How 4 Brothers Destroyed a Real Estate Empire

Teddy Libfeld's sons took over his real estate business peacefully—at first
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2022 9:30 AM CST
Billionaire Builders Lose Grip on Family Empire
   (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Maybe it is just another story about billionaire problems, but—as chronicled by Luc Rinaldi for Toronto Lifethe saga of "Libfeld vs. Libfeld vs. Libfeld vs. Libfeld" offers valuable lessons for anyone operating a family business. Think succession planning! Teodor "Teddy" Libfeld, an Auschwitz survivor, arrived in Canada in 1951 and built a fortune in the postwar housing boom. In the 1980s, his four sons—Sheldon, Mark, Jay, and Corey—became his exclusive partners in the Conservatory Group, credited today with having built more than 75,000 residential and commercial units. Teddy died in 2000 and the sons became equal partners. For years, they seemed to do well sharing responsibilities and operating by consensus despite the lack of succession plan dictating how they do so—until Mark had a minor heart attack in 2013.

It caused Mark to raise the first truly divisive issue, over the corporate life insurance policy each brother held and whether the company should foot a bigger one. Between then and 2017, things devolved: Rinaldi details arguments over how much money the business should pay out to them annually, failed mediation, some alleged physical fights, and name calling (think "Hitler"). Mark finally hired a lawyer and, under Ontario law, asked a judge to find a "just and equitable remedy." He and Corey wanted the business split into four separate pieces; Sheldon and Jay wanted to buy their brothers out; Teddy's widow, who had a stake, wanted it to stay in the family. In November 2020, the 21-day trial commenced. At the end of it, a judge decided that what Teddy Libfeld worked so hard to build should be sold off. Each brother could walk away with $1 billion. (Read the fascinating full story.)

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