The Fifty Families (Part Two)
The Fish family has been putting up buildings in Boston for more than a
century, but it wasn't until the current generation came along that it built itself an empire. Ted Fish has turned the family business, Peabody Construction, into a regional powerhouse with big-ticket projects such as expansions to Boston Medical Center and the John F. Kennedy Library Extension. Younger brother John has fared even better with his own company, Suffolk Construction, a $1 billion-a-year operation that counts among its many accomplishments the Nine Zero hotel, the state-of-the-art Manulife headquarters, and the restoration of the Opera House. Sister Karen Fish-Will helps run Peabody Properties, which controls 9,000 housing units all over New England, with the family's no-nonsense patriarch, Ed Fish–who also oversees a prosperous development firm–while Ed Fish's youngest son, Kevin, works for John in his company's special projects division. Relied upon by Democratic fundraisers and regulars on the city's charity circuit (John, a loyal Mayor Tom Menino backer, was recruited to the board of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center while the hospital was struggling with financial problems), this hard-charging group seems to succeed at every task it pursues, save one: patching a rift between Ted and John, who compete more fiercely with each another than they do with other rivals.
Orphaned as children, brothers Billy and Frank Chin worked their way so far up the Chinatown ladder over the ensuing decades that they've come to be regarded as the densely populated area's de facto mayors. Billy became the manager of the landmark China Pearl Restaurant in a neighborhood whose restaurants are its social and political center; Frank got the influential job of city purchasing agent. Together they've delivered Chinatown votes in exchange for jobs for new immigrants or attention to the neighborhood's many problems. (Street cleaning is a particular obsession of the Chins.) And while their clout has waned a bit now that they're both in their 70s, it's still potent; when Frank Chin retired from his City Hall job, the city's entire power structure turned out for the party–which was, of course, at China Pearl. It should be a comfortable retirement: Frank Chin is among the 45 inner-city investors in One Lincoln Street who will share $44 million from the hugely successful sale of the new Financial District high-rise headquarters of State Street Corporation. Part of his portion will go to community organizations.
Ever since Irving “Pops” Saunders took control of the Copley Square Hotel in 1947, the Saunderses have been a force in Boston's all-important hospitality industry. Today, Irving's son Roger and Roger's sons, Gary, Jeffrey, and twins Tedd and Todd, control the Copley Square Hotel and the Lenox, which the family took over in 1963, and they're overseeing the transformation of the former police headquarters on Berkeley Street into a luxury hotel. Roger Saunders is a major supporter of Boston Lyric Opera and gave $1 million to Newbury College for a school of restaurant management that's named for him; Jeffrey Saunders sits on the executive committee of the Massachusetts Lodging Association and the Children's Hospital board of overseers. Like many Boston clans, this one would be stronger but for a feud between Roger and his brother, Donald, who after a nasty court battle ended up as part owner of the family's Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers and the Castle at Park Plaza, where a new 300-seat Smith & Wollensky restaurant is set to open this summer. The ex-husband of the actress Liv Ullmann, Donald Saunders is a major donor to Boston Ballet and Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
This summer, Boston will have nursing-home magnate Alan Solomont to thank in part not only for the Democratic National Convention, but also for its nominee. The former head of finance for the Democratic National Committee, Solomont is a prodigious fundraiser whose connections in Boston's corporate world helped bring in enough money to seal the convention deal. Then, in the dark days of Kerry's early winter, Solomont helped him raise enough money to keep his bid alive until Iowa. Solomont's wife, Susan, shares his gifts for generating lucre. As chair of the New England Aquarium's board of trustees, she has helped revive the belly-up institution by turning a $1.3 million operating budget deficit into a $350,000 surplus. Other members of the family, however, don't quite have the Midas touch. A candidate for the presidency of the UMass system, Alan might have lost his bid because one of his brothers is in jail for embezzlement and another is being sued for allegedly diverting funds from a startup.
An Armenian immigrant from Iran, Petros Palandjian started a small construction company in 1959. By 1972, the company had grown to include property management and development. And when Palandjian's sons Peter (CEO) and Paul (president) took it over in the mid 1990s after brief stints on the professional tennis circuit, Intercontinental Real Estate added another division: investment management. The Palandjians have handled more than $3 billion in real estate, including the Nine Zero hotel. Younger brother Leon, a Harvard Medical School grad (Paul and Peter both went to Harvard Business School), runs life-science hedge-fund firm Andesite. Between them, the brothers serve on the boards of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Belmont Hill School, the Children's Museum, and other organizations.
