The Real Deal New York

Here’s how the country’s richest real estate mogul made it

Donald Bren, who Forbes estimates is worth $15.2B, is the owner of the MetLife Building

March 16, 2015 01:30PM

Donald Bren MetLife Building

From left: Donald Bren (credit: Bisnow) and the MetLife Building

Donald Bren, the California-based investor who is the majority owner of Manhattan’s MetLife Building, is worth $15.2 billion, making him the richest real estate investor in the country, according to Forbes. His firm, Irvine Co., owns 500 office properties, 50,000 apartments and more than 40 shopping centres. But how did he get his start?

A former Marine, Bren kicked off his real estate career in the late 1950s by building a house in Newport Beach with the help of a $10,000 loan, according to Bisnow. He later developed the master plan for Mission Viejo, a 10,000-acre community in Orange County.

Congolomerate International Paper bought his company for $34 million in 1970, but then sold it back to him at a big discount just two years later during the recession.

By 1977, Bren and his investment partners started buying shares of the Irvine Co., a former cattle ranch-turned developer active in Orange County. Bren started with a 35 percent stake, and armed with a $560 million loan, spent the next few years buying out his partners to become the absolute owner of the firm by 1996. Along the way, he had to force out the great-grandaughter of Irvine Co.’s founder, James Irvine, according to Bisnow.

Bren places most of his bets in California, but his assets outside the state include the MetLife Building (managing partner Tishman Speyer has a less than 3 percent stake), and 300 North LaSalle Street, a 1.3 million-square-foot office tower in Chicago for which he paid a record $850 million last year. [Bisnow]Hiten Samtani

  • sammy

    By 1997, Bren and his investment partners started buying shares of the Irvine Co., a former cattle ranch-turned developer active in Orange County. Bren started with a 35 percent stake, and armed with a $560 million loan, spent the next few years buying out his partners to become the absolute owner of the firm by 1996. –

    the time line is mind boggling. genius!

    • HitenSamtani

      ouch. typo. 1977. mea culpa- ed.

  • Jared Miller Brown

    This doesn’t explain much.. How’d he secure a $560 Million dollar loan!!??

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    • Marc

      He already had successful shopping centers and apartments generating cash. Probably used equity plus equity in shares he was purchasing to get financed. I think he also raised cash creating REITS for many properties and sold minority stakes only to buy back later full control.He hates having partners. Has great vision. As soon as he controlled Irvine he started building like crazy to pay down the note(s). he was both builder & developer and lucky for him his timing was great. He has great vision.

  • D.D wolf

    His father was Milton Bren, a Hollywood producer and real estate investor; married to
    actress Claire Trevor. Bren is a great looking , guy and skier and anyone can do anything with numbers; he is not in same league as Herb Simon, Simon Property Group or jerry Speyer!

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