I am the third generation to head Sudler Co. and look forward to my children becoming the fourth. So far, they are keen to remind me that they are doing their own things, that I didn’t take over until I was in my 40’s and that I had a successful career unrelated to real estate prior to finally taking the reins.
As my youngest son, Dan, observes, it is very rare that a family business lasts beyond the third generation, and he’d “like to prove that theory wrong”…in his own time.
To consider where the company might go when Dan and his siblings, Brian and Elizabeth, take over (hear that kids: when not if), we can see the roots of the future beginning when my grandfather Hyman Sudler founded the company in Newark in 1907 after he and my grandmother, Minnie, had fled anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine. He began building restaurants but recognized that constructing warehouses was a more stable and lucrative business. This insight landed him the contract to build distribution centers for Montgomery Ward & Co., across the country.
My Father Samuel took over the business after returning from the Navy in the 1940s after World War II and took his dad’s company from an entity that built properties for other companies into a company that used only its own capital to develop properties to own and lease. Over time, he amassed a large portfolio of warehouses, offices and data centers that Sudler leased to retailers, financial services, insurance and telecommunication companies. I believe it was his experience in the Navy as well as his education that helped him put his personal stamp on the company.
When it was time for me to take over, I was an assistant U.S. Attorney and defense lawyer in New York, trying cases against New York Mafia bosses and the owners of Studio 54, and not completely keen on leaving a job that I truly loved. However, in 1985, faced with the notion that my father would sell the company, I realized that I was not ready to let our history fall into someone else’s hands. My turn at the helm has been characterized by re-envisioning our legacy holdings and taking positions in new markets and asset classes that allow us to operate with the advantages of scale and diversification. The world changed and the business needed to continue to evolve despite the great successes of the previous generations.
Now consisting of 7,500,000 SF of commercial, industrial and office product, I follow my father’s strategy of limiting outside partners and utilizing leverage only modesty. While I was behind our move into the office market in a substantial way in the 1980s and 1990s, we used the downturn in 2008 to emphasize industrial and warehouse development, which has paid off with an occupancy rate of 96% across the portfolio, including space we built on spec during the very nadir of the market. The guiding premise: we are never going to be sorry we own well-located logistical space in a transportation-rich environment like New Jersey. Will the next generation eschew speculative development for more predictable investments in existing assets? Again, the beauty of succession is that they will have their turn.
I’m 69 now and it’s nearing the time when my children will hopefully decide to walk in my footsteps. Both my sons looked up to my father and followed him into the military where they have learned to survive in difficult situations through quick thinking, fast adaptation to new environments, and impeccable teamwork and leadership skills. My daughter, who is currently on maternity leave, is an attorney who switched her focus from corporate litigation to real estate, and joined Sudler Cos. in 2009.
The lesson of the Sudlers is that the most valuable successors are independent, successful, driven people in their own right. When they find way into the family business, despite the tensions of it being on their own terms, the benefits are far greater than if they simply showed up after college and apprenticed as the proprietor-in-waiting. Sudler has always been a dynamic place responding to a highly competitive environment — and as new generations take the reins, they also have taken the business in directions inspired by their outside experiences and informed by their strengths as people who have their own history of achievement.
For more information about Sudler Corporation’s 100+ year history, and its current portfolio which includes more than 5,265,000 SF of industrial and warehouse product including more than 1,000,000 sf of new warehouse space in Lakewood and Cranbury, NJ, call 973-257-0700.