100 ICONS: The real movers and shakers

I'd rather be alive at 18% than dead at the prime rate." By now infamous words spoken by one William "Big Bill" Zeckendorf. That phrase epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit that is the commercial real estate industry. And while Zeckendorf is largely credited with some of the most creative deal-making known to this industry, we chose to single out 99 others who have made what we believe to be lasting impacts on the real estate scene.

The prominence of three major markets - New York, Chicago and California - on our list became apparent to us immediately. These markets have come to dominate the U.S. commercial real estate scene. And is it any wonder, since two of these icons are the oldest of the country's major cities - one the entryway for our forefathers and mothers, who first spied the Statue of Liberty; the other the birthplace of the modern skyscraper and land of "broad shoulders."

The third has been the recipient of tremendous population and economic growth through the years, as America entered its great westward movement phase.

However, it must be noted that we did not turn a blind eye to the rest of the country. In fact, we tried to even out the playing field, with not too much emphasis given to any one geographic area.

To be sure, prominent real estate families played their part. But so, too, have brash entrepreneurs who changed the way we think about real estate, particularly from a financial perspective - some for the better and some, well, you know... let's just say the jury is still out.

Our initial criteria included leaders who have had at least a decade's worth of impact. But we also included persons who had an impact on the industry through either a singular deed or the formation of a company that made a difference.

The listings are organized alphabetically in four major categories architects, financiers, service firms and developers. You'll find that 31 leaders are from New York, 15 from California, 13 from Chicagoland, six from Dallas, five from Atlanta and four from Washington, D.C., with other cities represented as well.

ARCHITECTS OF OUR TIME Bruce Graham Skidmore Owings Merrill


Achievements: Noted architect of Chicago's Sears and Hancock towers pioneered cross-bracing structural design.

Philip Johnson Johnson Burgee Architects

New York

Achievements: Perhaps the most publicity conscious of the 1970s-'90s architects, Johnson's design for Hines' Pennzoil Place headquarters in downtown Houston in 1975 put name-brand architecture on the map.

Eugene Kohn Kohn Pederson Fox

New York

Achievements: He and Bill Pederson took their small New York firm to the pinnacle of their profession with a lengthy series of office buildings from the mid-1980s on.

Helmut Jahn Partner



Achievements: This flamboyant caped crusader from Germany brought stand-out designs, from 750 Lexington Avenue in New York to the Messeturm in Frankfurt, Germany.

IM Pei Pei Cobb Freed Partners

New York

Achievements: He and his partners were among the most prolific of big-name cache architects in the 1980s and 1990s. Who can forget his redesign of the Louvre Museum entrance in Paris or his Bank of China tower in Hong Kong?

Cesar Pelli Pelli & Associates

New Haven, Conn.

Achievements: Another of the more prolific of recent architects, Pelli's timeless classics include Carnegie Hall Tower in New York and Canary Wharf's One Canada Tower in London, among many others.

Louis Sullivan Chicago

Achievements: We have Mr. Sullivan to thank for designing the first (and some say best) of the early-day skyscrapers. His achievements, too numerous to mention, are legendary.

Mies Van der Rohe Chicago

Achievements: Largely credited with creating the Modernist architecture era and the phrase "God is in the details." Designed landmark Seagram Building in New York.

Richard & Julian Roth


Emery Roth & Sons New York

Achievements: New York's name-brand architects, designing much of Sixth Avenue in the 1960s and 1970s.

Frank Lloyd Wright Achievements: Probably most famous for his residential work. On the commercial side, Wright created the SC Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine, Wis. He also was the first to propose a "Mile-High Skyscraper" that never quite got off the drawing board.

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