Power 2008: The Elements of Influence
Case Study: Steve Belkin, founder and chairman, Trans National Group
BOSTON ISN’T ORDINARILY a place where people can use the sheer force of money to get what they want. But Mayor Menino inadvertently provided the opportunity to do just that with his call for a Hancock-dwarfing, 1,000-foot downtown skyscraper — and it was Steve Belkin who had the pluck to seize it. Never mind that the 61-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist had no applicable development experience whatsoever. ("Most people don’t decide to build their first project, beyond their home and renovations in their bathroom, on this scale," one local developer grouses.) He had the financial resources and, as luck would have it, the deed to an integral property next door to the proposed site. When the mayor called for bids, Belkin’s was the only one.
He remains singularly in charge. After Belkin’s bid was accepted, a number of more experienced hands knocked on his door seeking a partnership, but he opted to build his tower (to be named Trans National Place, after the company that has earned him an estimated personal fortune of $300 million) on his own, raising the equity to secure the loan himself. "You get to a certain point and you can’t spend all the money you made," says the local developer. "He doesn’t need to do anything anymore, so for him this is probably a hobby."
Belkin, though, insists he’s for real, and he’s got a highly specific vision for his tower. Going it alone has allowed him to maintain complete control of the project, which last year lost its original architect, the famed Renzo Piano (who reportedly quit over creative differences with the boss), and now lags a year behind schedule. And if renewed pushback emerges at the prospect of such a giant structure, not having co-owners’ worries to massage should help Belkin stay focused on his prize. Let the NIMBY nabobs complain about the threat of a large new shadow descending on Boston Common. The tower, says Belkin, is "really a reflection of Boston in the future." —Jesse Noyes
PAY TO PLAY
The sure-fire dilettantism defense.
Their first effort was rebuffed, but with the New York Times Company board in disarray, Jack Connors, Joe O’Donnell, and Jack Welch (who’s said running a paper would be "fun") may yet get a crack at buying the Globe. If they do, Boston would finally see a pet project to top that of car magnate Ernie Boch Jr., whose free-spending promotion of his blues band, Ernie and the Automatics, via an endless run of print, subway, and TV ads has been accompanied by a gig at the Opera House. In a town that abhors dilettantism, how do these guys get away with it? By understanding something else: Good deeds provide a mighty shield. Connors has traded his "Jack Attack" image for a saintly philanthropic glow that suffuses everything he touches — so he’s fine. As for Boch, a big portion of the proceeds from his band goes to benefit his charity, Music Drives Us.