Local celebrities thanks to their quirky TV ads, brothers Barry and Eliot Tatelman have turned the family business started in Waltham in 1918 by their grandfather into the Jordan's Furniture juggernaut that brought them a reported $250 million when it was sold to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Still in day-to-day control of the chain, Barry and Eliot have more than 1,000 employees and sell more furniture per square foot than any other retailer in America. How powerful are they? They got Martha Stewart to star in one of their famous commercials– before she was convicted of lying to federal investigators. They're millionaire mensches who use their clout to raise money for the hungry, adoption programs, the American Red Cross, and other organizations. It runs in the family; Eliot and his wife, June, underwrite and personally run a summer camp for HIV-infected children, where their two sons and other family members also help out. So low profile that even its name is kept under wraps, the camp is a memorial to the Tatelmans' other brother, Milt, who died of AIDS.
In the world of high-tech startups and venture capital, it's hard to avoid bumping into one of the Allaire brothers. Jeremy and J. J. started their first company, Allaire Corporation, in 1995, shortly after graduating from college, producing pioneering software that made building and running websites easier. After moving to Boston to be part of the technology scene here, they took their company public in 1999 and, two years later, sold it to San Francisco-based Macromedia for $360 million. Now J. J., the older of the brothers, is using his money from the Macromedia acquisition to launch a startup called Onfolio. He's also on the board of a local instant-messaging company called IMlogic. Jeremy is technologist in residence at General Catalyst Partners, one of Cambridge's most active venture capital firms. He runs a popular weblog that tracks emerging technologies, and serves on the boards of the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange and Solis, a Boston nonprofit that connects U.S. college students with students in the Middle East.
Since arriving in Boston from his native Vietnam without knowing English, Peter Luu has turned a tiny Chinatown food shop into the growing Super 88 supermarket chain. He and his son, George, and no fewer than 10 other members of their family now run an empire that includes wholesale food distribution companies, a liquor store, investment properties, restaurants including the Chinatown mainstay Chau Chow City, and the international trading company Winvest, with offices and warehouses in Saigon and two jasmine rice factories in Thailand, making them the single largest supplier of rice to Asian markets in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.
The name Wahlberg has been a swoon-inducer among teenage girls since Donnie serenaded throngs of nymphets as part of New Kids on the Block in the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, the Dorchester-bred star and brother Mark, a hometown homeboy who made a name for himself as rapper Marky Mark and later as a Calvin Klein underwear model, have come into their own as serious actors, amassing an impressive filmography. Mark lists such successes as Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm , and Planet of the Apes , while Donnie has starred in episodes of Boomtown , appeared in Band of Brothers , and nabbed a part in The Sixth Sense . Despite the brothers' Hollywood successes, they maintain close ties to Boston; Mark's philanthropy, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, is based in Newton.
Few Bostonians can be instantly identified by just their first names: Ted. Mitt. Natalie. Fletcher “Flash” Wiley belongs to that club. The former chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Flash has long been a mover and shaker in the black community and was named by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as one of this town's 25 most influential lawyers. He's the executive vice president and general counsel of PRWT Services, which provides customer service under contract to companies and government agencies, and is an adviser to the corporate department of the fast-growing Boston law firm Bingham McCutchen. His wife, Benaree Wiley, knows a thing about hiring, herself (and about nicknames). “Bennie” Wiley heads the Partnership, a nonprofit consortium that promotes diversity and minority leadership in Boston businesses. She serves as a director of the chamber of commerce and a trustee of Boston College and on the board of directors at the Boston Foundation.
Frank McCourt's purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $430 million this winter officially made his family's clout bi-coastal. But he and his wife-business partner, Jamie, parents of four sons, will keep their Brookline home and Boston business, the McCourt Company, which Frank took over from his father, Frank Senior. Since their rise in real estate development in the late '90s, the McCourts have attempted to revitalize the Boston waterfront with plans for a new baseball park, introduced during their failed negotiations to buy the Red Sox, and a high-end retail and hotel complex, neither of which materialized. Now the company is looking to sell 24 acres of prime waterfront property, as well as Fort Point-area office space. Jamie, the pair's socially savvy half, is vice president of the family firm, and now also vice chairman of the Dodgers. She sits on three committees at MIT, the board of advisers of her alma mater, Georgetown, and the headmaster's council at Milton Academy. Frank sits on the South Boston Harbor Academy advisory board, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and the board of the powerful Artery Business Committee. Frank's six siblings include fellow power players Richard, who runs McCourt Construction, and David, chairman and CEO of RCN Corporation.
