The painful education of real state scion rob speyer Rob Speyer showed little interest in his family's real estate business until his dad considered buying Manhattan's Rockefeller Center in 1995 for $1.2 billion. Intrigued by plans to revitalize the art deco complex, Speyer, then 26, left his job at the New York Daily News and joined Tishman Speyer, the firm his father founded with Robert Tishman in 1978. "I caught the bug," he says. "It was really hearing about that transaction that flipped the switch in my head and made me say: 'I want to learn this business.' "
Some 19 months after being named co-CEO with his dad, Rob Speyer is learning how to weather a commercial real estate rout. At least four big deals made by the firm as property prices peaked are unraveling. Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the Manhattan apartment complex that Tishman Speyer and BlackRock Realty bought for $5.4 billion in 2006, is on the verge of default and worth just $1.8 billion, according to credit rating company Fitch. "The overriding thing in real estate is timing," says Peter Hauspurg, chairman of Eastern Consolidated Properties, a real estate brokerage. "No matter how strong your skill sets are, if you buy at the wrong time, there's no way you can make it work out."