Home Opinions & Columns Remembering Marty Berger

Remembering Marty Berger

In business these days, it’s not often a deal gets closed on a simple handshake. Ours is a competitive, litigious and wary society that dictates one’s word is just not weighty enough.

Yet there are the few who take a kinder, more gentlemanly route.

Martin Berger was one of them. More than half a century ago, Mr. Berger and Robert Weinberg met, hit it off, shook hands and teamed up. And that handshake helped pave the way for real estate development in Westchester County.

Mr. Berger died Sept. 12 at the age of 81. His legacy lives on with his family, colleagues and friends.

As does his vision – he and Weinberg set the tone for mixed-use development as founders of the Robert Martin Co., one of the largest developers in the county’s history. And the partners did it their way, which has made all the difference.

Mr. Berger himself was a commanding presence. To Mr. Weinberg, he was that and much more.

“He’s a beautiful guy,” Mr. Weinberg told the Business Journal in a conversation. “He had warmth and he took care of a lot of things for a lot of people. He was definitely a people person.”

To Mr. Weinberg, he was also a cherished friend.

“We’ve been partners for over a half a century,” he said. “In fact, my wife (Marilyn Spinoza Weinberg) often says, ‘Don’t forget, you married me a year before you married him.’ She always keeps me in line because I always say he’s like my other wife. So she made sure it was clear she was the first wife.”

Mr. Weinberg met Mr. Berger in the early 1950s, when the latter was a mortgage salesman and the former was looking at a piece of property.

“People in the industry for whom he was working said, ‘Well Marty Berger knows all about that piece of property because before he came to work for us, he developed there.’ So I called him. He was a very good salesman, he said, ‘Why should we talk on the phone? I’ll meet you and show you the place and explain to you the problems and what you should know.’ We did and we hit it off and from there we decided we would go into business together if we could find something.

“But he had a wife and two kids and a third kid coming and I was married but I was a little bit ahead financially, and I said ‘Fine if I find something I can bankroll us a little bit. We found a little five-house job down in Greenburgh. And it really was a one-man job, but we had shaken hands a couple months before and I called him and said, ‘You wanna do it?’ He took a big gulp because there’s no way you get a salary out of a beginning business. You’ve got to have enough to carry yourself. And that’s the way we started.”

And the two stayed together through boom times and downturns, employing a unique strategy in the industry.

“There were two types of real estate developers in those years,” Mr. Weinberg explained. “One were those who would take a product line, hone it to a point where they knew it down to the last nail and they’d go (anyplace) to develop that product.

“We were totally different. We became generalists. And that’s how we became mixed-use developers. Whatever the community wanted and would accept we learned how to build. Maybe the first time we weren’t as good as that other guy who specialized in that product and would come in from out of town, but we just got to know the community, the community got to know us. We probably built in one-third of the municipalities in Westchester that have independent government. So you’ve got about 44, we probably built in about 15 or more of them over the course of our business career.”

And that was how they stayed here, he explained, because they were willing to develop any segment of real estate – hotels, office buildings, industrial buildings, apartment houses, low-rise, high-rise, one-family houses, shopping centers.

“You name it. We did all those things. And that kept us in business because there was not enough volume of any one of them but with all of them we were able to expand and grow.”

Their sincere and candid relationship only strengthened their successful business.

“We had a perfect partnership because it was not one and one is two. It was one and one was three because we brought different ‘ones’ to the table,” Mr. Weinberg said. “I was more technical and he was more political and more a sales type. It was a perfect coordination. It took us a long, long way.”

Despite their common interests, the partners were in no way identical, Mr. Weinberg pointed out – including in stature.

“We used to kid around because early when we were doing a lot of things ourselves, he was the only guy on the team that could reach up and nail insulation into the ceiling without a ladder. There were advantages to even the height differential.”

Different men, but a similar vision. It proved a winning combination that served them both well and certainly served the business community here well, too.

We will all miss him.

And perhaps upon reflection of the Robert Martin partnership we all can glean a little bit of wisdom.

 

 

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