Henry Silverman: Capitalist icon

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My new column is about the latest twist in the remarkable career of Realogy CEO Henry Silverman. It begins:

On the morning of April 19, the private-equity firm Apollo Management acquired Realogy–the company behind real estate brokerages Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and ERA. It was not, by modern standards, a huge transaction: the sale price was $8.5 billion, nowhere near the $39 billion that private-equity titan Blackstone Group recently paid for Equity Offices Trust.

Realogy’s passage into private ownership was nonetheless a landmark–because it marked the end of chief executive Henry Silverman’s career as boss of a publicly traded corporation. Silverman, 66, is no household name, but he may be one of the iconic figures of modern American capitalism. Either that or “the Zelig of the corporate world,” as he once called himself, evoking Woody Allen’s cipher of a character who shows up at major historical moments.

Silverman really has been a player in just about every important business trend of the past three decades. He has watched the rise, fall and resurgence of private equity–what used to be called leveraged buyouts, or LBOs–from inside and out. “There are certainly cycles,” Silverman said, when I talked to him a few days after Realogy went private. “And in the current iteration of the capital markets, clearly the private-equity guys are sitting in the catbird seat.” Read more.

A brief magazine column scarcely does Silverman justice. I’ll be posting an edited transcript of my interview with him soon. If you want to know more about his rise, here’s a 1997 profile I wrote for Fortune. And if you want to know more about that spot of bother he ran into in 1998, here’s Peter Elkind’s definitive account.

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