The Real Deal New York

A Day in the life of: Francis Greenburger

The 63-year-old Time Equities chief executive was a child business prodigy. Now, he juggles new condo projects and famous writers.
By C. J. Hughes | February 01, 2013 07:00AM

Francis Greenburger

5 a.m. I live in a townhouse near Washington Square Park. I wake up early [without an alarm] at around 5, though if I’m anxious I might get up as early as 3. I use that time for the e-mail avalanche and to process whatever paper mail I have from the day before. I don’t do e-mails during the day.

7:45 a.m. I eat every day at the same time. I don’t eat bread and things like that for my weight, so my breakfast is always pretty much the same: fresh fruit mixed in a bowl with orange juice. Years ago, someone told me to try orange juice instead of milk in cereal. I will also have a little bit of cheese with jam, which I learned from my father, Sanford Greenburger, who was a diabetic. He died of a stroke when he was 67, lying on a couch.

8:45 a.m. I have the unfortunate burden of having a car and driver. As the family needs ebb and flow, there’s less for him to do, and I feel guilty, so I often ride with him to the office. I usually leave for the office just before 9.

9 a.m. My days are pretty much booked. Today I had my weekly meeting with my asset managers at 9 to talk about various projects, like a shopping center in Nova Scotia. A discount department store wanted to buy out its lease. We also talked about a building we’ve made an offer on in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn. It’s a rental, but it could become a condo some day. Our asset manager spent two or three hours exploring the area; one of his indices was if there are no tattoo and piercing shops, then it’s not gentrifying. But there were some.

Noon I usually eat lunch around noon. Last Wednesday, I had lunch at 12:30 with Heide Lange, a literary agent with Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. It’s my dad’s old firm, located in this office. My dad mostly focused on European writers like Kafka, though today we represent Dan Brown and Nelson Demille. I worked at my father’s agency part-time after school when I was 12. I was sort of a business prodigy as a kid. I managed two rock bands and then started Time Equities in 1964. The first rental I bought was 23 Barrow Street, and in 1979, I converted my first co-op, on Bethune Street. Since then, I’ve probably converted 10,000 units in 100 buildings. Anyway, I originally met Heide when we were teenagers at Washington Irving Evening High School, which is where I went after I dropped out of Stuyvesant at 15. But I didn’t have Heide’s phone number. So I called every Lange in Queens. Seven people hung up and the eighth was her house. Anyway, we ate at Gotham Bar and Grill [on East 12th Street]. I had my typical drinks: The waiter brings me a glass of flat water, a Diet Coke and an Arnold Palmer.

2 p.m. Every afternoon or so, I meet with my director of development to talk about 50 West Street, a new condo we’re building in the Financial District. In 2005, I decided to develop it, but it was a long process. By the time we started to dig the foundation, the world fell apart. So we decided to close down the site and wait. But [we predicted that the] better part of the condo inventory would burn off by 2012. And with the World Trade Center development coming along, we felt there was a confluence of events in our favor. So here we are. We still have to finalize the financing. And we reconceived the project by deciding not to build a hotel section. It will just be 200 units.

4:30 p.m. I try to work out twice a week and play tennis once a week. I haven’t played with that many real estate people in a few years, but I try to convert tennis pros to real estate people. Javier Lattanzio was an Argentine champion who now works for us as a broker. He has also taught tennis to Harry Macklowe and Tom Elghanayan. Last night, I went home at 4:30 to work out at the gym in my home for an hour, then spent some time with my daughter Claire [one of four of his children] before going back to the office.

6 p.m. Last night, I had to return to the office around 6 to review applications for Art Omi International, an artist colony I founded in Ghent, N.Y., near one of my country houses. We had 1,000 applications for 20 spaces. I’m not an artist myself, but I collect it and support it. My own family, frankly, was too poor to be very philanthropic. Their line when somebody came knocking on the door was always, “We gave at the office.”

8 p.m. I came home after [reviewing those applications] and ate dinner with my wife, Isabelle Autones. I typically record the “NewsHour” on PBS and try to watch some of it before we go to bed at 9:30 or 10. This is my circadian rhythm: I’m not good too late at night, but I can wake up in the morning and be ready to go.

  • Nice! I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to do emails during the day.

  • rosalyn drexler

    So glad to have met you (in this interview). you shoot straight from the hip, and I admire that. I’m older than you are, so I remember things that would still interest you: My uncles selling dry goods from a pushcart, People coming to the back yard selling and collecting old clothes, sharpening knives, the egg man at the door,the baker delivering his goods. It was very busy and personal. I used to wrap coins to throw down from the fire-escape to wandering singers. And I sold polly-seeds in the park to old people on the benches. Anyway…Here I am, self-educated as they say, but loving my life as a painter and as a writer…My husband also a painter passed away in July, and being alone with his work is sad, and fills me with longing. That’s the way it goes.

    I wish you well in all of your endeavors.