By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Crescent Heights's director stresses that his professional drive, and his partners,' stems from a devotion to the public good. Both he and Bruce Menin were born and raised in Miami Beach, he says, and they are proud of the contributions Crescent Heights has been able to make in the form of capital improvements and augmentation of the municipal tax base. "We've been advertising and promoting this city now for well in excess of five years," notes Galbut. "I don't do it for the money; I do it because I have real pride in what I do. I love what I do," he proclaims as his speech surfs away on a wave of selfless boosterism. "I like to consider myself a businessman but also a man of conscience, and I believe that we all have the ability in ourselves for greatness, and the only way to find it is to work hard and constantly strive to better ourselves. And I love this city very much. Miami Beach has always been close to our heart and soul."
Behind the veneer of provincial loyalty, though, is a blisteringly aggressive company that has pursued its agenda relentlessly and, critics say, with an arrogance that puts Miami Beach's founding fathers to shame. Several Miami Beach commissioners are worried that all the new buyers snapping up refurbished Crescent Heights units are displacing an equal number of previous residents, many of whom are elderly, unable or unwilling to buy. Further, some fear that the immensity of the company's financial presence translates into smooth sailing at City Hall, and that the civic and political clout wielded by the three men who run the real estate empire constitutes a threat to the community.
In the world of Crescent Heights A at least that world conveyed in the company's 30-minute infomercials A there isn't a gray hair in sight. Life is all about luxuriating on the beach, or skimming over the Atlantic in a sailboat, or dancing until dawn. In Crescent Heights-ville ("The Good Life Capital") nobody seems to work, and the operative currency is boobs and biceps, preferably tanned. The infomercial, not accidentally, opens with a fuzzy, close-camera shot of bikinied breasts.
This hyped sense of youthfulness and vigor pervades the entire organization. "I think it comes in large measure from the personalities of Russell, Sonny, and myself," says 31-year-old chief operating officer Bruce Menin. A tall, edgy, fast-talking Harvard grad who holds a law degree from Northwestern and a master's in economics from a university in Australia, Menin was working as a lawyer on Wall Street when Galbut and Kahn, the company's president, invited him to join their venture in 1990. "I love working with these guys," says Menin. "They are extremely high-energy. We're very driven, achievement-oriented people."
Both Menin and his cousin Galbut lace their vocabulary with snappy buzzwords and maxims meant to underscore the company's spirit and work ethic. Do It Right the First Time. Groups Make Better Decisions. Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. ("My father taught me this one," says Galbut. "It means to keep something simple so even a stupid person can understand it.") At all times Crescent Heights employees are within easy reach of a transcript of their official mission statement, which reads: "We are committed to work as a group, to improve our company in an organized, energetic manner, committed to respect our fellow employees, listening patiently to input, taking consensus of issues with a value concept of honesty, trust, and a never-ending burning desire to be everything we can be."
This cultivated sense of community and Brady Bunch-style harmony, further promulgated by a quarterly company newsletter, has filtered down through the hierarchy to the peppy young sales staff and even to the construction crews. Everyone in the organization wears a shiny Crescent Heights nameplate. "We have every beautiful person that God created in this organization, from Jew to Christian to Moslem, so it seems we have a real family," Galbut asserts. "And there's pride in being a member of the family, because everybody knows that there's only one goal, there's no hidden agendas. We're interested in only one thing, and that's to provide the best quality of service to our customers. And in doing so we make more money for ourselves, more money for our company."
Genetic material also binds the organization. Not only are Menin and Galbut related, but other members of the Galbut-Menin clan work together at a family law firm (Galbut, Galbut, Menin & Wasserman), which does all of Crescent Heights's acquisition work and some of its contracts and litigation. In addition, an insurance company owned by Miami Beach Commissioner Sy Eisenberg (Galbut's father-in-law) handles some of Crescent Heights's policies. In all, Russell Galbut oversees about 30 family-owned companies, including a home health-care agency, a nursing home, several adult congregate living facilities, a vehicle tag agency, a firm that delivers durable medical equipment, and a western clothing store (from which come the cowboy boots and belts that are indispensable to Galbut's wardrobe).
Crescent Heights has its roots in a Galbut family whose local history is interwoven with the city's. The patriarch, Abraham Al "Albee" Galbut, came to Miami Beach from the Catskills in the Thirties and opened a 24-hour drugstore-restaurant at Fifth Street and Washington Avenue. "He was known as the Mayor of Fifth Street," says Russell Galbut. "The restaurant was the center of the universe. The mayor, commissioners, the police chief all went there."