Joseph E. Robert, Jr.
A financial empire built on long shots
Joe Robert knows a lot about undervalued assets—he used to be one.
Robert grew up in Silver Spring. He went to Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg but was kicked out after a fight with a fellow student. He tried to talk his way into other colleges with no success. At 19, he was on a path to nowhere.
He started his real-estate career making cold calls to sell condominiums. He worked hard enough to buy his first condos in Beltsville at age 20. In 1981, he started his own company managing the non-performing-loan portfolios of large public institutions. JER Partners is now a private-equity real-estate investment company with assets of $28 billion in North America.
Robert has chaired Business Executives for National Security to help the Defense Department implement base closures and improve the government’s ability to respond to natural disasters. He has also headed the US–UAE Business Council to capitalize on bilateral business opportunities between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
Robert was a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth. That experience inspired him to create one of the area’s most successful charity events, Fight Night, which benefits his charitable organization, Fight for Children. When Robert first proposed the event—at which men in tuxes would eat red meat, smoke cigars, tease ring girls, and watch boxers fight—politically correct Washington almost laughed him out of town. Since 1990, Fight Night and related activities have brought in more than $100 million and attracted another $350 million in federal funds for programs serving low-income kids.
Robert chaired the successful $300-million campaign for Children’s National Medical Center—and made a personal contribution of $25 million for a surgical-care center. He also chaired the Washington Scholarship Fund and gives to many other community causes.
Joe Robert now is engaged in the fight of his life, having been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009. He has stepped down as CEO of JER Partners but is still very involved in his charitable enterprises. As he recently said, “With the very last breath I take, I am going to be swinging at something. That’s just in my DNA.”
Next: Robert J. Stevens