Willard Says...

November 10, 2022

Remembering Tom Horwich

By Jonathan Zimmerman

The Chicago real estate community lost another legend last week with the passing of Tom Horwich. While much of Tom’s work was under the radar, his influence on those of us who were fortunate enough to be graced by his presence is completely unparalleled.

For those not aware, Tom was a lifelong Chicagoan born in Hyde Park. He was the grandson of Bernard Horwich (of the Bernard Horwich JCC fame) and his father enjoyed a successful career in real estate. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tom got his start as an industrial broker and eventually transitioned into the office side. Eventually, he took over the family real estate portfolio and later became part owner of the legendary Rubloff brand, which was rechristened as a residential agency.

My very first job in commercial real estate was as the leasing agent for 100 West Monroe, an office building that Tom’s family owned. I got involved at his other property, 30 North Michigan, about a year later. It didn’t take long for me to realize how fortunate I was to be associated with this man. When he found out that my then-employer was having some difficulties, he and his partner Howard Weinstein took me under their collective wing and set me up at Rubloff. They effectively created a newly established commercial division for me to run – a privilege that hundreds of brokers would have relished. It was a rare, highly coveted opportunity to use this name and heaven knows that almost anyone else was more worthy than me: some schmuck just 2 years out of college. But Tom was more concerned with my well-being than with profiting off of this powerful name. If it weren’t for that act, there is no way I would still be in real estate today.

When I think of Tom, very few people exhibited more class, generosity, integrity and kindness. While his family’s long-tenured building ownership was a business, Tom’s concern was always with creating the best possible experience for his tenants. He knew that having happy tenants would help ensure a high occupancy. Every year, he would pick one area of the property to improve, be it new elevators, common corridors, bathrooms or mechanical systems. Each December Tom would send boxes of See’s Chocolates to his tenants for the holidays, a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, but a popular and beloved tradition in his buildings.

Tom always took care of his staff. Everyone who worked for Tom seemed to stay until it was time to retire. He would send each of them gifts several times a year just to show that he was thinking of them. Whenever he would visit the daycare center located in a South Loop building he owned, Tom would come armed with boxes of cookies and other treats for the staff, just to be nice.

As a businessman, Tom was quite sharp and always seemed to know the right thing to do in any situation. He had an uncanny sixth sense about prospective tenants and could always tell if a deal was worth taking a chance on. Even though I questioned some of his decisions, he was right every single time. His philosophy was simple: treat others with respect and always tell them the truth. People may not always like what they hear, but they will respect and appreciate your transparency. This lesson has been one of many which shaped my career.

Tom and I were able to frequently keep in touch even after he sold Rubloff and his two buildings. Each year, he would ask me to run a database search to ensure that he was getting a fair deal on his 400-square-foot office renewal. He was always quick to give important life advice (as well as constant pestering about when I would get married and within 30 days after that happened, when we would start having kids) during our frequent  lunches at Manny’s. I also cannot forget to mention my annual Bears tickets courtesy of Tom, two seats at the 50-yard line for the home opener.

Tom was involved with numerous charities and repeatedly gave back to his community. He always shied away from recognition, but those around him knew what he was all about. He was an amazing listener, had a fabulous memory and always had a joke ready. Whenever Tom spoke, his words really meant something, and his actions always reflected those words. Rest in peace, my good friend. You will be missed, but your lessons will be everlasting.