Eric Hadar was the kind of guy who always did really interesting, but basically small-time real estate projects. Then he bought the world-famous Citigroup Center.

The big machers went into shock when they found out early last year that the young investor had pulled off a preemptive strike for the slant-topped skyscraper, and that they wouldn’t even get to bid for it. Tipped off that the building was headed for the sale market, he’d persuaded an army of professionals to skip Christmas vacation and do $1.5 million worth of due diligence for him.

‘I thought, ‘I have at best a 1% chance of winning this building. But I’ll never have a chance like this again,’ ‘ he recalls.

The $725 million purchase has catapulted him into the big leagues. It comes as a sweet payoff for eight years of backbreaking work at the firm he launched in 1993 with a $500,000 loan from his father, who had made his money in direct marketing.

Mr. Hadar had been in love with bricks and mortar since Columbia Business School, where everyone else longed to work on Wall Street. Never one to follow the crowd, he took a summer job in real estate and never looked back. His accomplishments include transforming the former Studio 54 into a Broadway theater, and managing to keep artists in their homes while turning 285 Lafayette St. into a luxury condo building. Now, property sellers show him every deal in town, and he’s grateful for that.

‘It’s not intelligence that makes a successful real estate person,’ he says. ‘It’s that you get the opportunities.’

Source: Crain’s