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Chapter 3 – Growing Up

“My father’s success also made it possible for him to give to his younger brother something he’d missed himself: a college education. … Perhaps because my father never got a college degree himself, he continued to view people who had one with a respect that bordered on awe.  In most cases they didn’t deserve it.  My father could run circles around most academics and he would have done very well in college, if he’d been able to go.”

“Freddy was probably happiest during that period in his life, and yet I can remember saying to him, even though I was eight years younger, ‘Come on, Freddy, what are you doing?  You’re wasting your time.’  I regret now that I ever said that.  … Perhaps I was just too young to realize that it was irrelevant what my father or I thought about what Freddy was doing.  What mattered was that he enjoyed it.”

“You made it in my father’s business – rent-controlled and rent-stabilized buildings – by being very tough and very relentless.  To turn a profit, you had to keep your costs down, and my father was always very price-conscious.  He’d negotiate just as hard with a supplier of mops and floor wax as he would with the general contractor for the larger items on a project.  One advantage my father had was that he knew what everything cost.  No one could put anything over on him.”

“By pushing his contractors very hard, and negotiating hard with his suppliers, my father was able to bring the project in ahead of schedule and almost $1 million under budget.  The term ‘windfall profits’ was actually coined to describe what my father and some others managed to earn through hard work and competence.  Eventually such profits were disallowed.”

“They were total opposites in that sense.  My mother loves splendor and magnificence, while my father, who is very down-to-earth, gets excited only by competence and efficiency.”

Chapter 4 – The Cincinnati Kid: Prudence Pays

“As I said earlier, I’ve always had a personal thing about cleanliness, but I also believe it’s a very good investment.  For example, if you want to sell a car and you spend five dollars to wash and polish it and then apply a little extra elbow grease, suddenly you find you can charge an extra four hundred dollars – and get it.  I can always tell a loser when I see someone with a car for sale that is filthy dirty.  It’s so easy to make it look better.”

“Irving probably saved his own life, just by showing no fear, and that left a very vivid impression on me.  You can’t be scared.  You do your thing, you hold your ground, you stand up tall, and whatever happens, happens.”

“I took [the inspecting buyer] over to Swifton Village and showed him the job.  We still had 100 percent occupancy at the time, and he wasn’t interested in asking a lot of questions beyond that.  He was anxious to get to [the fancy restaurant].  It took about half an hour to get there from Swifton, and we ended up spending about three hours over lunch which is the opposite of the way I normally work. …Frankly, the [buyers] should have been more prudent.  But, as I said, the REITs were hot to trot, and they couldn’t make deals fast enough.  In the end, of course, it never pays to be in too much of a hurry.  On the day we closed, there were dozens of vacant apartments.”