“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
¯ Calvin Coolidge
EDISON, NEW JERSEY, DECEMBER 3, 2012: Ike Heller grew up on a farm in upstate New York, where he planted potatoes, milked cows, fed chickens, and attended a one-room schoolhouse. When his parents rented rooms in the farmhouse to boarders during the summer months, he slept in the chicken coops with his sister and brother.
Ike's parents were both Russian immigrants from Minsk and Pinsk. They were married here in the United States and his father went to work in the city where he operated a sewing machine and sewed slipcovers.
“We had mostly non-Jewish neighbors and we got by.” Ike said. “And we learned to be Americans.”
Today, as one of the largest owners of distribution space in the country, I. Heller Industrial Parks boasts an inventory of over 16 million square feet of space in six states – and is still growing. This tangible proof of Heller's expertise comes as no surprise to many of his long-term customers, most of whom rank among America's corporate giants.
JEWISH AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY
The Heller family's life on the farm was originally sponsored by the Jewish Agricultural (and Industrial Aid) Society, an organization chartered in New York in 1900 to provide East European immigrants with training “as free farmers on their own soil.”
“My uncle Hymie Hurling was a little better off than we were,” Ike recalled. “He was a roofer, and he helped us to buy a piece of this little farm in Greenfield Park, New York.”
A subsidiary of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, the Jewish Agricultural Society emphasized self-supporting agricultural activities, with rural industry to supplement farm incomes. Its Industrial Removal Office, autonomous after1907, relocated thousands of immigrant workers from the cities.
Among the society's continued functions was the extension of loans on generous terms to
farm cooperatives as well as individuals. It offered placement services and advice to potential agriculturists.
A Yiddish and English-language monthly, The Jewish Farmer, was a vital channel of
communication. While its extension specialists fostered agrarian innovations, the Bureau of Educational Activities stimulated cultural life, especially in the established rural communities of southern New Jersey and Connecticut. The society's officers included Eugene S. Benjamin, Cyrus L. Sulzberger, Jacob G. Lipman, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and Lewis L. Strauss. An early shift from group colonization to assisting individual enterprise became the basis of most of the society's operations. Its diversified programs for self-help, whether in New Jersey, New England, New York or California, were extended to thousands of displaced persons in the post-World War II era.
‘MY MOTHER WAS PRETTY SHARP'
“The agriculturists visited us twice a year and my mother was one of their best students,” Ike said. “She took notes and explained everything to the women from other farms.
“She sat them down and told them what the agriculturist said because the things they heard went in one ear and out the other.
“My mother was pretty sharp, as I remember her -- sharp enough so when she found out that my father had a girlfriend on the side, she told him, ‘Morris, either she goes or you go.'
"'Well,' he said, 'I'll go.' She said, ‘I'll help you pack.'
“He packed his things in two big suitcases and slammed the door as he left.
“They ultimately divorced. But just because she lost her husband was no reason that we lose our father, and she insisted that we go to visit our father whenever we could and maintain the relationship. When I think back, that was really wonderful of her. Indeed we did maintain the relationship.
“After my father left, we stayed on the farm and I went to the one-room schoolhouse. We had one teacher who taught all subjects and I learned all things. When it came close to my graduation time, I was pretty good because I did my homework in the first grade and then went to the second grade, so by the time I got to the eighth grade I'd heard the lessons seven times.
“My sister Micki was pregnant when her husband, Sidney Galen, joined the army. When Sid came back from Iran, where he had been stationed for four years, he saw his son for the first time. He had to learn a trade if he was going to make a living.
“Who did he go to? He went to my father, who taught him the slipcover and upholstery trade so he could so he could make a living. He ultimately took over the store that my father had developed in Queens and the family really was together.”
BROOKLYN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL
“When I was 12 years old, we moved to the East Side of New York with all the other immigrants,” Ike said. “I delivered newspapers and was a Western Union boy wearing a funny little hat.
“Then they sent me to Brooklyn Technical High School which was an engineering school. At Brooklyn Tech they asked me what kind of engineer I wanted to be. I didn't have the faintest idea. Then the kid in front of me said, ‘I want to be an electrical engineer.' I said, ‘That's a good idea. I want to be an electrical engineer too.'”
“They taught me a lot of things at Brooklyn Tech – and it made my life, because later on I was drafted during World War II and I was aboard a ship,” Ike recalled. “On the destroyer I was assigned to, I fixed all the radar and sonar. The captain used to say, ‘That kid can fix anything.'”
“As I repaired things I could make toys. I used to make toys for the officers to send home to their kids, things that had buzzers in them and what not, and they loved it. They thought I was a genius.”
After Ike was discharged from the Navy, he worked as a $40-a-week toy designer, and in a rented room in Brooklyn with painted-over windows, he invented the walkie-talkie toy that triggered his first venture, Remco Industries.
COOPER UNION COLLEGE
“I attended Cooper Union College at night because it was free and I didn't want to pay,” he said. “I went there for three hours a night, three nights a week. I never graduated but they claim that I did. I gave them a gift of a million dollars three or four years ago and I gave Brooklyn Tech High School a million dollars around the same time.
