The Underdog

After enduring a tough childhood, Colliers Vice Chairman and Mexico City native Leon Manoff bounces to top of game with deals for Marks Paneth & Shron and Macmillan Publishing -- ‘my ego is fed by the size of my bank account’

One of three siblings born in Mexico City, Mr. Manoff found himself in the United States at the age of 7 after his parents’ traumatic divorce led to what he described as an actual abduction.

“My parents divorced and my mother kidnapped me from Mexico,” recalled Mr. Manoff, 58, who relocated to Rego Park, Queens. “Today, you would find my picture on a milk carton for that.”

While barely surviving on food stamps in Queens, the young man struggled to learn English—even while his mother exchanged vows with the man whose surname he would eventually inherit.

But amid a series of sicknesses in his family—afflicting first his stepfather, who, after a mental illness, was institutionalized, and then his sister, who suffered from anorexia—Mr. Manoff flew to Mexico to reunite with his father and brother, whom he hadn’t seen in nearly a decade.

“We lived on welfare for a while and it was tough going,” he said of his youth in Queens. “But we really persevered.”

His time in Mexico, however, lasted two years at best. Back in New York, he juggled a handful of jobs, including as a window washer and an ice cream scooper at Baskin-Robbins. But it was while driving a taxi that he received a job lead that would transform his life.

His passenger, he learned one evening, was a broker at Sutton & Towne. And during a friendly chat, the real estate agent handed Mr. Manoff a telephone number for Bob Tunis, who wound up giving the taxi driver a shot at the real estate company’s Great Neck outpost.

It was while working at the firm that Mr. Manoff learned the fundamentals. Indeed, even while maintaining his job as a taxi driver, the 23-year-old agent kept his head down, canvassing local businesses like his life depended on it.

“I took to the prospects of the money,” said Mr. Manoff, who now works a few doors from Mr. Tunis, another vice chairman at Colliers. “I followed the money and, never having had it, I wanted it badly. It taught me that my only limitations were the ones I imposed upon myself.”


Article continues below
More from Politics
STAR OF DAVID OR 'PLAIN STAR'?   If you thought "CP Time" was impolitic, on July 2 Donald Trump posted a picture on Twitter of a Star of David on top of a pile of cash next to Hillary Clinton's face. You'd think after the aforementioned crime stats incident (or after engaging a user called "@WhiteGenocideTM," or blasting out a quote from Benito Mussolini, or...) Trump would have learned to wait a full 15 seconds before hitting the "Tweet" button. But not only was the gaffe itself bad, the attempts at damage control made the BP oil spill response look a virtuoso performance.  About two hours after the image went up on Trump's account, somebody took it down and replaced it with a similar picture that swapped the hexagram with a circle (bearing the same legend "Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!"!). Believe it or not, it actually got worse from there. As reports arose that the first image had originated on a white supremacist message board, Trump insisted that the shape was a "sheriff's star," or "plain star," not a Star of David. And he continued to sulk about the coverage online and in public for days afterward, even when the media was clearly ready to move on. This refusal to just let some bad press go would haunt him later on.
Donald Trump More Or Less Says He’ll Keep On Tweeting as President