The Hynes family has long been on both sides of Boston news. The late John Hynes was mayor from 1949 to 1959; the Hynes Convention Center is named for him. His son, Jack Hynes, has been a fixture on local TV newscasts for 49 years, 26 of them as an anchor for WCVB-TV, Channel 5, and now as senior correspondent and commentator on WB56's Ten O'Clock News . And Jack Hynes's son John III is a managing partner at the Gale Company, a real estate investment firm for which he developed the 36-story One Lincoln Street building in the Financial District–new headquarters of the State Street Corporation–and promptly sold it for $705 million in one of the biggest such deals in city history. Two months later, Hynes the younger made world headlines with the negotiation of South Korea's first international real estate joint venture, a 1,500-acre development there.
When family patriarch Telemachus “Mike” Demoulas died last year at 82, a thousand people crowded into his funeral–including not one, but two congressmen. The impressive turnout, a tribute to the power of the founder of the Demoulas/Market Basket supermarket chain, proved only a momentary distraction from the roiling family feud he left behind. Evanthea Demoulas, the widow of Demoulas's late brother, accuses Demoulas of stealing her rightful share of the profitable company; her lawsuit, now under appeal, ended with a ruling forcing him to turn over 51 percent of the chain to her. Whichever branch of the family ends up controlling it, Demoulas/Market Basket still is the area's number three supermarket chain, after Stop & Shop and Shaw's/Star Markets, with nearly 60 stores and $1.7 billion a year in sales. And that means that while the Demoulases may not be a particularly happy family, they will at least remain a powerful and wealthy one.
MIT alumnus Amar Bose started the Bose Corporation in 1964. Forty years later, the Framingham-based manufacturer of speakers, noise-canceling headsets, and home theater systems chalks up $1.6 billion in annual sales–and it's still privately held. Forbes estimates the 74-year-old Amar Bose's net worth to be $800 million, and word is that he's planning to step up his philanthropic activity. Now Bose's son, Vanu, who also went to MIT, has created his own company, also called Vanu, to develop “software radio,” which would let cell phones and emergency radios talk to each other on several different networks instead of just one, preventing potentially deadly communication breakdowns between agencies like the FBI and local police and fire departments. Vanu didn't ask his father to invest in his Cambridge-based company (he did get money from Raymie Stata, the son of Analog Devices founder Ray Stata), but the Boses have teamed up to battle MIT over the way it exacts fees and equity from startups like Vanu's that want to commercialize technology initially developed there.
The first black professor at Harvard Business School to be granted tenure, Jim Cash chaired the MBA program there and created a weeklong summer program for promising minority students. He has also been in great demand among major corporations that want to diversify their boards of directors, accepting seats on the boards of two of the wealthiest companies in the world, General Electric and Microsoft, where Cash chairs a committee in charge of making sure the software giant complies with court-ordered antitrust restrictions. His board memberships alone pay him a reported $370,000 a year, and he also is associated with the Concours Group in Watertown, a high-powered consulting firm that advises chief executives of Global 1000 corporations. The 6-foot-6 Cash, who was the first black basketball player in the Southwest Conference while attending Texas Christian in 1965, is also a part-owner of the Celtics. Wife Clemmie devotes her time to philanthropic activities, including AIDS prevention, while Cash is on the board of Babson College, Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Software Council, and is an overseer of the Museum of Science.
Gerald Fineberg's Fine Hotels Corporation in Wellesley has a portfolio of 11 hotels up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with some 2,000 employees. But his clout and that of his wife, Sandra, isn't about commerce; it's about art–and not the kind of art you find on the walls of the rooms in the Holiday Inns they own in Brookline and Newton or their new 227-room Hampton Inn at Logan. The Finebergs are ranked by ARTnews among the top 200 art collectors in the world, in the company of the likes of Bill Gates, David Geffen, and David Bowie. Their decisions drive art prices and influence the market, and they have also contributed artworks to the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis–along with $2.5 million for what the museum will call the Gerald S. and Sandra Fineberg Gallery.
The former ambassador to Tanzania under President Bill Clinton, the Reverend Charles Stith, along with his wife, Deborah Prothrow-Stith, have lost no time returning to their places of prominence in Boston. Known for his colorful bow ties and decades of neighborhood activism, Stith has set his sights on international affairs as head of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center, a residency program at Boston University for past African heads of state. Prothrow-Stith, meanwhile, punches her clock across the river as a professor and associate dean at Harvard's School of Public Health; she is nationally known as an advocate for public health solutions to inner-city violence. The next generation of Stiths is following its parents into public service. Son Percy, 25, and daughter Mimi, 22, both work at their father's center, she as a publicist and he most recently as attaché to visiting former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.
