Day in the Life of: Simon Ziff

The real estate finance guru on gooping his ‘fro,’ making a move on his wife and ‘protecting the innocent’

Simon Ziff, 51, is the head of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate, a Midtown-based financial brokerage with five offices nationwide. The 45-person company — which arranges debt and equity financing — did about $6 billion in deals in 2014 (it’s still tallying its 2015 stats).  Ziff, who joined the firm as a financial broker in 1989 when it was known as Ackman Brothers & Singer Inc., grew up in Philipsburg, Pa., attended Penn State University and earned a master’s degree in real estate at NYU. In 1995, he took the reins with company head Larry Ackman and they changed the firm’s name. When Ackman left in 2009, Ziff began leading the company solo. The firm is now in the midst of a growth spurt. In May, it will relocate to 711 Third Avenue from its longtime digs across the street from Grand Central Terminal. Ziff is preparing by purging hundreds of books and other items. What’s he definitely keeping? Immanuel Kant’s “The Metaphysics of Morals,” books on plant pruning and the movie posters for “Swingers” and “Borat.” 

7:10 a.m. I wake up at my house in Armonk and attempt to straighten my hair with little success. I take six vitamins and then make a breakfast drink. The concoction is 18 grams of protein, turmeric, phosphatidylcholine, glutamine, probiotics and veggie powder.

borat7:45 a.m. At least three days a week, I drive my 11-year-old son, Bobby, to school in Hartsdale.

8:25 a.m. I park my car at the train station and take the Metro North to Grand Central. On the train, I return emails and read about Penn State wrestling. We should win it all again this year. I was never on the team, but when I was growing up in central Pennsylvania, everyone was a fan.

9:15 a.m. I arrive at the office and for the next couple hours my partners and I hold general meetings about operations, recruiting and deal and company strategy. Company strategy is, for example, how we continue to develop our institutional joint-venture equity practice and our expansion on the West Coast and into Florida.

11:15 a.m. I meet with my trainer Rick on 54th Street twice a week for super-slow weight training. I leave on my suit pants and wear a V-neck T-shirt. I’m usually tired afterward, but I don’t sweat from it. I’m in and out in 25 minutes.

12 p.m. I go to lunch with a client, often at Fresco by Scotto [in Midtown]. I order penne over chicken Bolognese. Recently, I ate with [client] Ziel Feldman at La Biblioteca. It was not one of the main restaurants we go to, but evidently Ziel couldn’t get a reservation at Fred’s. Sometimes I meet with a competitor to share information. Our competitors are everybody. None of them look exactly like us, but it doesn’t matter because, on 10 deals, we might run into 10 different brokerages.

1:30 p.m. I like to do a walking meeting for 40 minutes, as opposed to sitting at a desk or in a coffee shop. I did one recently with Matt Cohen, a principal at Westbrook Partners. We walked down Park Avenue toward Madison Square Park.

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2:30 p.m. For the rest of the day, there are up to seven meetings and many conference calls. We have three conference rooms, so I can have simultaneous meetings and pop into each one.

catwalk4 p.m. We have regular investment sales meetings about deals. Our angle is that we’re the one firm that’s agnostic, whether we broker the sale of it, finance it, recapitalize it or bring in a new equity partner. We never just put a deal out there — there’s always a strategy. The capital markets are increasingly volatile and complicated, which we think plays to our strength of understanding multiple levels of capital.

5 p.m. I recently had calls with a Los Angeles-based investor about two existing hotel deals in the Midwest and with a small Midwest firm that wanted us to take them over. Instead of buying them, we will likely bring them on as a partner in brokering deals.

5:55 p.m. Just before leaving the office, I put some anti-frizz goop [Catwalk by TIGI hair product] in my fro to bring it down a couple of inches. I take a shot of mouthwash to protect the innocent.

6 p.m. I meet with clients or colleagues for a drink, usually at Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar, where there’s live acoustic guitar and really spicy chicken tortilla soup.

lg-retro-tv7 p.m. I either go to a charity event or go home. I don’t eat dinner at home — except for Friday night. During the week, my wife, Hope, feeds my son, who’s always on the run because of basketball or soccer games. On a given week, he might have four games and I try to attend all of them. Thursday night is date night with my wife, who runs a women’s empowerment nonprofit called Project W. We go to Fortina in Armonk or Barcelona Wine Bar in Greenwich, Connecticut. Spicy chicken is my go-to dish anywhere.

9 p.m. I check in with my daughters over phone or text. One is in college, and the other is in Israel now and starting college this year. Occasionally I make a move on my wife. If no luck, I do some reading.

10:30 p.m. I try to catch at least one episode of TV. I’m watching “Trailer Park Boys” right now because I like that kind of humor. My favorites of all time are “Lost” and “Flight of the Conchords.” My wife may require a foot rub.

11 p.m. I  sleep like a baby.