The Real Deal New York

The Closing: Ralph Herzka

The Meridian Capital chief on his Brooklyn roots, spin classes, and supporting Trump from the outset

February 01, 2017
By Katherine Clarke

Ralph Herzka (Photo by Studio Scrivo)

DOB:  January 31, 1962
Hometown:  Borough Park, Brooklyn
Lives in:  Midwood, Brooklyn
Family:  Married; Five children

Ralph Herzka is chairman and CEO of Meridian Capital Group, the Manhattan-based commercial mortgage brokerage he co-founded with fellow investors Aaron Birnbaum, Jeff Weinberg and Howard Zuckerman in 1991. Some of Meridian’s big-ticket deals in recent years include $737 million in financing for Brookfield Property Partners’ Putnam portfolio buy in 2014, a $785 million loan for RXR Realty’s acquisition of the Helmsley Building in 2015 and $1.2 billion in debt for RXR and David Werner’s purchase of 1285 Sixth Avenue last year. Herzka was also a co-founder of Beech Street Capital — a Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA loan servicer that Capital One acquired for an undisclosed sum in 2013. The Brooklyn native was one of the first big names in New York City real estate to make a maximum personal contribution to Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House.

What’s your full name? Ralph Herzka.

No middle name? I’m just Ralph.

You grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn. What was that like? It was a different world. I was the youngest of five children. My mom was English, and she was my best friend.

What part of England was she from? She was from London. My father’s parents were killed in the Holocaust, but he made it through London with the Kindertransport [a series of rescue efforts that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany] and ended up in New Jersey. He met my mom on a trip back to visit his great-grandmother in London. They got married, and she moved to the Rabbinical College in New Jersey with him.

That must have been a tough move for your mom. It was a very untraditional move. But she devoted her whole life to my dad, and he devoted his whole life to his studies. She never really lost her accent. I’m the youngest, named after her dad, and we had a special relationship.

What was the best advice she gave you? Very early on, she realized I was different from my siblings. I was more outgoing and aggressive and wanted different things. My mom would say, “If we don’t give him what he wants, he’ll find it.” A lot of my success I attribute to her.

Were you a troublemaker? I was not interested that much in school. I wanted to get out in the world, make some money and be a success.

What role did religion play at home? It was an extremely religious, Orthodox home. My dad had a small insurance business on the side to support the family, but he was primarily a Rabbi and a teacher.

What was your first job? I had jobs from when I was 12 years old — sweeping the barber shop floor, stocking the stocking store, cleaning up at the shoe store, delivering groceries. I said to my mom one day, “I’m not going to go to school tomorrow because the shoe store is getting a big delivery and I could make some money.” She said to me, “Why can’t you do both?” She called and excused me from school early so I could do it. Our whole relationship was about being totally transparent. There was no need to lie.

Where do you live now? I still live in Brooklyn, in Midwood. My wife and I constantly debate about relocating to the city, but she says [Brooklyn is] where the family is. She seems to win this battle.

How did you meet your wife? A friend of mine suggested we meet, and we went on a blind date. We went into the city for a drink and chatted a little bit. She was wonderful, beautiful.

Did you know immediately she was the one? We debate this. She says I did. I say she did. We dated for just a few months before we got engaged and married.

How old are your kids now? I have five kids and 11 grandchildren. The oldest child is 33, and the youngest turns 18 in February. It feels great [to be an empty-nester.] I leave very early in the morning and come back very late at night.

I like your tie. Thank you. It’s actually by a company called David Fin that my son started. He loves fishing, and his name is David, so he came up with that name. Now I won’t wear anything else.

What inspired you to start a commercial brokerage? I started Meridian to bring a new paradigm to the market. Mortgage brokerage at that time was largely limited to individuals and small shops calling on owners. What they failed to provide owners were substantive and systemic connections to the other side of the equation — the lenders.

Would you consider taking Meridian public? We’re always looking at different potential scenarios for the company. That’s something we talk about, but time will tell. There’s nothing on the immediate horizon.

You and your partners sold Beech Street Capital to Capital One in 2013. That must have been exciting. Other people close a deal and they go and celebrate. When you finance a deal like 230 Park or 1285 Sixth Avenue, you’ve got to take a step back and feel good about yourself. But I come back and say, “What do I do now?” For some reason, I never feel like I can sit back.

What’s been your lowest moment in the business? Anytime we lose a deal it’s a low moment. If we lost a large transaction, it’s painful. I don’t say, “Oh, we got these five other ones, so we can afford to lose that one.”

What have been some of your more extravagant purchases? I live in a beautiful home, and I have other beautiful homes in Jerusalem and an apartment in Florida, but I don’t collect cars or jewelry or expensive wines.

What do you do to relax? If I get stressed out at the office, I’ll just run to a spin class and get reenergized. I like FlyWheel because they pit you against the people next to you. If it wasn’t competitive, I wouldn’t enjoy it. Sometimes, after class, I’ll just say, “Anyone in real estate here who needs a mortgage?” and I’ll replace the 90 minutes I took off work with a deal.

Does that really work? Once I got a $50 million to $75 million deal out of it.

Who are some of your closest friends in the business? Ruby Schron has been a mentor for so many years. He is someone I admire so much for his ethical standards and his low-key demeanor. The Schrons are a great family.

You’ve been a donor to Donald Trump… He and his family have been clients of the firm for many years, and he’s going to be a great president.

Did you get any flak for supporting him? Once he won, I got a lot less of it.

I heard that you once got shot by a stranger while you were out on business. What happened? We’re not going to talk about that.