The Tishman and Speyer Families

121806 article speyer The Tishman and Speyer FamiliesThe Speyer family does everything fabulously, and the only reason you don’t hear more about them is that they are fabulously modest. (They are also fabulously rich.)

They collect art by artists whose names are still not widely known. Father Jerry is a policy whiz and the confidant of city mayors. Son and heir apparent Rob used to be a crack newspaper reporter. The mother, Katherine Farley, just took over the ailing Lincoln Center redevelopment project.

And this year, the Speyers broke two U.S. real-estate records with their $5.4 billion purchase of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the most expensive property purchase ever, and their $1.8 billion sale of 666 Fifth Avenue, the highest price ever for a single asset. (Jared Kushner, a principal for the buyer, the Kushner Companies, is the publisher of The New York Observer.)

The family business dates back to 1898, when Julius Tishman started building tenements in New York City. In the 1920’s, the firm became publicly traded, a move that caused strains until the family finally ended up taking Tishman Realty & Construction private and selling off its properties in 1976.

The president of the company at the time, Julius’ grandson Robert, instead went into business with his son-in-law, Jerry Speyer, a young would-be merchant banker who’d discovered that he had a penchant for real estate. The two called their company Tishman Speyer Properties. (Robert’s cousin John took charge of the original firm, Tishman Realty & Construction, and has since built it back into a major international builder.)

Under Mr. Speyer, the president and chief executive, the firm began to make inroads into other nations, like Germany and Brazil—an effort aided by the fact that the banks financing the deals had come to realize that the future lay in globalization. Now, Tishman Speyer does about half of its business overseas and half in the U.S.

“Jerry has deep, deep roots in the financial community,” said Kathryn Wylde, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a group of business leaders that Mr. Speyer ran for a time in the early 1990’s. “He knows all these people socially. He’s a direct, honest man, and these people trust him.”

His business partnership with his father-in-law even outlasted his marriage to Mr. Tishman’s daughter, Lynne, which ended in divorce in 1987. A few years later, Mr. Speyer married Katherine Farley, who was involved in the firm’s overseas ventures at the time. (She is now the senior managing director of emerging markets.)

The two play a role in just about any blue-chip civic and cultural venture in New York City, and yet they maintain a reputation for keeping their philanthropic and business worlds separate. Mr. Speyer, 66, is the vice chairman of the Museum of Modern Art and was just selected to become chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Ms. Farley, 57, sits on the boards of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and of Brown University.

Unlike some New York real-estate families who build and hold for the long term, the Tishmans and Speyers are known for buying and selling when the market strikes them. It was Robert Tishman who, as chief executive of the predecessor company, built 666 Fifth Avenue in 1957. (It was called the Tishman Building at the time.) The family later sold the building, then bought it back in 2000 to renovate.

In fact, most of the family’s work these days involves renovations and restorations—enhancing the value of declining landmark properties rather than developing sites from the ground up, the way Mr. Speyer and Mr. Tishman conceived themselves doing when they first established their firm.

Tishman Speyer bought a piece of Rockefeller Center in 1996 (and, eventually, the whole thing), and the full share of the Chrysler Building in 1998. Mr. Speyer’s eldest daughter, Valerie Peltier, now 39, was put in charge of the Chrysler renovation, and she is now in charge of another complicated project: the new Yankee Stadium.

There is little question, according to an industry source familiar with the family, that it is Rob, 37, who is being prepared for eventual succession. A Columbia College grad, he worked for The Observer and the Daily News and, by the time he moved into the family business 11 years ago, was already well known around town. He negotiated the purchase of Stuyvesant Town earlier this year and is chairman of the global-management committee at the company.

“He’s more intense than his dad,” an acquaintance said, “which isn’t unusual for a second generation trying to make its mark.”

Or, as the case may be, for a third or fourth or fifth generation.