Over more than 40 years, the professional career of Neil Bluhm has played out, in some respects, like a morality play in three acts. First came the rise to fame and fortune as the cofounder, along with his childhood friend Judd Malkin, of JMB Realty, one of the largest real estate investment firms in the world. Then came the downfall: a series of disastrous investments, including losses in Randsworth Trust and Cadillac Fairview, led to open rebellion among institutional investors and the souring of the company's once stellar reputation. JMB later sold its institutional advisory business and the longtime partnership between Malkin and Bluhm came to an end.
Act III was Bluhm's redemption. In 1995, he helped found Walton Street Capital with five JMB alumni; thus far, the private equity real estate firm has raised five vehicles with cumulative equity commitments of $3.2 billion. Forbes now estimates Bluhm's net worth at $1.6 billion.
But Bluhm's real legacy may not be the two companies he helped create or the fortune he will likely leave behind, but rather the people who cut their teeth under his leadership. The list of professionals who worked at JMB reads like a who's who of the modern-day private equity real estate industry, including John Kukral, Marc Mogull and Barry Sternlicht.
And Bluhm has helped launch their careers in more ways than one. When Sternlicht left JMB after the Randsworth debacle, Bluhm pitched in $1 million to help launch his new firm, Starwood Capital.