The Closing with Tony Malkin

The chief of Empire State Realty Trust talks about his grandfather’s financial advice, his best role as a student actor and cleaning up after horses when working on a ranch

Tony Malkin
Tony Malkin (Credit: Max Dworkin)

Tony Malkin is chairman, president and CEO of Empire State Realty Trust, the real estate investment trust that owns the Empire State Building, as well as 18 other properties in New York City. The grandson of company founder Lawrence Wien, Malkin led the charge to consolidate his family’s portfolio, formerly known as Malkin Holdings, into a publicly traded REIT. After fielding unsolicited bids to buy the Empire State Building and facing lawsuits from dissenting shareholders, the company raised $929.5 million in its 2013 IPO. Today, it controls 8 million square feet of New York City real estate, including 2.9 million square feet at the namesake tower, which is undergoing a $500 million rehabilitation.

Name: Anthony Edward Malkin
Born: 06/01/62
Hometown: Born in New York City
Marital status: Married 27 years
Children: 2 sons

What were you like as a kid?

Always breaking things: In the process of trying to figure out how things worked, I broke a lot of things. I probably put [back] together about 60 percent of the things that I broke in a functional fashion.

Growing up, did you spend a lot of time with your father, Peter, and grandfather looking at buildings?

I spent a lot of time with my grandfather… and my father. I would hear about real estate when I was a kid at the table.

What are some things your grandfather taught you?

He would say, each of us has a bank of 86,400 seconds every day of our lives, and we can use those seconds in any way we want. I recommend to you that you use your bank of seconds selfishly. Use them to give you the greatest happiness that you can create for yourself, and I submit that intelligent selfishness will make you participate in helping your sisters and brothers through the world.

Did you consider a career outside real estate?

I actually started out in the private equity business, specifically because I wanted to learn something other than real estate. My mother turned to me one day and said, “Your brother [Scott] is older and he’s going to be in charge and you’re just going to have to figure it out.” To which I said, “OK, I’ll do something else.”

What did you study in college?

I was an English major and concentrated in theatrical literature. I love Shakespeare. I like Russian novels. Every now and then, I’ll reread “War and Peace.”

Have you ever acted?

I actually graduated with honors from high school [Choate Rosemary Hall] in theater arts. Having that stage presence is something incredibly helpful in life.

What was your best role?

The snake in the “Diary of Adam and Eve.” I sang a song about convincing Adam and Eve to eat the apple. I wore leather pants and a leather vest, which was actually made from Naugahyde, so it was an early form of advanced perspiration. I slithered around a tree. It was pretty funny.

Is that one of your proudest moments?

I don’t believe in pride. I believe in trying to stay centered in the moment. I try to be grateful and feel gratitude.

You took an 18-month leave from Harvard after your freshman year. What were you doing?

I worked for a genetics research company in Palo Alto, California, which, as an English major, meant I was a stock clerk. Then I worked on a ranch in Texas for six months, and then I took some classes in London.

What did you do on the ranch?

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Putting it delicately, I cleaned out stalls. I washed down horses…. The ranch foreman did not really like the concept of a kid from Harvard working at his ranch.

Why did you do it?

Shouldn’t every kid from Connecticut, from a real estate family in New York, who goes to Harvard, work for minimum wage and live in a bunkhouse? I was reading [James] Michener at night, getting up at five in the morning and working six days a week. It was frickin’ awesome.

What did your parents think at the time?

My mother couldn’t believe it. She said, “’You dropped out of school?’ I said, “No, I took a leave of absence. I’m going back.” My father’s disbelief was expressed more quietly.

How did you meet your wife?

I was set up by my father. He met her at a condolence call. He thought she was a conservative kid who was going to Princeton. Fortunately, she wasn’t all that conservative. Our first date was at Studio 54.

How long were you in private equity?

I started in January ’86. My grandfather passed away in December ’88, and my brother moved to London. I was asked by my dad to join up with him, and I signed up for a three-year stint [at the company, then called Wien & Malkin].

How did three years turn into 25?

The work wasn’t entirely done, number one. I took some time off in 1993 and told my father I’d return if we diversify out of real estate and make it an institutional-type company, and not a family business. I’ve really only just finished the work that I stared back in ’89, with the consolidation and IPO. I basically did workouts for a quarter of a century.

What was the IPO process like?

Fantastic. It was the greatest intellectual, physical [and] personal challenge that I’ve ever had in my life. I have ADHD and I’m slightly dyslexic. My brain is wired differently. So to me, figuring out complicated things is incredibly intriguing.

When were you diagnosed?

In my 30s, I started working with a corporate coach who said, “You know, Tony, you are full-on ADHD. Would you like to try medication?” I said, “If I’ve gotten this far without it, the answer is no.” When I was a kid, I signed my name backwards. No one picked up on it. They thought it was cute. School was hard. I bulled my way through it. I just figured it was that difficult for everybody.

How do you deal with it now?

I have a lot of systems and processes and routines. And I have a lot of support from a lot of great people. It’s given me an alternate approach to things, which has enabled me to really figure out complicated stuff. That’s the greatest gift of it, frankly.

What are your hobbies?

I like to keep myself physically and mentally fit. I bicycle, swim, play tennis and golf and ride motorcycles. I like to go for multiday rides on any road that’s not straight.

In 20 years, what do you hope people say about you?

Is he still alive? Where is he?