Reaching for the sky with Ronson

Jonathan Goldstein on working with super-developer Gerald Ronson, their ‘landmark’ City tower and why they have faith in London

By Candice Krieger, February 11, 2010

When Gerald Ronson, one of the world’s most respected property developers, sought a new right-hand man, he had the pick of the property playing field. Yet, Mr Ronson, head of Heron International, turned to the legal trade for his candidate. Jonathan Goldstein was the chief executive of Olswang law firm when he was poached by Mr Ronson, a previous client. The duo have been working together since May 2007.

So, what is multi-millionaire Mr Ronson like to work with? Inspirational, says Mr Goldstein, 43. “Everybody sees a certain exterior but what one doesn’t see is the commitment and the relentless focus. He doesn’t expect anything more from anybody else than he does from himself.

“What people don’t realise is the level of debate, communication and discussion that goes on and the empowerment he gives to people to work alongside him. We get on very well, I’d like to think.”

He adds: “You want to try and play in as high a league as you can and that’s what I have tried to do. You might ruffle some feathers but you have to do what’s best for the corporate good.”

Mr Goldstein, who runs the financial and corporate affairs of Heron, joined the company as joint managing director, replacing the former director Alan Goldman, who retired from Heron at the beginning of 2004 having been Mr Ronson’s right-hand man for around 25 years. “Gerald said to me out of the blue that it was about time I got myself a proper job and having given it some thought, decided it was a sensible time to make the move.

“My role is to make sure that while Gerald focuses his primary attention on the assets we own, I ensure the corporate and financial affairs of the business are well-looked after and that we take advantage of opportunities on that side.”

Are there opportunities out there? “The problem with developments at this time is getting the finance, and so business from an entrepreneurial perspective is in a bit of a hiatus.

“This can be seen in the lack of transactions that entrepreneurial-style firms have been making over the past six months. Entrepreneurs are waiting to see what will happen.

“The banks are slowly beginning to realise the problems on their own books but I don’t think people are expecting to see many bargains coming out the banks. They are too sophisticated for that to happen.” He adds: “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Heron itself is “being patient”, he says. “We have kept our powder dry, waiting for opportunities to arrive. ”

Over the past few years, Heron has sold the vast majority of its interests, including a large stake in housebuilder Crest Nicholson to HBOS for profits of around £60m in 2006.

The Group is currently developing the landmark Heron Tower, which will stand 230m (794ft) tall when completed in the first quarter of 2011. The joint venture between Heron International and two other independent investors is a fixed-price development that, unlike many other property projects, remains on budget and on schedule.

Heron is active in the UK and Europe but Mr Goldstein, the former vice chair of Jewish Care, says their major focus is on London. “We remain big believers in London. London is not going anywhere.

“It is the financial centre in the world from many aspects: time zone, language, capability, professionalism, regulatory environment and legal base.”

He adds: “London continues to be the power house and provided whichever government is in power doesn’t tinker with that too greatly from a tax and regulatory perspective, then that will remain so.”

How concerned is he about the election and its impact on the City? “Whichever government is in power is going to have to make significant cuts over the next two years. It is very important that companies make sure that everything is battened down and that costs are under control. It’s easy to bearish but I don’t think we are out of the woods yet.”

Mr Goldstein, who grew up in Ilford, Essex, has many interests away from business. He heads the Redbridge Schools Change Project to improve Jewish education in the area, and is a chair of governors at Kerem School, north London. He is a trustee of children’s charity Camp Simcha and in 2008 ran the London marathon, raising £65,000 for Cancer Research.

“When I am asked to do something, I find it difficult to say no. I am a big believer that people have a responsibility to the community. “

He lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London, with his wife Sharon and their four children.

Last updated: 9:52am, March 8 2010