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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: William Dickey

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-06-29

William Dickey of the Bronx left an impressive investment-banking career on Wall Street and went to California to make his fortune in real estate. He got bored after he'd reached his goal, and then returned to New York to build another fortune. He's not bored yet in his hometown.

That's because his organization, The Dermot Company, now owns and manages more than 4,000 apartments not only in the city but in other parts of America. A few weeks ago, in partnership with the basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Development Corporation and Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, Dermot bought the tallest building in Brooklyn. Under the stewardship of Mr. Dickey's colleague Andrew MacArthur, Dermot will convert the landmark 35-story Williamsburg Savings Bank into condominiums and shops.

Just a few days ago, Dermot was selected by the New York City Economic Development Corporation to build 380 apartments in a $130 million project on the site of the old Queens Family Courthouse in downtown Jamaica. Mr. Dickey will restore the four-story 1920's courthouse on the two-acre property, and also develop shopping and recreational facilities.

And today, Mr. Dickey will announce a $300 million deal under which Dermot will transform a dilapidated neighborhood on Manhattan's West Side, one of the biggest residential-commercial projects in the city. On a new platform over the Amtrak rail tracks west of 10th Avenue between 51st and 53rd Streets, Mr. Dickey and his team will build two towers containing 625 rental apartments, 6 condominiums, retail space, two theaters, and a park. About 20% of the apartments will be reserved for low-income tenants.

"This will significantly change the neighborhood," Mr. Dickey said in a soft tone that suggested a man unaccustomed to brashness, a characteristic amply found in the real-estate business. "Steve Benjamin, my colleague has lead the work on this project. Please be sure to mention that."

The sharing of credit has long been typical of Mr. Dickey, the son of an Irish Catholic postal worker, Joseph Dermot Dickey, who taught him the importance of hard work and humility. Both qualities were evident when Mr. Dickey attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and in his subsequent six-year career in the military, which included a stint in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.

"The Air Force taught me the principles of leadership - the most important of which are responsibility and the willingness to share credit," Mr. Dickey said. "It's also important to get along with people."

He got an opportunity to deploy those values when, after graduating from Columbia University Law School, he joined Cravath Swain & Moore, the white-shoe Wall Street law firm. (He had also picked up a master's degree in internationals from Georgetown University.) He became a partner within six years, a couple of which were spent in Paris on a posting for the law firm.

Mr. Dickey had increasingly handled real-estate issues at Cravath Swain.
That drew the attention of recruiters from the First Boston Corporation (now Credit Suisse First Boston). Mr. Dickey stayed at the prestigious investment bank for the next five years. He developed that First Boston's real-estate finance and brokerage business, negotiated major property purchases, sales, and equity and debt financings throughout America, and assisted corporate clients in their real estate activities.

By this time his two daughters had gone off to college, so Mr. Dickey persuaded his wife Janet to pack their belongings and head to California.

"I'd been a high power lawyer in New York, and I'd been a high power investment banker in New York," he said. "I thought that I should now go into business for myself. I'd already become very familiar with real estate, and California beckoned."

It was in California that he founded The Dermot Company, named after his father. He took on a staff of seven. He began investing in apartments in Arizona, Colorado and Georgia. It was the beginning of a national housing boom - that still continues - and interest rates were low enough for affordable financing for his acquisitions. The business prospered.

But Mr. Dickey missed New York.

"I missed the action, I missed the excitement," Mr. Dickey said.
So he transplanted his business to his hometown in 1999. He set out to acquire new properties. Dermot also provided asset management and property disposition services to several large financial institutions and to well-heeled domestic and foreign investors. The company now had two other partners, Mr. MacArthur and Mr. Benjamin, and 20 employees.

"We're quite well established now," Mr. Dickey said, adding that his company would undertake more joint ventures, possibly in more American cities.

And to what does he attribute his success?

"An unholy amount of self-confidence," Mr. Dickey said, in what was his only non-understatement during the lunch.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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