Reporters writing about one of the three public-relations men in New York with the last name Rubenstein are frequently offered the chance to get comments from that publicist’s esteemed clients. In the trade, these supporting interviews are called “secondaries.”
“Most of the time, if it’s me,” said Steven Rubenstein, “people want to talk to the Letterman people, or Tribeca” (that’s the late-night talk-show guy, and the group that incorporates real estate and a film festival and Robert De Niro). “My dad: Rupert or Steinbrenner.” (That’s Murdoch and George, respectively.) “My brother: Time Warner.”
Steven Rubenstein, 37, is the president of Rubenstein Communications. He is also the senior executive vice president of Rubenstein Associates, which is run by his father, Howard Rubenstein, 74. A third company, Rubenstein Public Relations, belongs to Steven’s older brother, Richard Rubenstein, 41.
Howard Rubenstein speaks for a world of family businesses with healthy generational succession. “We represent them,” the elder Mr. Rubenstein said by phone on Friday, Dec. 8. “The Rudins, a good many, they’re doing O.K.! The Resnicks. The entrepreneurial and real-estate families have done very well—the Silversteins. You read about the conflict; you don’t read about the peaceful relations. They’re famous and wealthy; it ends up in the gossip columns.”
Rubenstein Associates represents News Corporation, the parent company of the New York Post, which actually has a well-known gossip column called Page Six. (Speaking of newspapers! Both the Kushner Companies and Jared Kushner, who is the owner and publisher of The New York Observer, are clients of Rubenstein Associates. The Observer is not.)
“A lot of these businesses are in their third generation,” said Steven Rubenstein. (They were together on speakerphone.) “The Rudins. The Fishers. The Speyers.”
“It’s a wonderful thing if it works,” said his father. Mr. Rubenstein conducts a great persona—genial, shticky, sly. “It could be hell if it doesn’t work, I imagine. We’re lucky—we’re living in P.R. heaven.”
P.R. heaven, by the sound of it, is a busy place. “Tomorrow will be my first day off, including a Saturday or Sunday, in a month,” Steven Rubenstein said. Howard had retreated into the distance. “Thanksgiving, I didn’t start working till 6 at night. The business is a little relentless.”
On his day off, he thought he might go to the gym and have a bluegrass guitar lesson. He’s still reading the Bob Woodward book. Maybe basketball!
“My whole life, my father has worked all day Sunday,” Steven Rubenstein said. “The family thing is, you get to take off Saturday. We do Friday status reports”—staffers at Rubenstein Associates download about each of their clients—“and, my whole life, I saw my father go through them on Sunday. And now I do it: an eight-to-12-hour workday on Sunday.” Mr. Rubenstein also hosts dinners at his house regularly, because, he said, he’s met so many interesting people in his line of work.
(Alas! On Dec. 11, Steven Rubenstein e-mailed: “needless to say, my father called me Saturday morning to talk through a bunch of business …🙂.”
Along with the sizzle, the family is in the steak business. Howard Rubenstein’s wife, Amy Rubenstein, is a daughter of Sol and Marsha Forman. In 1950, Sol Forman bought Peter Luger, the steakhouse in Williamsburg. They passed the business on to Amy and her sister, Marilyn Spiera, as well as Marilyn’s daughter, Jody Spiera Storch, who since has had children of her own.
Amy Rubenstein began working at Peter Luger a quarter-century ago. “And the transition from my father-in-law,” Howard Rubenstein said, “was very smooth. He was a terrific business man.”
“That family transition was an example of excellent relationships,” he said. “Business relationships, personal relationships.”
Howard Rubenstein’s father, Sam, grew up in Williamsburg, married an immigrant, settled in Bensonhurst. He was a newspaperman—cops and fires and crimes—primarily with the New York Herald Tribune, and did time in public relations, working for his son at one time.
For many years, it has been said of Steven and Richard that, as Advertising Age put it in October 2004, “the two will jointly succeed their father.” The elder Mr. Rubenstein joked to The New York Times in 1998 that his office “will be divided in half.”
But though they all shared a Thanksgiving table this season, the multi-firm arrangement means that the younger generation is unlikely to carve up Howard Rubenstein’s headquarters.
“Richard runs an independent business,” the elder Mr. Rubenstein said a few days after the conference call. He was doing what he does with reporters—calling daily to check back in. “Steven runs an independent business. And he works very closely with me and Rubenstein Associates.” Where Steven and Howard work collaboratively, “Richard gives me some advice from time to time that I find valuable. We’re close, and I think the three of us have run ethical businesses.”
“My objective,” said Richard Rubenstein, all alone on the phone on Dec. 11, “was to build my own business and prove I can run my own business. It’s proven. I always thought early on, if I learned the business and the challenges, that at the conclusion of a substantial amount of time, I could feel comfortable with myself. And that’s been 20 years in the making.”
Richard Rubenstein’s company handles: luxury brands; Trump; 15 Central Park West; the Miss Universe Pageant; the Savoy, in Miami; the Atlantica, in the Dominican Republic. He’s less interested in the entertainment gigs he did early on, and not at all interested in the crisis management that his father and brother take on. He said his goal now was to double the size of his own business, which employs 40 or so. Similarly, other Rubenstein companies have added infrastructure recently; a C.O.O., a C.F.O., digging deeper niches in their practice areas.
Richard Rubenstein said that he was just getting started. Like all good P.R. men, he answered the questions he wanted to, including when asked about succession in the family business.
More than once, he recalled his early days, with just his assistant, working on nightclub accounts. “They’d say, ‘Maybe we should hire your father instead.’ Can you imagine contending with that? It was difficult.”
“There aren’t simple answers to this,” he said. He went back in time again. “I would take any—even the small accounts would say at the onset, ‘We don’t need you! We’ll hire Howard Rubenstein.’” He laughed long and hard.