Departing the Canary Wharf development expanse on the Thames, Prince Charles said to Paul Reichmann, "I understand that your mother is chairman of your company. How does that work for you?" Wryly, Reichmann answered: "You could say we had the same problem." According to Bianco, however, had Rene Reichmann, then nearly 90 and in Toronto, still been active, the family empire might have been spared billions in losses that resulted from her son's too lofty ambition. The shrewd, feisty matriarch left Hungary with her husband, Samuel Reichmann, to run an egg-distribution business in Vienna; they then fled with their children when Hitler came. Settling in the international zone of Tangier, across from Gibraltar, Samuel Reichmann turned his entrepreneurial skills to currency trading while his wife worked at rescuing Jews under the Nazi heel, audaciously slipping back to engineer escapes or to arrange for food shipments. Without ever meeting the Caudillo, she managed entry visas via Spain through Generalissimo Franco. "[T]his ultra-Orthodox refugee and brutal fascist dictator," quips Bianco, a senior writer for Business Week, "made one of history's oddest couples." When Tangier was absorbed into postwar Muslim Morocco, many Jews exited, among them the Reichmanns. They began anew in Canada, bolstered by bulging Swiss bank accounts. In Montreal, their wall-and-floor tile firm would metamorphose into a construction and real estate octopus. Five enterprising Reichmann sons branched out into the U.S. and across the Atlantic. While huge commercial complexes like Manhattan's World Financial Center arose, managerial oversight diminished as acquisitive ardor grew. By the early 1990s, a worldwide drop in property values plunged Canary Wharf and related investments into bankruptcy. Yet the brothersD"the Rothschilds of the New World"Dare reemerging, as are their 99 children and grandchildren, many still sternly traditional in their faith. Bianco's enormous, vivid chronicle ends there, but the saga of the Reichmanns, from their 18th-century shtetl beginnings to their tangled business dealings of the 1990s, continues. Illustrations not seen by PW. Author tour. (Feb.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A tremendous, all-encompassing biography of one of the most powerful and secretive family dynasties of the 20th century.
The Reichmanns descend from Hungarian-Jewish scions who, according to legend, purposely took the name Reichmann ("rich man") in hopes that it would prove prophetic. The Reichmann elders, Samuel and Renee, were forced to flee Hungary as the Nazis approached, and settled first in Tangier. Bianco lays to rest some of the more noxious stories of their life therenotably that Samuel traded currency with the Nazisand reveals the extent to which their charitable contributions aided Jews in concentration camps. Using the family fortune, Renee was able to obtain lists of Jews deported to ghettos or camps, and personally organized thousands of packages of food to be sent to them. The Reichmann childrenEva, Edward, Louis, Albert, Paul, and Ralphinherited this sense of moral obligation and dedication to business. After the war the family moved to Canada, where they established themselves as a powerful, wealthy, and deeply devout Jewish dynasty. After cornering the ceramic-tile market, Paul Reichmann formed Olympia & York, which owned buildings internationally and would, by the 1980s, become the biggest landlord in Manhattan. Paul, described by a colleague as "the Einstein of buildings," had ever more grandiose dreams for his real-estate empire. But the vast, ill-fated Canary Wharf project in London and the precipitous decline in Manhattan real estate cost the family billions; Olympia & York failed in 1992. A complex loan collapse could not be repairedone restructuring meeting was attended by 400 bankers from 91 banksand Paul Reichmann eventually, if not gracefully, bowed out of the US operation (which reportedly is functioning again). The family's heritage is the real story here, and Bianco's prose is captivating.
Fascinating and always smart, this is a stylish and intriguing look at the powerful intricacies of family, religion, and wealth.