At the desk of: Eli Elefant
PBC USA’s chief executive on his love of Paul Revere, Jon Krakauer and owning next to Bryant Park
It’s no surprise that Eli Elefant’s office is headquartered at 452 Fifth Avenue. That’s because Elefant is the CEO of the Israeli firm Property & Building Corp.’s U.S. division, which bought the tower in 2010 from HSBC in a $330 million sale-and-lease-back deal. The tower, which PBC USA spent millions renovating, is the company’s crown jewel. Still, Elefant’s office is surprisingly small and spartan for that of a major property company’s CEO. But Elefant is a former army officer, and much of his office decoration is memorabilia from his time in the Israel Defense Forces. Born and raised in Israel, Elefant, 39, joined PBC in 2014 from Michael Ashner’s First Winthrop Realty Trust. Now Elefant oversees a 2 million-square-foot portfolio of commercial properties across the country, and this April, he notched a major victory when anchor tenant HSBC agreed to renew its 548,000-square-foot lease at the 865,000-square-foot tower. He considers the acquisition of 452 Fifth a “brilliant” investment. “There have been a lot of naysayers,” he said. One of the reasons the property has been so successful, though, is “the amenity of Bryant Park.”
This world clock helps Elefant navigate the different time zones that he’s dealing with on a daily basis. PBC ’s parent company is based in Tel Aviv; its chair, the Argentinean billionaire Eduardo Elsztain, works out of Buenos Aires; and its anchor tenant at 452 Fifth, HSBC, is headquartered in Hong Kong. “I start working at around 1 a.m., because that’s 8 [a.m.] in Israel,” Elefant said. “My day is 24/7, really.”
Elefant served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from 1996 until 2002, most recently as a Special Forces officer. He fought in southern Lebanon in the late 1990s and during the second Palestinian intifada of 2000. He keeps this box with pins from his service in his office. “This is a great reminder, when negotiations are tough and you’re dealing with a lot of so-called stress, that no one’s shooting at you.”
Although there are books by several authors in Elefant’s office, he keeps a copy of Jon Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory” on his desk. It traces the life of Pat Tillman, who left behind a career in professional football to join the U.S. Army after September 11. “The most riveting aspect is Krakauer’s perspective on the younger generations on both sides of today’s civilization clash,” Elefant said.
Israeli war recruitment poster
After leaving the IDF, Elefant moved to the U.S. and in 2005 began working for Ashner. But when Israel’s army invaded Lebanon to fight Hezbollah’s militia the following year, Elefant found himself at war again. “I was company commander, and they called me back,” he said. Thirty-four days later, the war was over and he was back at his desk. When Elefant left Winthrop in 2013, Ashner gave him an Israeli recruitment poster from 1949 as a parting gift.
The lions, replicas of the two famed statues outside the New York Public Library’s 42nd Street flagship building, were a gift from Elefant’s coworkers after he closed the HSBC lease earlier this year. One inscription reads “Patience” and the other reads “Fortitude” [the names of the lions]. “To me, [those qualities are] critical components of being a smart investor in commercial real estate,” Elefant said. PBC’s office looks down on the original lions, and Elefant sits on the shared board of the business improvement districts Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership.
Old photo of 452 Fifth
Hanging on the wall behind Elefant’s desk is a large photo of Fifth Avenue, facing south, taken in 1908. It shows the New York Public Library and its marble lions, the old 452 Fifth Avenue building (the current one was completed in 1984) and a large banner reading “Republican State Committee, William Howard Taft.”
IAVA and United Hatzalah medals
Elefant sits on the board of the advocacy organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). In 2008, he took 15 U.S. Army veterans on a trip to Israel to “learn how Israeli veterans cope with getting out of the military,” he said. Elefant has also been involved in United Hatzalah, a volunteer rapid-response organization in Israel. Medals from the two organizations sit on a coffee table near his window.
Elefant hands out tiny silver horseman statues — which he used to get from the board game Monopoly — at dinners he hosts. “I give them out and say, ‘Hey, try to be the Paul Revere,’” noting that the American Revolutionary figure was the “ultimate information broker and connector.” Monopoly got rid of the Revere-like horseman figure in 2000, so Elefant now buys similar gold replicas. “I originally bought a lot of them on Amazon as replacement pieces for Monopoly sets,” he said. “Now you can find them more frequently on eBay.”