The Real Deal New York

Francis Greenburger

By Lauren Elkies

Chairman and chief executive officer of Time Equities, a New York real estate development and investment company with more than 20 million square feet of property in the United States, Germany and Canada.

What is your full name?
Francis Jerome Greenburger.

What is your date of birth?
February 13, 1949.

Where did you grow up?
Forest Hills, Queens, although I moved into Manhattan when I was 15 and lived with my girlfriend who was 18.

What were the first jobs you ever had?
Delivering newspapers when I was around 11, and then when I was 12 I worked for my father after school. He was a literary agent. By the time I was 15, I had a couple of mail order book companies. And I was also a buyer for a German book club, Bertelsmann, which is now world-famous, but at the time was less known. I also had a start in the real estate business at that point. I rented an office that was too big for me, sublet half of it and figured out that that was an easier way to make money than selling books.

Did you finish high school?
I dropped out of Stuyvesant High School, went to Washington Irving High School in the evening and then I went to Baruch College and got my degree in public administration.

Did you dislike high school?
I was interested in business. I was interested in my girlfriend. I was interested in life. School wasn’t my main priority.

Where do you live?
I live in the Village near Washington Square Park.

Are you involved in any other business ventures?
I own a literary agency called Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. I’m chairman and CEO.

Have you personally worked with any authors?
I did that for the first 10 years, so that would have been in the 1970s. One of the authors that I helped get started is James Patterson.
It was very difficult to sell his first book, “The Thomas Berryman Number” [Little, Brown and Company, 1976]. I think 35 publishers rejected it, but I persevered and sold it and in the end it won an Edgar [The Edgar Allan Poe Awards for mystery and crime writing]. We no longer represent him.

What’s the last book you read?
It was an interesting book called “Nothing: Something to Believe In” [Prometheus Books, 2007] by Nica Lalli. It’s the story of a woman who is basically agnostic and she’s talking about what it’s like to live in a society which has a religious tradition as an agnostic.

You also collect art. What is the most money you have ever spent on a piece of art?
I just recently bought a piece of sculpture by Philip Grausman for $95,000.

How do you deal with antagonists?
It depends on what kind of antagonists they are. If they’re bullies, I’m extremely stubborn and I’ll fight them tooth and nail. If they’re crazy people, then I try to figure out how to work around them and not waste my time with them. If they are people who have a reasonable point of view that’s different than mine, I try to understand it and work with it.

What do you think you could improve in yourself?
One area I always feel I could improve on is being less preoccupied, giving people more feedback and complimenting them more overtly on their successes, and just being more interactive with people than sometimes I am. I don’t do it, not because I don’t feel that way, just because I’m distracted by millions of things that are on my mind.

How do you unwind?
Right now, for instance, I’m in Anguilla, in the Caribbean. I’m here with 10 friends playing in a kind of informal tennis tournament. We started coming here last year and discovered that it was a nice getaway. We’re here without our families or wives. And we’re just concentrated on playing tennis, swimming in the ocean, and eating good lunches and dinners.

Do you have a hero?
Hillary Clinton is one. I’ve supported both of Hillary’s senatorial campaigns and I’m certainly supporting her presidential campaign.

Do you have a mentor?
Charlie Benenson [of Benenson Capital Partners]. Charlie is someone I respected for a lot of reasons, not only his real estate acumen, but his whole approach to life. [Benenson died three years ago.] He and I shared an interest in philanthropic causes, art, and in ethical business dealings, just very much a kindred spirit.

What do you read every day?
I start the day with the New York Times. It depends on how much time I have that morning. At worst, I’ll read the front page of the first section, the front page of the metro section, the front page of the business section. I usually try to skim the editorials and check the obituaries. I’ll read the Wall Street Journal if I have a little extra time.

Have you ever come across someone you know in the obits?
Maybe 10 years ago, there was an obituary in the paper for Charlie Benenson. I was shocked because I would’ve thought that if something had happened his office would have called. And of course I was very sad. I didn’t quite know what to do but I decided to call his office and just ask for him and see what people said. When I called up they said, “We’ll connect you.” Charlie answered the phone. I said, “Charlie, it’s good to talk to you.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “There is something strange in the newspaper about you.” He said, “Oh, you mean that obituary? That’s a cousin of mine. He’s got the same name and he’s in the real estate business.”

What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
Even though I like to run my life as an open book, I do have areas that I keep private.

Will you tell us which ones?
No.

Interview by Lauren Elkies

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