Photo: Scott Wiseman
Al Hoffman is a ‘Florida Icon'
Real estate developer, former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, North Palm Beach; age 83
Twenty years I played polo. Big deal for a 50-year-old guy to be a polo player. That’s how I met Dawn, my wife. She was in real estate selling houses over in Wellington. I’ve been married now 23 years.
You know what my theory is about retirement? If you never retire, you will never expire.
My other theory is you’re only as young as your newest project, and I’ve got a lot of new projects, and I love it. I’m buying airplanes, selling them. We’re building more assisted- and independent-living projects. I love it. Keeps me busy. I’m focused. I think I’m focused — except when I’m not.
We bought all the land from the MacArthur Foundation. They allowed us to sell property while we were waiting to close. By the time we closed on the property, we already had paid off the cost of the purchase. That was probably the best deal of my lifetime. You know how much I bid? I bid my birthday. My birthday is 3-27-34. So I bid $327 million, $340 thousand.
West Point was so tough. It was hard.
I met Eisenhower when I was a cadet — in 1958. We happened to stop by the White House for a quick tour. Some colonel said, ‘Follow me, guys.’ We went right down the hall and into the Oval Office and there was Eisenhower. ‘I want to shake your hand and thank you gentlemen for all your services. I’m sorry I can’t spend any time with you. I appreciate your coming.’ Never to be forgotten.
We raised 120 million bucks for Jeb. The election night in South Carolina — I still have the voice mail from Jeb — I got a call from Jeb. He said, ‘Al, if this goes on for another hour or so, I’m pulling out.’ The problem is, we were eating dinner and I didn’t hear his voice mail. I didn’t hear for another hour and a half, and he conceded, and I cried. I love Jeb. I would follow him to the end of the earth, even today.
Most of the time I didn’t know where the money was going to come from to do a big project. We put the $550 million together and bought Westinghouse (Communities). If you keep your sense of purpose and commitment to it, the answer will come. You’ll be able to raise the money.
When WCI went public and our stock hit $35, that’s when I thought I was pretty well off. Then it fell. It fell and fell and fell, and finally I sold out at $25. That was still a good deal because I had gone public at $19. My wife was the major influence on me. We were sitting in Portugal. She said sell it. She said, ‘Out of sight out of mind; you’re not running your company anymore.’ If it wasn’t for her, I would have been a dead duck.
I’m not sure I want to raise money for any more Republicans or anybody. Very few and very select. I’ll raise money for Rick Scott if he declares for U.S. senator.
The biggest thing about negotiating: You’ve got to make sure when you’re negotiating, you’re trying to construct a good deal for them. How can I make this deal right for them so it’s right for me?
There’s my father’s business card. Hoffman Poultry. My dad’s chicken shop. I used to kill chickens a lot and dress them. On the south side of Chicago — the wives would come in mostly — they’d pick out a live chicken or a turkey or a goose or a duck. We’d have to kill it, dress it and have it ready for them when they came back. I swore to myself: A: I would never do this kind of labor in my life, and B: I wanted to be a millionaire. Somehow I was going to make it.
He immigrated from Austria. He came over here in 1906. Alone — 16. He had $5 in his pocket. My mom was an attendant at a mental institution, state mental institution. She had such a lowly job. Their legacy is me. I did pretty good. I’m pretty grateful to God for all my blessings.
My mom was Baptist. She was (working) in this mental institution. She saw wonderful healing by a Christian Science practitioner, which convinced her that was the only way to go. My dad, who was Jewish at the time, was not a practicing Jew, allowed the family to adopt Christian Science, and he went along with it and then ultimately joined the Christian Science church and became very involved in it.
My legacy: I want to make a difference for the good for all mankind. I was a fighter pilot in the Air Force flying F100s. We would stand alert in the revetment with a 28-kiloton atom bomb strapped to our belly. Bigger than Hiroshima. Bigger than Nagasaki. There was a time when we had to stand cockpit alert in the cockpit in fourhour stretches ready to go because of the Lebanon crisis with Russia, where the threat level had risen to such a level they put us on alert. That was scary, and that went on about two weeks. That was about the scariest time in my life knowing we could cause such devastation. My second legacy — we would all live in peace with no war.
I’ve got a foundation going, and my children are involved in the foundation. That’s still important to me, being of service.
I had a quadruple bypass five years ago and then 10 days after I had the operation, I had a stroke. While I was in that hospital going through rehab, I figured I better get my act together.
In case you missed it:
- Florida Icon: Judith A. Bense
- Stephen Leatherman, aka ‘Dr. Beach'
- Florida 'Icon' Jeff Klinkenberg
- Historian Raymond Arsenault – a Florida Icon
- Greg Asbed is a ‘Florida Icon'
- Sherrill Milnes is a ‘Florida Icon'
- Florida Icon: Pedro José Greer Jr.
- Ronald ‘Winky' Wright is a ‘Florida Icon'
- Steve Spurrier, Florida Icon
- Wilson Bradshaw is a ‘Florida Icon'