On a recent late-summer conference call, William Rudin, Michael Rudin and Samantha Rudin Earls—three members of one of New York City’s most venerable commercial real estate families—were engaged in a bit of dactylonomy.
The three weren’t trying to come up with the number of buildings currently in the family’s commercial and residential portfolio, but rather were adding up the number of family members currently working at the company.
“That’s two, four …” Some names were mumbled. After a little back and forth, they settled on nine.
In a city known for the prominence of a handful of families in commercial real estate, single names like Rudin, Durst, Rose, Muss and LeFrak have come to symbolize the industry. These families have survived the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression while witnessing, along with the rest of us, the rise of real estate investment trusts, the top three of which now have a combined New York portfolio of roughly 67.6 million square feet.
In a era when the word ‘dynasty’ is often overused and left to trail behind words like—let’s face it—‘sports’ or ‘Kardashian,’ it finds true meaning when one surveys these biggest families in New York commercial real estate. Many of them, after all, are generations old and still control vast portfolios of properties while wielding the type of power that only comes with reputation and recognition.
They’re also doing something else quite extraordinary, given the times: they’re building. This past spring, Richard LeFrak and his sons spoke to The New York Times about their 600-acre mixed-use Jersey City development called Newport, which had entered its final phase. And, according to a spokesman, excavation work is underway on the site for Durst Fetner’s multifamily tower on West 57th Street and the West Side Highway.
New York real estate is a tough business to break into, and the next generation of these families’ commercial real estate elites is poised to take the reins, even as some young upstarts—undeterred by a family background that doesn’t include vast real estate holdings—look to make their mark.
One member of that next generation, Ms. Rudin Earls—vice president at Rudin Management and great-granddaughter of Sam Rudin, who founded Rudin Management Co. along with his brothers—was almost bound for a different stage.
“I studied theater at Tisch at NYU for four years, and guess I didn’t have enough courage, really, to go out on auditions,” Ms. Rudin Earls explained while on the call with her father and brother.
The next-next generation of Rudins was on the call as well—Ms. Rudin Earls’s newborn daughter. She didn’t have much to add, but her presence on a call about the family business wasn’t out of the ordinary in the context of how talent is cultivated at Rudin Management.
“I would go to meetings, because our father would always invite us to meetings, even before I started working,” Ms. Rudin Earls remembered. “In 2007 I started to work full time and then one day realized, as I was walking though the lobby of our office building—345 Park—that it just felt like home to me, and I’ve never really looked back.”
Ms. Rudin Earls said that, though she still loves the theater, she was drawn in by the appeal of working for her family, whose New York office holdings alone are sizeable.
For Samantha’s brother Michael, an associate at Rudin Management, a desire to learn about the family business was solidified during the dark days following September 11, 2001. Hard times for all, they were made even darker by the death of his grandfather, Lewis Rudin, then head of the family dynasty, a little over a week later.
“I took a semester off of high school after our grandfather passed away,” he said. “I basically shadowed my father for about six months to really learn exactly what it was that our family did in real estate.” He was 16 at the time, and said that it was the first time that he could really grasp what the family did, at least in any significant way. Bill Rudin later pointed out that the idea for the time off was his wife Ophelia’s.
Regardless, after a little in-depth exposure, Michael said he knew the real estate business was for him.
Both siblings said there was no pressure to join the business—they came to it on their own, though both were immersed in it growing up. Steve Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which will soon see another member of this new generation ascend to its chairman spot, said that this immersion is a key factor.
“For those who have grown up observing the business and experiencing it daily, the vision is innate, and it’s exciting to see what each subsequent generation will do to build upon the legacy that has been left to them,” Mr. Spinola said. “As we welcome our soon-to-be-chairman, Rob Speyer, who will be the youngest and also the first third-generation [member] of the same family to hold the title, it is clear that the younger generations of real estate families continue the tradition of a deep understanding and commitment to our city.”
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