Paul Reichmann was personally frugal. “You’d be lucky to be offered anything more than orange juice,” says one property consultant of the founding father of London’s Canary Wharf, who died last Friday, aged 83. “Most of the time it was a glass of water, then out you go.”
But the Vienna-born developer, who had built up Olympia & York into America’s biggest property company by the mid-1980s, was anything but frugal when it came to preparing the ground for today’s second City of London of 100,000 folk.
No UK developers would go near the benighted London Docklands ground. They took their cue from the City Corporation, which seethed with scepticism over these parvenu foreigners spending huge sums on trying to compete with the Square Mile.
Mr Reichmann and his brother Albert were a sort of 1980s property equivalent of the Qatari royal family today – rich beyond imagining, discreet to the point of secrecy but regarded as men of honour.
The brothers brought to London world-class rather than UK-class development standards. Laying granite instead of concrete kerbs may sound trivial, but it set the tone – as did Reichmann’s employment of Caesar Pelli to build the first tower. Such was the awe in which he was held, Building Design Partnership put dozens of staff to work in the late Eighties, drawing up plans for the shopping centre at Canary Wharf on the strength of a single letter from Mr Reichmann.
He also took some terrible risks. O&Y spent £2bn on infrastructure between 1988 and 1992 before going bust. “We practically put the services in for the whole of the Isle of Dogs” says the Canary Wharf boss Sir George Iacobescu. “The first wave of development was forced; something we decided to do to create critical mass.” Mr Reichmann came back to Canary Wharf in the mid-Nineties after assembling a new group of investors.
“Although Paul’s day-to-day involvement with Canary Wharf Group effectively ceased in 2004, this ethos of pride in our work has remained at the core of the company,” he says.
Peter Bill is the author of ‘Planet Property’.