Camper, Deadhead, scholar, a scion for the times: He’s Howard’s boy, but he’s really earning it; entrusted with the good name of names you know, from Rolling Stone to the Met
Trying to pry information out of Steven Rubenstein is a cruel job for a reporter-especially when the subject is Steven Rubenstein.
“Part of why people hire us is, we keep our mouths shut,” said Mr. Rubenstein, 34, the youngest son of Howard J. Rubenstein, heir to the most powerful public-relations firm in New York, Rubenstein Associates.
But pry we did, and this is what we learned:
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Rubenstein originally wanted to be a Milton scholar. (“The 17th century is a fascinating period,” he said.)
He saw the Grateful Dead 45 times. (“I thought Jerry Garcia was the greatest guitar player ever.”)
His favorite opera is Verdi’s Rigoletto. (“Hands down.”)
He loves camping. (“I have a deep appreciation for the outdoors.”)
He once hiked the Himalayas.
Bespectacled and easygoing, deceptively humble, Mr. Rubenstein is an unlikely Renaissance man, a very likely public-relations man. His childhood was spent among the city’s elite, his family intertwined with its grandest institutions. His grandfather was a Herald Tribune reporter who moonlighted as a P.R. man in the 1940’s; his other grandfather bought Peter Luger Steakhouse in 1950; his father, Howard, founded the publicity firm in 1954 and has since strategized, leaked, plugged leaks, spun, counterspun and controlled damage for George Steinbrenner, Ronald Perelman, the Duchess of York and Rupert Murdoch, among many others.
Today, Steven Rubenstein is the No. 2 person in the agency, with his brother, Richard, 38, overseeing 44 of the company’s 160 staffers. His 30th-floor office on Sixth Avenue, facing west, looks out on large, breathtaking tracts of Manhattan, of which he represents a hefty Rubenstein sandwich: The Late Show with David Letterman, Larry Silverstein and the World Trade Center, Lachlan Murdoch and the New York Post, Wenner Media, the Tribeca Film Festival, Sony Music, Bear Stearns, the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera.
For a young man who spent his formative years picking up the phone on a Saturday and hearing the often-distressed voices of then-Governor Mario Cuomo or Leona Helmsley on the line, ambition is defined by holding the Rolodex to the kingdom.
“I didn’t apply for this job,” he said. “It’s not like I had to fill out a résumé. So you’re implicitly suspect coming into this place as the son of the founder. You have to prove yourself and work really hard.”
Mr. Rubenstein’s father took some pointers from Rupert Murdoch in molding the heirs to his empire. “I saw his sons grow up, and I’m delighted that Steven is very close to both Lachlan and James,” he said, talking about the Murdoch boys. “I’m delighted to see that parallel. And I saw how Rupert did it: He said, ‘Sink or swim-get your experience, go for it.’ I didn’t have either one of them report to me directly.”
Steven Rubenstein grew up on the Upper East Side, attended a yeshiva, spent a year living in Jerusalem-the year the intifada started-and was nearly tempted away from the family business by an intense academic interest in 17th-century literature.
“The societal transition from the belief in the ontological scale into a relativistic society is fascinating,” he said. “It’s really this amazing period where Spinoza and Hobbes are writing-I loved it.”
Is that Leona Spinoza? Now, Mr. Rubenstein just tries to keep pace with his dad.
“Growing up, I noticed the respect he got from people, how he went about his job,” Mr. Rubenstein said of his father. “That’s always been important to me.”
But that means a six-day work week, reading all the newspapers every day and catching up with old clients in Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, the biography of Robert Moses.
Mr. Rubenstein started in 1992, and said real-estate magnate Jerry Speyer, president and chief executive of Tishman Speyer Properties, was an early influence: In 1996, when Mr. Rubenstein was handling a particularly stressful story for Mr. Speyer, Mr. Rubenstein asked him if he wanted to consult with his father. “No,” said Mr. Speyer, “I trust that you’re giving me the best advice.”
“He took a gamble on me, and he didn’t have to,” said Mr. Rubenstein.
Jane Rosenthal, president of Tribeca Productions, said Mr. Rubenstein came to her rescue during the premiere of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, gamely managing an unwieldy press conference swarming with Hollywood heavies and bulb-popping press. “He was organizational, tactical, strategic and sensitive,” said Ms. Rosenthal. “He just was the embodiment of calm-knew what we had to get out, knew what the message was …. He did all of that with grace and calm and precision. It was quite striking to watch.”
Steven Rubenstein is not a Rubenstein for nothing; he knows what to say: Pshaw. “I do public relations,” he said. “I don’t build anything. I have no illusions about my place; we’re about our clients …. But I guess one of the nice things is, because we’ve been around so long in this business, I do get to choose who I want to work with.”