Here’s how the country’s richest real estate mogul made it

Donald Bren, who Forbes estimates is worth $15.2B, is the owner of the MetLife Building

From left: Donald Bren (credit: Bisnow) and the MetLife Building
From left: Donald Bren (credit: Bisnow) and the MetLife Building

Donald Bren, the California-based investor who is the majority owner of Manhattan’s MetLife Building, is worth $15.2 billion, making him the richest real estate investor in the country, according to Forbes. His firm, Irvine Co., owns 500 office properties, 50,000 apartments and more than 40 shopping centres. But how did he get his start?

A former Marine, Bren kicked off his real estate career in the late 1950s by building a house in Newport Beach with the help of a $10,000 loan, according to Bisnow. He later developed the master plan for Mission Viejo, a 10,000-acre community in Orange County.

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Congolomerate International Paper bought his company for $34 million in 1970, but then sold it back to him at a big discount just two years later during the recession.

By 1977, Bren and his investment partners started buying shares of the Irvine Co., a former cattle ranch-turned developer active in Orange County. Bren started with a 35 percent stake, and armed with a $560 million loan, spent the next few years buying out his partners to become the absolute owner of the firm by 1996. Along the way, he had to force out the great-grandaughter of Irvine Co.’s founder, James Irvine, according to Bisnow.

Bren places most of his bets in California, but his assets outside the state include the MetLife Building (managing partner Tishman Speyer has a less than 3 percent stake), and 300 North LaSalle Street, a 1.3 million-square-foot office tower in Chicago for which he paid a record $850 million last year. [Bisnow]Hiten Samtani