Larry Ackman: “Sol Goldman gave me my first really big break”

Top financing exec chats with son Bill Ackman onstage at Center for Jewish History event

From left: Larry Ackman, Bill Ackman and Simon Ziff
From left: Larry Ackman, Bill Ackman and Simon Ziff

A few years ago, when Larry Ackman stepped away from the mortgage brokerage giant his father founded in the 1920s, his son, hedge fund mogul Bill Ackman, had an office waiting for him.

Nowadays, Larry works on his son’s real estate deals at Pershing Square Capital, including 787 Eleventh Avenue, the 460,000-square-foot office building the financier bought for $250 million this summer with partner Georgetown Company.

“I really did it to get him out of Simon’s hair,” the younger Ackman quipped, referring to his father’s business partner Simon Ziff, famous for his stupendously curly mane.

“And it’s not easy to get out of Simon’s hair,” the father shot back, drawing a bellow from the crowd gathered in his honor at the Center for Jewish History Thursday evening.

The named partners in Ackman-Ziff founded a genealogy institute at The Center On West 16th Street, which feted Larry at its annual Titans of Industry dinner and fundraiser, which raked in $2 million for the organization this year.

Ackman told a story about how he got his start in the business in 1962, when, as a freshly-minted graduate of Harvard Business School, he went to work at his father’s business Ackman and Companies.

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“There’s no such thing as inheriting customers in a services business,” he said. “So for the first three or four years I did nothing but cold-call solicitation, going from office to office on what I called my milk route.”

One of his first customers was Sol Goldman. Ackman arranged a loan with the Greenwich Savings Bank for the mega-landlord’s property at 32nd Street and Park Avenue South, where one of the tenants was a Meyer’s parking garage.

A few years later, Ackman introduced himself to Seymour Durst and offered his services. The developer, who had just completed an assemblage on the West Side between 42nd and 43rd streets, passed on Ackman’s offer.

When Ackman later read that Durst had leased the property to Meyers garage, he tried Durst again.

“I know just the bank that would accept the credit of Meyers brothers without any personal guarantee from you,” he recalled telling Durst.

Two years later, the developer was looking to build an office on the site, but the ever-persuasive Ackman convinced Durst to give him a shot to sell the property to Saul Horowitz and Dick Ravitch’s HRH Construction.

“That little deal with Sol Goldman resulted in my selling the land for Manhattan Plaza which was in the early stages of my real estate career,” he recalled. “So Sol Goldman gave me my first really big break in the real estate business.”

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