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Spotlight Luncheon on Entrepreneurs: February 15, 2006

According to Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, an entrepreneur is “one who launches or manages a business venture, often assuming risks.” On February 15, the Spotlight Luncheon on Entrepreneurs presented a panel of three distinguished alumni, all of whom agreed that although lawyers, in general, are not in the business of taking risks, a legal education can be the foundation for a highly successful entrepreneurial career. In many instances, panel member Harold Gerber ’60 said, “My legal education saved the day.”

In her introduction to the panel, Associate Dean Suzanne Davidson noted that “With the exception of brain surgery, there’s practically nothing you can’t do with a legal education.”

That exact sentiment was echoed by the panel’s first speaker, Norman J. Radow ’81, President and founding principal of the RADCO Companies, a national real estate concern specializing in real estate development, investment advisory assistance and property management services expertise. Mr. Radow, who grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, recalled that after he graduated from college (SUNY Plattsburgh), his mother urged him to follow in the footsteps of a successful cousin and go to optometry school. His father advised him to go to law school because “you can do anything except practice medicine.”

Mr. Radow bought a distressed building on 104th Street in Manhattan, fixed it up and sold it, and used the profits to pay his Law School tuition. “That was my first introduction to entrepreneurship,” he said.

After Law School, Mr. Radow worked for a time in Housing Court and became a specialist in real estate litigation. “I learned a lot about the kind of mistakes people make. I learned so much about how people fail,” he said, “and that is the best way to learn – from other people’s failures, not your own.”

The world of real estate entrepreneurship is complex, difficult and challenging, and “not for the faint of heart,” Mr. Radow said. He has been involved in numerous multimillion dollar lawsuits, but “because I am a lawyer, it doesn’t phase me all that much,” he said. Mr. Radow attributed his ability to thrive in difficult situations to “the wonderful education I got here at New York Law School.”

The panel’s second speaker, Harold Gerber ’60, began his law career almost 50 years ago. Law school was “the last thing on my mind,” he recalled, but his fiancée who later became his wife urged him to go. Mr. Gerber enrolled in the evening division at New York Law School because “I could have the benefit of studying law as an adjunct to my real estate career.”

Today Mr. Gerber is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Gerber/Somma Associates, one of the top investment property brokerage firms in New Jersey.

Mr. Gerber said his legal education provided him with tangible and intangible benefits.

“Learning at New York Law School was inspirational and motivating,” he said. “My legal knowledge gave me a quiet confidence and made me feel ten feet tall in business and in life.”

The panel’s third speaker, Jamieson A. Karson ’84, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Steve Madden Ltd., a leading designer, wholesaler and marketer of handbags and fashion footwear.

“Steve Madden is one of the great entrepreneurs of our time,” Mr. Karson said. “I grew up with Steve and I remember him coming into the fourth grade with a newspaper.”

Mr. Karson related how Madden began his company in 1992 with $1,100 he borrowed from a friend. In 2001, Mr. Madden asked Mr. Karson to become the CEO of his company even though Mr. Karson, in his own words, knew “absolutely nothing about the shoe business.”

His legal training, however, proved to be invaluable.

“It was a privilege for me to be here at New York Law School,” Mr. Karson said of his student days. “I liked it from day one, and practicing law definitely prepared me for what I do today.”

In remarks following the panel presentation, Dean Richard A. Matasar noted that the value of the Spotlight events is that they increase “our ability to tell the story of New York Law School.” The panels, which focus on various practice areas, show that “there are different paths to get to really interesting places,” Dean Matasar said. He added that, “every lawyer is an entrepreneur because you have to be a self-starter in a large organization or your own practice and your talent has to connect to where the needs are.”