The third generation of the low-profile Boston family that tightly controls
Sonesta International Hotels, co-CEOs Stephanie Sonnabend and Peter Sonnabend are first cousins. Stephanie's father, Roger, is chairman; Peter's father, Paul, heads up the executive committee. The Sonnabends and their extended family own 65 percent of the chain, which in turn owns 24 hotels and resorts–including the 400-room Royal Sonesta in Cambridge–and three cruise ships. This clan is careful to avoid the sibling rivalries that have split other families in business together; when they took the jobs, Stephanie, Peter, and Stephanie's younger sister, Jacqueline, who is executive vice president, all had to accept exactly equal salaries. They may not get much ink, but between them the Sonnabends serve on the boards of Century Bank, the New England Conservatory, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the Big Sister Association.
No other family in Boston is more synonymous with high fashion than the Bilzerians. Alan and his wife, Bê, met and fell in love in Paris, where the two were part of tightly knit fashion community. (Alan traveled to the city to scout for fabrics and production methods, while Bê worked as a designer for a suede and knitwear company.) In 1968 the duo moved to Worcester and opened the first Alan Bilzerian boutique there, stocking racks of fresh and undiscovered fashion brands in addition to their own couture creations. A pattern of success developed: The Bilzerians tapped into the fashion consciousness of their customers to carve out unique ensembles. And if the outfit lacked one key element–a scarf, a shirt, a tie–the Bilzerians sketched out a design and produced the piece themselves. Today the Bilzerian boutique still reigns over fashion (though from a different location, on Newbury Street) and sells high-end labels from the likes of Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons. Now, in keeping with the fashion of family tradition, daughter Lana Bilzerian has launched her own line of cashmere knitwear.
Anne and Jim Davis are the husband and wife behind New Balance, whose $1.3 billion a year in worldwide sales make it the world's fourth-largest athletic shoe company behind Nike, Adidas, and Canton-based Reebok. He's CEO; she's executive VP in charge of administration, overseeing New Balance's 2,000 New England employees and its charitable giving, among other things. The company's local profile has grown along with its hard-to-miss new headquarters over the Mass. Pike; it put $750,000 toward the successful efforts to help attract this summer's Democratic National Convention. New Balance will be a presence at this summer's Olympics in Greece, too, as an official sponsor of the modern pentathlon event. The company is taking over the Yacht Club of Greece to serve as its hospitality venue.
Husband-and-wife team Charles Ansbacher and Swanee Hunt have made a powerful splash in Cambridge since arriving there in 1997. The youngest daughter of Texas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt, she's a big Democratic fundraiser who served as U.S. ambassador to Austria for four years and worked to organize the Bosnian peace talks. Now Hunt is director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Husband Ansbacher is the founder and conductor of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. He has also been a visiting scholar in Harvard's music department and was director of Mayor Tom Menino's Boston 2000 Committee.
Their names may be marquee, but brothers Ben and Casey Affleck are hometown boys at heart. Ben's loyalties famously remain with the ever-hopeful Red Sox; he even narrated an HBO special last year called The Curse of the Bambino . Casey has taken an activist role: He has lobbied Massachusetts politicians to maintain a ban on body-gripping animal traps.
It's been two years now since renowned architect Ben Thompson, the creative force behind Faneuil Hall, died at 84. And although his family's influence has waned over that time, its wealth has not. Thompson's estate–including a grand home in Cambridge, a sizable property on the Cape, and a share in Washington, DC's Union Station–now sits at the heart of a messy legal squabble between his widow and four of his five children. Nationally celebrated for his “festival marketplace” projects, such as Faneuil Hall, New York's South Street Seaport, Baltimore's Harborplace, and others, Thompson worked closely with his wife of 33 years, the urban planner Jane Thompson, who has two children of her own. The couple designed projects across the country, owned a handful of restaurants, and, in addition to their Cambridge home, had a summer house in Barnstable. Given Thompson's penchant during his later years for rewriting his will, exactly how much his children are entitled to remains unsettled. But with millions of dollars at issue, this is a family feud of enormous magnitude that is unlikely to be settled soon.
This couple's impact is downright spiritual. Susan Piver Browne is a guru of the inspirational publishing market as founder of Padma Media in Cambridge, which produces books and CDs, and the author herself of the New York Times bestseller The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask before You Say “I Do” and this year's The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life . The former general manager of Cambridge-based Rounder Records, husband Duncan Browne is now COO of the 24-store Newbury Comics chain (with which this magazine has an online collaboration). He also serves on the board of the Association for Independent Music and chairs its Indie Awards committee.
Anthony Athanas's famous Anthony's Pier 4 may be long past its glory years, but he and his four sons still own a big chunk of some of this area's most storied restaurants, including Anthony's Hawthorne in Lynn, Hawthorne by the Sea in Swampscott, and Anthony's Cummaquid Inn in Yarmouth. And the Athanases still have a lot of powerful friends. Four hundred of the A-list cognoscenti turned out for the family patriarch's 90th birthday.