Monday, May 16, 2011

A Forest City Enterprises tale: 60 years of service to the co-chairman of the board, formality and awe

Forest City Enterprises, the parent company of Forest City Ratner, is an unusual hybrid: a nationally traded real estate company, with nearly $12 billion in assets, that nonetheless is controlled by members of the extended founding family.

A column in the 5/15/11 Cleveland Plain Dealer, Eleanor Fanslau has been at the heart of Forest City for 60 years: Regina Brett, profiles Eleanor Fanslau, 77, who for 60 years has served as the secretary and "right hand, his bookkeeper, executive assistant, receptionist and caretaker rolled into one" to Sam Miller, Forest City's co-chairman of the board and treasurer, who's now 90.

He's retiring and moving to emeritus status. Last June, I wrote about his performance at the annual meeting, in which he came off "more like the great-uncle who gets to hog the microphone at the family reunion because he’s always rented the venue."

Sacrificing service

Regina Brett's column describes Fanslau's super-loyal, sacrificing service to a company that's grown from a modest local lumber company to a national developer:
They sound like an old married couple who yell just because they can. It's the cadence of their conversation.
And yet:
He doesn't allow her to make personal calls. After 60 years, he still insists she call him Mr. Miller. She comes in at 7:30 a.m., prints out his emails, opens mail, pays bills, answers letters and phone calls. She eats lunch at her desk.
Still, she tells columnist Brett that the hardest part of her work is "Trying to please him I guess."

And still she's happy:
"I've enjoyed every minute of it," she said. "And he never fired me, not that I know of. If I didn't like it, I would've left. To know someone as great as he is, well, they'll never be another like him."

Or like her.
(NLG's Eric McClure calls it Stockholm Syndrome.)

Some skepticism


One commenter at the Plain Dealer's web site was a little less impressed, writing:
Should be able to afford tons of oil changes after he duped Ohio voters into granting his family (throu properties they control) a constitutional monopoly on gaming halls in Cleveland. Elsewhere in today's paper, the PD cited gambling related social costs of over 400M in Cleveland.
Here's some background on casinos in Cleveland.

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