Real Estate Industry Loses Leader, Philanthropist Joe Robert

Joseph E. Robert Jr., founder of global real estate investment management firm J.E. Robert Cos., has lost his battle with cancer.

December 12, 2011
By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor

Joseph E. Robert Jr., founder of global real estate investment management firm J.E. Robert Cos., has lost his battle with cancer. Robert, also founder and executive chairman of JER Partners, the firm’s private equity commercial real estate investment division, died December 7, at the age of 59.

Robert formed JER in suburban Washington, D.C., in 1981 and built the firm from the ground up into one of the top private commercial real estate investment management companies in the U.S. with a strong international presence. Since its inception, JER has acquired and managed approximately 15,000 assets valued at an aggregate $28 billion and spanning 17 countries.

But before he transformed himself and his company into a major force in the industry, he was just a regular Joe.

“He had very humble beginnings, but he never forgot where he came from,” Pamela Flores, a senior consultant with ComBlu, a Chicago-based public relations and social engagement firm, told Commercial Property Executive. Flores worked closely with Robert during her tenure as vice president of marketing communications at JER from 2008 to 2009. “He was probably one of the best-spoken people that I’ve represented in my 25-year career in public relations,” she said. “He had a very thoughtful approach to structuring the company messages.”

His influence on the industry went well beyond his robust commitment to JER. “He was an industry thought leader. He’d been in the market for many, many years, and he’d been through many cycles and thrived throughout every one of them, so he had a very unique perspective to offer. He survived so many different cycles in the market and was able to structure new, innovative financing and investment tools to serve whatever the market need was.”

Humble. Creative. Influential. Those are just some of the adjectives that accurately describe Robert. Still, there was much more to the man who grew a local business into a global entity.

“He was almost even better known for his philanthropy,” Flores noted. “He donated huge amounts of money to children’s charities and other organizations, and had his very popular Fight Night every year in D.C.” Robert created Fight Night, an annual boxing event featuring participants from government leaders to celebrity boxers, to support the Fight For Children charitable origination that he launched in 1990. “Even when the economy was bad, the Fight Night was a huge success and made lots of money for a variety of children’s charities.”

He was also a founding investor in Venture Philanthropy Partners, an organization that assists the development of non-profit institutions devoted to providing opportunities to youngsters from low-income homes in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Robert was very generous with his time. He was a longstanding member of the Urban Land Institute. He sat on the Board and served as a director of the Atlantic City Council, a non-partisan institution that promotes transatlantic cooperation and international security. The list goes on and on.

By all accounts, he was a good businessman and a good person. “He was easy to be around,” Flores recalled. “He made you feel immediately comfortable — just a nice guy.”