(Bloomberg)—Steve Roth, who built Vornado Realty Trust into a New York mega-landlord, underwent heart surgery in early August and spent the rest of the month on medical leave, intensifying questions about the firm’s succession plans.
Roth, Vornado’s 75-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, was stricken while golfing in the Hamptons, according to two people familiar with the events who asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive matter. He was taken by ambulance to a Weill Cornell Medicine hospital in Manhattan, said one of the people, who described the surgery as a double bypass. He returned to Vornado’s offices after Labor Day and presented at an industry conference last week.
A spokeswoman for Vornado confirmed that Roth had recently returned from leave after suffering a heart ailment and didn’t dispute the events leading up to it, declining to comment further.
There are no Securities and Exchange Commission rules dictating disclosure of health matters for executives, but Vornado’s quiet approach, while unsurprising for the notoriously press-shy firm, stands out among large U.S. companies.
When United Continental Holdings CEO Oscar Munoz suffered a heart attack, his company confirmed it a day later. That was considered too long by some. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett disclosed prostate cancer in a letter to investors, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein released a statement disclosing lymphoma and Jamie Dimon disclosed throat cancer in a memo to employees and shareholders of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Roth retook the helm of Vornado in 2013, when his handpicked successor Michael Fascitelli stepped down from the role after four years. Fascitelli, a Vornado trustee, has moved on to other endeavors and isn’t considered likely to return to the CEO chair. He didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“Our board has a robust succession plan if I get hit by a bus,” Roth said on a February earnings conference call. “And has a robust succession plan when my time has come.”
Vornado spun off its shopping centers and Washington, D.C., real estate into two separate companies beginning in 2015, and is now narrowly focused on New York office and retail properties, with few exceptions. That change has made it an attractive acquisition target, three people familiar with the company said, citing Blackstone Group LP and SL Green Realty Corp. as potential buyers.
In an April letter to shareholders, Roth described the leaders of the spinoff companies -- Jeff Olson of Urban Edge Properties and Matt Kelly of JBG Smith Properties -- as having “taken up 30 percent of my succession.”
“I expect them to do a better job than I would have,” Roth wrote.
Among Vornado’s current executives, Chief Investment Officer Michael J. Franco has emerged as a standout amid Vornado’s spinoff efforts, according to one person familiar with the firm. David Greenbaum, who has led the company’s New York business, would be instrumental in a transition, the person said.
Vornado has been subject to greater visibility in the past two years thanks to the business it does with President Donald J. Trump’s company, and Kushner Cos., owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Vornado is the majority owner of two office towers in which Trump owns a 30 percent stake, and it co-owns the office spaces at 666 Fifth Ave., a troubled property, with Kushner Cos. Roth co-headed Trump’s infrastructure council until it was disbanded in August amid an uproar over the president’s comments on a white-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Roth built Vornado into one of New York’s largest landlords, with more than 19 million square feet (1.8 million square meters) of commercial space in the city, Chicago and San Francisco. The company mostly buys buildings to keep them. Vornado has been involved in attempts to redevelop Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station and nearby structures for more than a decade.
Vornado’s Manhattan properties include the Lexington Avenue tower that’s home to Bloomberg LP’s New York headquarters.
--With assistance from Brandon Kochkodin.To contact the reporters on this story: David Kocieniewski in New York at [email protected] ;Caleb Melby in New York at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alicia Ritcey at [email protected] Daniel Taub, Dan Reichl
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