The Real Deal New York

At the desk of: Arthur Becker

The tech-mogul-turned-developer on macadamia nuts, his "money" art and splitting from wife Vera Wang
By Gabrielle Paluch | May 01, 2017 11:00AM

Arthur Becker (Photo by Michael McWeeney)

Arthur Becker’s Tribeca real estate office doubles as an art studio, with a full-fledged workshop along with sculptures and paintings he’s created on display. The space is just down the street from the site of what will be his first ground-up solo development project, at 465 Washington Street, an eight-unit luxury condo with an expected sell of $52.5 million. The 66-year-old former Bear Stearns stockbroker made his fortune buying tech companies in the early 2000s but has more recently made forays into real estate in New York and Florida. Until now, however, he’s been more of a silent-money partner, most notably backing Michael Stern and Kevin Maloney’s Billionaires’ Row development at 111 West 57th Street. He was also invested in 10 Sullivan Street, a 16-story condo building developed by Maloney and Robert Gladstone’s Madison Equities. But in August, the developers transferred three adjacent Sullivan Street townhouses to Becker in exchange for his stake in the project. Becker — who was married to designer Vera Wang for 20-plus years until the two separated in 2012 — will reportedly live in one of them and sell the other two. The mogul’s business dealings are vast, spanning finance, tech, art and, of course, real estate, which he seems poised to get more heavily involved in going forward. “In the end, I got lucky, and I came into the market at the right time,” he said.

Binoculars 

Becker’s numerous business ventures have produced a number of self-proclaimed failures, including an attempt at marketing specialized binoculars dubbed Bnox. “I think people didn’t like fiddling with the focus and how far apart the eyes were; that’s why it didn’t take off,” he said. While Becker was working on the binocular startup, he also developed a habit for buying toy soldiers with binoculars. “I just love these little guys,” he said. “I must have a few dozen.”

Ancient currencies 

Becker collects ancient currencies from African countries like Nigeria and Cameroon — some of which are over a millennium old and many of which he reproduces as sculptures. Two large reproductions will soon be installed in a Capital Properties commercial building in Boston. “I did all this work in money and didn’t know why,” he said, referring to his banking days. “These days, people put a lot of things on money that people used to put on their gods: security, romance, hope, safety. Money becomes the object of these aspirations.”

Origami money board 

Money, whether dollar or euros, often appears in Becker’s art — though frequently contorted. His office is adorned with a sculpture of crumpled cash, gold bars stacked like Jenga pieces and origami animals and other recognizable shapes made from paper money. “See there, that’s a cash cow, a metaphor which people in finance use frequently,” Becker said. “I guess you could call it a sort of visual pun.” He has sold a number of pieces, primarily to Wall Streeters, and is planning a June exhibit at one of his newly built Sullivan Street townhouses that will be curated by gallerist James Salomon.

Cookies 

When Becker was in his early 30s and living in LA, a friend persuaded him to invest in a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii. “We grew 1 million pounds of them, but it was impossible,” he said, explaining that it took the nuts years to grow. “We invested about $4 million, built 10 or 12 orchards with homes on them and had a contract with Mrs. Fields cookies to sell the nuts. [The nuts] eventually sold [to Mrs. Fields] for about $10 million.” And Becker still likes the occasional cookie.

Magic 8 Ball 

As a kid growing up in Bristol, Connecticut, Becker consulted his Magic 8 Ball regularly. “I always wanted to know what the future held,” he said. More recently he has used 8 balls in his art — crushed into pieces on his paintings, juxtaposed against daintily folded origami money. “You see, the money is escaping from the eight ball,” he explained. “The balls represent decisions, and the money is escaping.”

Paperweights 

Becker keeps a cluster of paperweights on his desk. Two were given to him by his 94-year-old mother, who lives in Connecticut and runs on the treadmill daily, and one was a gift he got when traveling on the Concorde. He traveled as frequently as 10 times a year to London for his tech business. “I don’t know why we always took the Concorde, but you would land before you took off — it was like time travel.”

Brick  sample 

After college, Becker moved to Vermont and spent time at a Buddhist monastery. When he left, he stayed in Vermont and began restoring 18th-century homes. “I started with a barn … and before I know it, I was doing houses,” he said. The bricks for his 465 Washington Street project were handmade in Denmark and reminded him of the bricks he encountered during that time. One of the homes he restored sold to Vermont Gov. Thomas Salmon, who moved there at the end of his term in 1977.

NaviSite notepad 

Becker started buying tech companies in the early 2000s and ran the web-hosting company NaviSite until 2010. He still owned a stake in the company when it sold the following year to Time Warner Cable for $230 million. After NaviSite, he ran publishing platform Zinio before moving into real estate. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t going to mean I had 1,000 people working under me and a day-to-day grind,” he said.

Photo of his daughters 

Becker and Wang have two daughters together — ages 22 and 25. In February, all four attended a ceremony in Paris, where Wang was awarded France’s highest honor — the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur — for her achievements as a fashion designer. “We are a supportive family,” Becker said, “and all on very good terms.”

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly said Becker and Vera Wang divorced and that Becker was still involved in her fashion business. The two actually separated and Becker is not involved in her business.