Interviews
December 27, 2019 • 4 min read
Lawrence Benenson
the QT
Interview
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Lawrence Benenson is also chairman of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy and co-chairman of the Lincoln Center Real Estate and Construction Council. He serves on several boards, including the Museum of Modern Art , the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center in the Bronx, the Museum for African Art, the Center for Arts in Education, the American Folk Art Museum, the ART/OMI International Arts Center, the New York Junior Tennis League, the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, and the Ad Reinhardt Foundation.

If you could give one book to your younger self, what would it be?
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I wish I had read it much sooner because it would have greatly impacted my perspective on love and greatly eased years of anguish.

What’s your favorite restaurant for a business meal? What should I order?
My favorite restaurant on the planet is El Pote Español (718 Second Ave.). It opened in 1986 and I have been going since 1987. If you took a dart and landed it in a town with Spain’s greatest restaurant, this is what you’d get. The food is just what you’d get in Spain. If I took a business person here, I’d think, “Is this a down-to-earth person or does he think he’s slumming it?” They have the greatest paella ever and the finest appetizers, like gambas al ajillo and heart of artichoke in butter sauce.
There’s also Il Gattopardo (13-15 W. 54th St.). It’s fancy but always good. I love the Dover sole with spinach and pasta.

If you could pick one company to buy, own, and then run as the CEO, what would it be and why? (Size and cost don’t matter.)
Apple. I am dismayed that the smartest people in the world are figuring out facial recognition software for cell phones instead of working on poverty and hunger and solving the world’s most important problems.

With a magic wand, you can have the power to completely solve one societal issue. What would it be and why?
Solving gun violence. But the most important issue is education. I haven’t figured out how to solve it at the most basic level. Homelessness and poverty are also linked to education. It’s hard to process information on cheeseburgers and Coca Cola. Why not have broccoli and orange juice vending machines instead of soda machines? Kids would eat and drink those.

Where do you plan to take your company in the next few years?
I plan to expand my business by repurposing existing properties and by investing in “bread-and-butter,” non-sexy, money-making businesses.

Which technology do you think will most disrupt your industry?
Technology that I hope will transform the real estate business is modular building, which is 40 percent less expensive and takes half the time.

How is your investment strategy differentiated from others?
My investment strategy may be different than other investment strategies because of my perception of trends and my learning lessons from experiences.

Where in the investment landscape do you think the market is getting it wrong?
The investment landscape may be wrong in its proclivity toward get-rich-quick schemes including, but not limited to, predicting that human nature will change. Creating new beverages may carve out a minimal market share, but sugary soft drinks are here for the long haul. Human beings are very distracted these days, but museum attendance is skyrocketing as people realize they are starving for real creativity.

What is your most memorable deal? Why?
I invested in a soil-cleaning technology and the managers of the company were nincompoops, to put it nicely. The technology worked, but the principals’ ineptness caused a total loss. It was a very expensive lesson. It was a bad deal, but I learned a great deal.

Predict something — anything.
I predict that the Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women will pass and be amended to the United States Constitution.

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