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Bruce Ratner on fawning CEO Radio: "I always felt kind of special" traveling to Brooklyn

You wouldn't expect a series of minute-long interviews last month with Bruce Ratner on CEO Radio, a collaboration between WCBS NewsRadio and the Wall Street Journal, to be too hard-hitting. After all, the show's slogan is upbeat:
Ray Hoffman interviews CEOs about their business practices. Learn what it takes to be at the top of your business game!
But there are some nuggets amid the puffery, although the package can't match the awesome duet earlier this month between Charlie Rose and Ratner.

Part 1

Ratner, says the host, "may be the most important figure in the history of Brooklyn since the Dodgers left," given the work his firm has done "to transform the face of Brooklyn, including now the new Barclays Center."

The most important figure? Well, Ratner's certainly up there, but I bet supporters of longtime Borough President Howard Golden would disagree.

But when he was growing up, that wasn't his goal. "I came out of the '60s, and so I thought I would wind up going into some sort of public interest law," Ratner tells his interviewer, noting he "did 12 years of public interest," either teach law or government service. (He sure likes to invoke the '60s.)

Part 2

Under Mayor John Linsday, Ratner became one of New York's highest profile consumer advocates, getting a job with the city the old fashioned way--via a request from a former professor to run a unit with streetfront lawyers.

Part 3

Ratner learned Brooklyn from the ground up, we're told, "first as head of a group of storefront lawyers fighting ripoff artsts in the days before consumer protection laws," then in the late 1970s, serving as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs under Mayor Ed Koch.

"I was 33 years old," Ratner reflects. "I often say, Mayor, you gave me the best job of my life."

Part 4

As Consumer Affairs Commissioner, we're told, Ratner "became the master of the press release," for example discussing consumer prices when inflation was rampant. (I'd suggest his efforts with the press are way more extensive these days.)

Part 5

"There are so many things we take for granted, whether it be food labeling, whether it be laws on credit, that people had to be told about," Ratner says, because "those laws were just beginning to be legislated." So he "kept up a whirlwind schedule."

Part 6

Ratner tells his interviewer that, in hiring, he looks beyond grades on a resume, seeking signs of previous work, and unusual efforts. "I want to hear their passion about it, what they've done in that area," he says.

(So what does that say about the hiring and departure of Bruce Bender?)

Part 7

How'd he switch careers? "I said, OK, you've contributed in government world and the public interest world, let's see what you can do in the private sector," recalls Ratner.

The move, suggests the host, was "for the best of reasons," to support his two young daughters on more than a government salary. (OK, so that justifies any future questionable business practices?)

"I really didn't expect to stay in business more that a few years, maybe make enough money so maybe I could teach some more, which I really love to do, or maybe work for government," says Ratner.

(It didn't work out that way: surely Ratner really loves to be a developer too, and maybe even "winning" at development)

Part 8

Ratner learned Brooklyn, and all the boroughs, by working for the city, traveling to the city offices, getting to know the diversity, poverty, and wealth of the city.

"Growing up, you always heard Brooklyn Dodgers, Brooklyn, Brooklyn," Ratner says. "So when I traveled to Brooklyn, I always felt kind of special."

(He felt kind of special just crossing into the borough? Not so special he moved here.)

Part 9

"It's been more than eight years since he announced his plan to build an urban utopia in the heart of Brooklyn," the host leads off. (An urban utopia? Even the gush from Times critic Herbert Muschamp has not stood the test of time.)

There were legal and financial challenges, but the arena is nearly done.

"I think the result, in terms of the borough, in terms of our company, in terms of young people, will really mean that was worth it," Ratner says. "Whether it be when Rockefeller Center was built, or Lincoln Center, any of the really great places, you're going to have differences of opinion. Yes, it was difficult, a lot of pain, it was very expensive, but it's a process we all have to go through, to get things done, or sometimes to not get things done."

(Atlantic Yards is like Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center? The latter, however it removed many people, at least aims to serve the public. The former--well there are some parallels, not always flattering, and differences, as I've written.)

Part 10

"Bruce Ratner says he has to pinch himself when he drives by his new building," the host leads off, citing "the NBA team he bought to bring major league sports back to Brooklyn after a 54-year absence." (Um, he had to sell it. And he used sports to leverage a real estate deal.)

Ratner, apparently, is excited that the Barclays Center has a main entrance: "Part of the thing I noticed about sports was that people like to feel like they're part of a community. They like to feel like they're with people. So building an arena where you have one major entrance all coming in I thought was very important."

(Except there are other entrances, too, and they're closer to an actual neighborhood.)

Of the opening events, he says, "Those first three weeks I think are going to be remarkable in the kind of talent that we're going to have at that arena."

(Well, there's no doubt they can recruit some stars. That won't make it any easier on the unresolved issues such as traffic.)


  1. Anonymous12:53 AM

    hey bruce, congrats on a long "barclays" journey which is almost to fruition. cheers! tom {dv}


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