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Construction tycoon and family business leader dies

A high profile real estate developer and the man behind London’s Canary Wharf and the World Financial Centre in New York, has died in Toronto at the age of 83.
 Riechmann and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher with the plans for Canary Wharf
©Press Association

A high profile real estate developer and the man behind London’s Canary Wharf and the World Financial Centre in New York, has died in Toronto at the age of 83.

Paul Reichmann and his brothers set up their construction company, Olympia & York, in the 1950s and went on to both make and lose one of the largest family fortunes in the world.

Reichmann was born in Vienna to Hungarian Jewish parents and was the fifth of six children. The family fled to Paris and then Morocco during the Second World War, before settling in Canada after anti-Jewish protests broke out in the Middle East following the 1956 Arab-Israeli conflict.

Reichmann, along with his brothers Albert and Ralph, joined the building materials company founded by Edward, their eldest brother, and he was the driving force behind the company’s move into real estate development.

The Olympia & York family business made its name building Toronto’s iconic First Canadian Place – Canada’s tallest skyscraper – in 1975, and went on to win the contracts for New York’s World Financial Centre and the Battery Park City development.

Reichmann became famous for the incredible gambles he was prepared to take on his business decisions, and also his almost infallible ability to judge the real estate market, turning the business into one of the largest property development firms in the world in the 1980s.

The firm’s success came to an abrupt end in 1992, however, after it won the contract to build Canary Wharf in London.

The project was supposed to become London’s second business district, but at first very few companies were prepared to make the move, and Olympia & York eventually ran out of cash.

This, coupled with tumbling real estate prices around the world sounded a death knell for the firm and it went bankrupt with debts of $20 billion – the Reichmanns, formerly the seventh richest family in the world, were left with a personal fortune of under $100 million.

However, only three years after his company declared bankruptcy, Reichmann was again chairman of Canary Wharf, having set up a partnership with several other famous investors to buy a controlling stake from the bank syndicate that had taken control of it.

He remained chairman until 2004 when Canary Wharf was sold, and had managed to build the family fortune back to approximately $1 billion through this and other investments.

Reichmann was deeply religious, and undertook religious studies in Israel and Britain before the family moved to Canada, and he gave generously to orthodox Jewish causes. The company’s construction sites were closed on the Jewish Sabbath, instead paying workers overtime to work on a Sunday.

He married his wife Lea Feldman in 1953, and he is survived by his two sons and three daughters.

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