.m., when meetings start. I am very organized and extremely well supported by two executive assistants and a chief of staff. I also maintain a virtual office and work discipline so that when I travel, I remain up to date.