What is your full name?
Stephen Barry Siegel
When is your birthday?
September 13, 1944
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Bronx through high school.
Where do you live?
I live in a townhouse on Park Avenue.
What was the first job you ever had?
I was delivering leaflets and groceries at age 11. Then I worked in a local candy store with a fountain after school every day and on Saturdays all day.
My first job in the city, at age 15, was in the mail room of a company called Bing & Bing, a residential real estate ownership and management company.
And I was really fortunate that I got that job at Bing & Bing because I actually met somebody there who left and got a job in the accounting department of Cushman & Wakefield. He called me one day and said that there was an opening — “you want to interview for it?” So, I joined Cushman & Wakefield at age 17, and 20 years later I was chairman and chief executive officer.
Tell one of your most significant childhood memories.
I remember going every Thursday for tests, a variety of tests, to see which allergies I had. I was allergic to so much stuff that it was unbelievable — chocolate, corn, coffee, you name it. I couldn’t even eat cookies because they all hadécornstarch andécorn syrup.
Basically, as I got older and older, I had less and less symptoms. One of the reasons that prompted my wife and I to establish the Stephen B. and Wendy Siegel Fund for Pediatric Asthma and Allergy Research was because of my history with asthma.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
It’s to always treat people honestly. There’s no such thing as a white lie. There’s only a lie.
Who is your mentor?
My friend-slash-mentor was a man by the name of Earl Reiss [who is now running a real estate company bearing his name]. He was very good to me when I was kind of a young guy breaking into the sales side of the business at Cushman & Wakefield.
He was a senior broker. He would talk about deals and structures and he’d go over actual transactions that had occurred, talk about how business was developed, how business was implemented, how to create opportunity. He had no hesitancy to give me everything he had, and I was fortunate that I was able to absorb it.
Do you earn as much money as you’d like to?
Oh boy. That’s a tough question. I make a very nice income and yes, you can always earn more and then I would have more to give away. I do mean that sincerely. I know that sounds like bullshit, but it’s real.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
I think it’s probably being involved in the building of two pretty terrific real estate service firms over the years, being the CEO of two of them, and being part of the teams that built those into international firms, first Cushman & Wakefield, many years ago, and then ESG, which became Insignia/ESG. [In 2003, Insignia/ESG merged with CB Richard Ellis, where Siegel is now chairman of global brokerage.]
What was the biggest obstacle on your path to success?
I guess time. I always like more time in the day, more time to get things done. And I wouldn’t hesitate to be smarter than I am.
How much money do you have in your wallet right now?
I don’t carry money in my wallet. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was a little kid.
How do you invest your money?
Right now, primarily in real estate.
How do you remain humble?
You’re assuming I am [laughs]. Maybe there’s an aspect of me that’s insecure, that’ll always keep me in balance.
What do you read every day?
I read every newspaper I can get my hands on.
What’s the last book you read?
I read “The Bronx is Burning” [“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City,” by Jonathan Mahler]. Before that, I read “740 Park” [“740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building,” by Michael Gross]. I’m also reading fiction — “Tell No One,” by Harlan Coben.
What do you have on your night table?
I have an automated battery-operated Yahtzee game and a telephone. I just play Yahtzee to take my mind off of everything else, so I can relax. It’s more mindless than a mindless book. It’s a great tranquilizer before bed.
What did you eat for breakfast today?
I had yogurt — low-fat yogurt — and some fruit. I’ve been actually eating very healthily the last three months because I didn’t like the way I looked at the beginning of July. I decided it was time to lose some weight, and I’ve done that.
Who is the boss at home, you or your wife?
My wife says, “my husband’s the boss, sit up straight, honey.” That’s her standard line. I think it might be a partnership, but I think the edge goes to her.
Who cooks at home?
Neither one of us cooks a lot because we’re out a lot; except when the kids were little, we’d obviously eat home more. But, I’m more the person who will cook when we do cook at home.
How do you deal with antagonists? Confront or ignore them?
I confront them. I believe in confronting issues and getting them resolved as much as possible.
If you were mayor of New York, what is the first thing you would change?
You know what, it would’ve been an easier question to answer two mayors ago, but I think, generally speaking, they’ve done a lot of the right things.
What would you want people to say about you after you die?
I guess I’d want them to say, “I miss him.” And that really would say it all, frankly.
Interview by Lauren Elkies