The Brothers Reuben

04 October 2009

By Natalie Madell, Lifestyles Magazine

screen-versionDavid and Simon Reuben built an empire from scratch-and now their goal is to create hope.
For years, British brothers David and Simon Reuben, with a fortune estimated at in excess of $5 billion and control of international prime properties and companies, have had their legacy secured as two of the world’s richest and most influential businessmen. But for a patient receiving state-of-the-art cancer treatment in a London children’s hospital, or a woman receiving a lifesaving early breast cancer diagnosis in Israel, and a family sending their children to a North London day school-tuition free-to learn and grow in a nurturing, caring environment, all at the expense of the Reuben Foundation, David and Simon Reuben will be remembered for their essential contributions to health care and education in the United Kingdom and worldwide.
The details of exactly how David and Simon Reuben came to be British businessmen, billionaire British businessmen, to be more precise, aren’t regularly disclosed by the brothers, who are notoriously private and guarded around the press.
But what is known of their story is remarkable.
The brothers were able to take nothing but their own business acumen, grit, and determination and turn it into one of the U.K. ‘s greatest success stories, and a fortune estimated at more than $5 billion.
“The bond was always there between us, from day one,” says Simon, who at 63 is three years younger than David. The bond goes so far, some say, that the brothers are known to finish each other’s sentences. One brother’s strengths and weaknesses complement the other’s. For example, David is known as the trader, and Simon as the investor. And while David is fond of gadgets and technology, Simon has said, “I can’t read a computer screen and never use a calculator. It’s all in my head and by hand.”
In the 1960s David started his own scrap metal business. He traveled throughout Europe and Asia, making deals and creating contacts-which would prove useful in the future-before heading to the United States in 1974 and collaborating on a new venture with Merrill Lynch. The older Reuben would use this experience to build the company that would turn him and his brother into billionaires. Today, they rank in the top 100 of the world’s billionaires and number two in the U.K.
Around the same time David was making inroads in the scrap metal business, Simon began importing and selling carpets. He earned enough to buy-and eventually sell-one of England ‘s oldest carpet makers. He used the profits from the sale of John Holdsworth & Company to begin investing in property in the U.K.
Before long, the brothers’ professional paths crossed again. By the mid-1970s, the Reubens were working together at TransWorld, trading aluminum, tin, and other metals from London and New York . A decade later, the brothers bought out their American business partners and restructured the company. When the powers-that-be began loosening their grip on Eastern Europe , the Reubens saw an opportunity to expand their empire. The former Soviet Union (FSU) opened its doors to the West in the 1990s, and TransWorld subsequently opened offices in Russia.
Incapacitated by debt, Russian aluminum smelters were unable to buy raw materials or market their finished products. TransWorld stepped in, and by 1995 the company was responsible for 5 percent of the world’s aluminum production. Sales reached $7 billion.
As business in Russia and the FSU became increasingly difficult toward the end of the 1990s, the Reubens sold TransWorld to Sibneft, a Russian oil conglomerate, in 2000. Free of the business that turned them into one of the most powerful business duos in Europe, the Reubens turned to real estate as their main focus; with the majority of their business and investments taking place in the United Kingdom.
The Reubens’ real estate portfolio is one of the most impressive in London , and in the world. Some of their U.K. investments consist of iconic city properties, including the Millbank Centre (where the Reuben Foundation is headquartered), the American Express offices in London , Carlton House on St. James’s Square, Hereford House on Oxford Street , and prime Sloane Street shops, including the flagship stores for luxury retail brands like Versace and Roberto Cavalli. The Reubens are also jointly developing a mixed-use scheme in excess of 2 million square feet at Paddington in the heart of London . The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, performed the topping-out ceremony at which he commented that the development was vital not only for the regeneration of the area but also for acting as a catalyst for further investment and economic growth to ensure London emerges from the recession with a modern infrastructure.
Overseas, the Reubens have invested in the Lloyds Bank headquarters in Monaco and a portfolio of retail investments across Germany , France , Romania , and the Czech Republic , and are developing a prime mixed-use waterfront property in Tel Aviv. The brothers are also jointly responsible for the Gibraltar East Bay project-with more than 6 million square feet of apartments, retail space, a hotel, and a marina. It is easily the most ambitious and biggest development in the area’s history.
Aside from their vast property interests, the Reubens took a new direction in 2008 when they acquired Oxford Airport , a business airport 40 miles northwest of London . Shortly after the purchase, the airport was named the new base for a fleet of Embraer 100 Phenom, a Very Light Jet (VLJ). The brothers are said to own more than a dozen Embraer Legacy jets themselves. But that’s not all-their assets in the leisure realm bring the Reuben brothers even further into the everyday lives of Britons. They own Northern Racing, which, in turn, owns nine racecourses and manages a further racecourse, and have a 25 percent stake in Arena Leisure, which boasts seven racecourses (together, they account for 35 percent of all horseracing in the U.K.). Additionally, in 2004 they acquired Wellington Pub Company, one of the largest groups of pubs in the southeast of England, and more recently purchased Premium Bars & Restaurants, a predominant bar and nightclub operator.
