(for Messenger chatroom interviews)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, June 12 Next time you are in
Manhattan, take a look around, and you will see the fingerprints
of Charles Cohen pretty much everywhere.
As the president and CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty, the
corporation started by his father and uncles, the 65-year-old
billionaire has been involved in the construction and management
of countless Manhattan addresses, from Grand Central Plaza at
622 Third Avenue to International Plaza at 750 Lexington.
But Cohen's not-so-secret passion is the film business:
Producing movies, collecting them and even screening them at
Manhattan's Quad Cinema. For the latest in Reuters' "Life
Lessons" series, he spoke about how to thrive in even the
toughest business environments.
Q: Since your father was the one who started your real
estate business, was he your greatest influence?
A: For my whole life. He was a self-made man: He began his
career in men's clothing, and then became an Oldsmobile dealer
after WW2, and then started in real estate. Whatever I learned
from him was by observation and osmosis. He was very
no-nonsense, and I notice that in my own personality quite a
bit, too. He didn't sugar-coat anything.
Q: Did you work for him when you were growing up?
A: When I was 14 I used to work summers in his real estate
office. I would type up lease renewals, and on weekends show
apartments as well. It was a good way to discover my own voice
in dealing with people. I was mature for my age, and I guess I
was pretty good at it.
Q: New York City real estate is a tough business. Do you
have to be equally tough to survive?
A: Construction is a tough business, for sure. There are
tough characters, and people looking to take advantage of you
every step of the way. You get experienced by surviving those
situations and making the best of them. Does it make you a
little hard? Well, if you are not tough, you'll be run over in
the street with tire marks across your back.
Q: What drew you to invest in film?
A: Being a producer is very much like being a developer. In
the real estate world you receive rent, just like you receive
fees and royalties for intellectual property. Entertainment is a
tough business, too, but very rewarding when you accomplish
something meaningful. I have stayed independent, and I only do
projects that resonate with me.
Q: What principles have guided your philanthropic spending?
A: It is based on personal feelings, and wanting to make a
difference. So I'm involved with everything from the Museum of
Arts and Design, to the Alliance Francaise, to the Temple of
Emanu-El in Manhattan, which is the largest Jewish congregation
in the world. It's not just about writing a check, though. I
want to make a meaningful contribution.
Q: Are you planning for your kids to get involved in the
business at some point?
A: I always encourage my kids to do what it is that they
want to do. So right now, nobody works with me. It's important
that they find what they really love, and then get very good at
it. That process will take about 20 years, that is what I have
Q: Did you set up trusts for them?
A: Interestingly I had no trust growing up, and my father
never gave me any money, either early on or later. But yes, I do
have trusts for my children, which I control and invest for
them. It is important that they be provided for.
Q: What do you tell them about success?
A: The only way to learn any business is to do absolutely
everything, from the ground up. So I started out doing leases,
and then got into different areas like management, finance,
zoning, cleaning, acquisitions. Hopefully, you will get to the
top over time. But you have to understand the business first.
(Editing by Beth Pinsker)