“Both schools were good for me.”
FIRST VENTURE: REMCO INDUSTRIES
“By the time I was discharged from the Navy, I was used to making toys, so I started Remco Company, which was a toy manufacturing business. We were a public company and we were on the American Stock Exchange. That's where I made my fortune and I became a millionaire.”
“You were very talented,” I told Ike. “You were a genius.”
“No,” he said. “It's just common sense.”
Ike sold Remco in 1966 when he was 40 years old.
“Then I retired, but if I stayed home I would have driven my wife crazy,” he recalled.
“Finally I rented a tiny office and decided to go there once a week and spend the whole day in that office so I could give my wife a rest.
“I talked to people on the phone and Helaine went with me. I got a desk and a couple of chairs, we hung a couple of pictures on the wall and that's where I would go.
“People I talked to advised me to go into something to keep me busy. And they suggested that
I build a warehouse. They said I wouldn't have to worry about kitchens or toilets or fancy things like that.
“I thought about it and I said, ‘Why not? A warehouse is a simple building to build. I just have to make sure that the roof don't leak and the floor don't sag and I've got a warehouse.'
“So I started to build warehouses. And I built these warehouses for 40 years – thousands of them. That's what I have today. I call them industrial parks.”
Ike Heller owns seven industrial parks, located throughout the United States. “I built them and I borrowed money, but I paid this money off from the warehouses, and in turn rented them out,” he said.
He owns 61 industrial buildings totaling more than 16 million square feet. “Now there are just three buildings that still have mortgages, that's all,” he explained. “But they're getting paid off. Every month I pay off a little bit and by the end of 2016, they'll all be paid off and I'll be debt-free. That's my ambition, to be debt-free.”
“That's the way we run our business, and it's very substantial because we own industrial parks all over the country. And therefore we have to maintain the buildings in those industrial parks. We focus hard, try to operate within our means and we keep our word.
“It's just plain ordinary common sense thinking.
“Right now we're not constructing any new buildings because the cost of construction is higher than the rents we can get. So we're in the warehouse-renting business -- and that's alright too. That's what we do -- and I'm proud of it.”
HELLER CONSTRUCTION COMPANY
Ike Heller's original company, I. Heller Construction Company, Inc., was formed after he founded, built and ran his 750,000 square-foot factory for Remco Toys.
When he sold Remco, the experience he gained from constructing the Remco building in Harrison is what gave him the idea to create I. Heller Construction Company. “He is very well known and very liked in the town of Harrison,” said Ellen Carpenter, Executive Vice-President of Heller Industrial Parks.
“In 1967, Owings Corning Fiberglass asked me to do the same size building for them -- 750,000 square feet -- in Harrison,” Ike said. “It was the largest building in New Jersey at the time since the Ford plant in Mahwah.”
“Then Heller Industrial Parks was formed as a management company,” Carpenter said.
Perhaps the most important relationship Heller has is with its employees. Part of Ike Heller's vision was to allow long-term employees an opportunity to become partners in the company so that their interests were better aligned with the long-term interests of the firm.
Currently, there are five partners: Ellen Carpenter, Executive Vice President; Steven Kaufman, Senior Vice President; Ken Volk, President of I Heller Construction Co.; John Porcek, Executive Vice President, I Heller Construction Co.; and Mary Wieczerzak, Controller.
‘HE BROUGHT OUT THE BEST IN EVERYBODY'
Carpenter met Ike Heller in 1969 and started with the company as a part-time typist in 1975. “Each of us has expanded our careers far beyond where we might have initially thought we could go,” said Carpenter, who trained as a paralegal while she was employed by Heller. “Ike Heller was never content to let his employees stay where they were without growing into new roles.
“I want to tell you that he brought out the best in everybody. He was a teacher and a mentor to all of his employees. He was a taskmaster, but he kind of pushed you to grow and to expand and he did this with everyone.
“He was always the driving force of this company. He's the one who formed it and drove it to the condition that it is now. Then he provided for the people to manage different areas so that it would continue in the manner that he created it.”
A trust, which is a continuation of Ike Heller's will, provides for his family after he and Helaine are gone, Carpenter added.
Ike bought a section of a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey that lacked the money for perpetual care. “Some of the graves were grown with shrubs and wild things and at that time they needed $50,000 for perpetual care,” he said. “I said I would contribute $50,000, and I asked how many gravesites that would buy? So I bought 50 gravesites for $50,000.
“Then I found out that I didn't have perpetual care for my gravesites and I had to pay for that. There were only three graves used. My parents have graves there, but the graves are separated because my father and mother were divorced. But I will go there and pick out a site between them.”
I CAN'T LEAVE TOO EARLY
“Now I'm getting older and I feel that the end is coming when somebody in heaven makes that decision,” Ike continued. “But I can't leave too early because I'd leave Helaine all alone and that would be a bad thing, so I ain't gonna die too early. Because as bad as I am, she's still stuck with me and it gives her a job to do, to keep me alive.
“So that's my story I guess. I have no diseases that have names and I'm in relatively good health.
I'm doing alright. And I'm rich; I'm ridiculously rich.”
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
¯ Thomas A. Edison