The Reuben brothers own Kristal Waters, a company engaged in the construction and ownership of superyachts. Their 75-meter yacht Siren won the 2009 World Superyacht Award and in 2007 the yacht Triple Seven (68-meter) won the International Superyacht Society Award at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
The Reubens even owned 50 percent of the $7 billion Stratford City project in London , which is where the 2012 Olympics are to be held. Following controversial comments made by the former mayor of London , Ken Livingstone, in which he made clear that he was backing his preferred developer, the Reubens sold their stake shortly before the credit crunch.
As they state on their website, the Reuben brothers are proud that their “main focus continues to be British business.”
Despite all of their success and wealth, the brothers still remain the same as when they started out. They’re both steadfastly private and dedicated to their families (David’s son Jamie has an interest in politics and works under the stewardship of Simon at their London headquarters, and Simon’s daughter Lisa plays a prominent role in the Contemporary Arts Department at Sotheby’s in London . Their families are also involved in their philanthropic ventures).
Simon works from Geneva while David is in London , and between them, they own homes on the French Riviera and in Florida .
In 2002, their focus turned away from business. With a goal of improving health care and education in the U.K. and abroad, the brothers decided to endow their own foundation. They decided, like many philanthropists today, that they would give to “support causes where the money will have maximum impact, and where we know what the money is being used for, so we can be assured it is creating the best value,” explains Simon.
The brothers, who are of Sephardic Jewish heritage, told Lifestyles that they gather much of their philosophy for giving from their Jewish culture, their parents, the late Nancy and David-Sassoon Reuben, and from their home of England.
“Basically, from Jewish values, an emphasis has always been placed on education, and with regards to health, we have always wanted to help both in terms of supporting research as well as practical health care,” says Simon, noting that, traditionally, he and his brother were not involved
in the business of health care. “Even businesswise, we have become involved in the health care industry through our venture capital investments in companies such as Real Imaging [an Israeli company which is involved in the research and development of a new scanning technology to be used against cancer] and Rainbow Medical [which develops breakthrough medical technology],” says Simon.
“We were making substantial donations before the Reuben Foundation was created, and realizing this was something we wanted to continue, we decided it would be best to make such donations through a charitable foundation,” says David. “It was decided that $100 million was an appropriate size for the endowment, as this would allow the foundation to be involved in the kind of large-scale projects that it is currently committed to, as well as allowing it to provide funding to a variety of different charitable causes over a number of years.”
The large-scale projects and donations were announced almost immediately after the foundation was endowed.
In 2004, in honor of their late mother, the foundation established the Nancy Reuben Primary School , a private school in North London with 250 students. The Reuben brothers are particularly proud of the school’s distinction of creating an environment in which “care and respect for others permeate the entire curriculum.” Without any government help, the foundation continues to support the school with monthly funding.
The following year, the foundation gave more than $600,000 to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s FULL STOP campaign, which aims to end the abuse of children.
The Reuben Foundation also supports the Mayo Clinic in the United States and are members of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Leadership Council.
And in 2008, the brothers unveiled the foundation’s biggest investments, the impact of which continues to be felt in two cities, thousands of miles away.
Following a 2006 visit to central London ‘s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH), a national center focused on children’s health care, the Reubens recognized an urgent need to treat more children suffering from cancer. In October 2008, the Reuben Foundation, through a multimillion-dollar contribution, opened the Reuben Foundation Children’s Cancer Centre at GOSH. The center has allowed GOSH to become the largest center for pediatrics, hematology, and oncology in Europe and one of the top three largest in the world. The opening was attended by Mayor Boris Johnson, a friend of the Reubens’, who described the new center as “helping to bridge the gap between rich and poor in London .”
A few days after the opening of the GOSH facility, the Reubens flew to Israel , where, alongside the country’s president, Shimon Peres, they inaugurated the Reuben Foundation Comprehensive Breast Care Center at the Linn Medical Center in Haifa , Israel . The center is involved in research, diagnosis, treatment, and counseling for women in the areas surrounding Haifa , and it caters to all communities and villages in the region, regardless of religious or cultural affiliations. The opening of this center followed the March 2005 opening of another Reuben Foundation comprehensive cancer center in Israel , the Nancy Reuben Comprehensive Breast Health Center at the Meir Medical Centre in Kfar Saba.
While the foundation has felt the effects of the downturn in the economy, Simon and David aren’t concerned about the future of their charitable giving. The funding for the foundation is secure, and with their family and notable trustees at the helm, the Reuben Foundation is set to continue making a difference where it is most needed, well into the future.