Nelson Rising brings decades of experience to his new role as chief executive of Maguire Properties Inc., the largest office landlord in downtown Los Angeles. In May, Rising took over the company, which has struggled and was even put up for sale, weighed down by untimely real estate purchases in Orange County just before the market busted. He succeeds Robert F. Maguire, the company's enigmatic founder, who was seen by many on Wall Street as ill suited to run a public company. Rising, 66, has experience turning businesses around. In 2000, he took over failing Catellus Development Corp., a railroad spinoff, and led that company to profitability. Born in Queens, New York, Rising spent a good deal of his childhood in Glendale and went to college at UCLA, where he studied economics and later got a law degree. He went on to hold a variety of jobs, from lawyer to movie producer. He also got involved in politics, first as a 28-year-old full-time campaign manager for California Sen. John Tunney in 1969, and later as a volunteer chairman for Tom Bradley's mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns. Ironically, one of his first real estate jobs was in 1984 with Maguire Thomas Partners, a predecessor company Maguire founded with former partner Jim Thomas. A tall and imposing yet warm figure, Rising sat down with the Business Journal to discuss everything from the future of Maguire Properties to his days as a UCLA rugby player.

Question: Why would you want this job at this point in your career, after leaving Catellus?

Answer: Most people have asked me, "Why are you doing this? Why wouldn't you kick back?" But those who know me know that's not going to happen and my family knows me, so they were excited.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: The way I like to say it, I flunked retirement and I don't intend to repeat the course.

Q: Have you spoken to Robert Maguire since taking over?

A: I saw him two weeks ago at a lunch in his honor, and I've known him for four decades. We are friendly. But he's not involved in the management of the company. I think he and I have aligned interests. He is a large shareholder so everything that I do to help the company helps him. My impression is he is totally supportive of my role.

Q: Is it strange that you are now working for a company he started, years after he hired you at Maguire Thomas Partners?

A: It is kind of interesting the way life leads you in a way you would have never anticipated.

Q: What's enticed you about the challenge at Maguire? Is it similar to what you saw at Catellus?

A: (Catellus) had so many problems. But there are some similarities. First of all it was in a down market. There was very little liquidity. We had a company that had very little capital, very little cash and a couple of financings that didn't increase the probability of the company's survival. When I got there the stock was fluctuating between $5 and $7.

Q: There are reports you are trying to unload some Maguire properties in Orange County. Is that part of your turnaround?

A: I love Orange County long term, even two, three years out. But we aren't two, three years out, we are today where vacancies and rents are falling but somehow the interest payments don't. So we have to deal with that and be realistic. That's one of the greatest lessons I learned at Catellus: wishing something to be so doesn't make it so. I've learned a lot from having been through it before, and those lessons are being applied here.

Q: Such as?

A: We have a plan we know what we are trying to accomplish in the short and intermediate term. Very soon we are going to have a strategic plan, in which there will be an annual business plan, so that everyone understands what they are trying to accomplish. I've seen that you can really direct and motivate people to do what is in the entity's overall best interest and they feel better about themselves. They know there is a scorecard for what they should be doing. It takes the ambiguity out.

Q: How did you ultimately turn Catellus around?

A: We looked at all the assets in the company, and they were widespread. We looked at those that were strategic and those that were nonstrategic we didn't say good assets or bad assets. Of the strategic assets we said, "Let's build a company around them." Of those that weren't strategic we sold them and with that capital we gradually improved the balance sheet.

Q: What was your first job in the real estate business?

A: I went to work with (corporate turnaround specialist) Victor Palmieri. Victor is still a good pal and still very active. Victor had taken over the real estate assets of the Penn Central Railroad and one of the subsidiaries was Coto De Caza in Orange County, the 5,000-acre resort development. So I was the president of Coto De Caza Development Corp. It was a great learning lesson about real estate.

Q: How did you land the first job with Maguire?

A: Jim Thomas and Rob asked if I'd be interested in joining. At that point I was already in the real estate business. It was in 1983; we started a conversation. It started from that. I knew them from L.A. We had not done business together. I was given the responsibility for the Library Tower and Gas Co. Tower and Plaza Las Fuentes, and I also had leasing report to me.

Q: You really jumped around before falling into real estate. Looking back, does it seem like a logical progression?

A: I gravitated toward real estate because I liked it. I liked the whole notion of it, what you create, what you build, what your obligations are to the community.

Q: Let's go back to your time at UCLA. Sports were a big part of your time there.

A: I went to UCLA on a football scholarship and that was back in the era when football was single platoon. They really hadn't gotten into power lifting and that sort of thing. So the coaches encouraged or at least didn't discourage scholarship players from playing rugby. On our rugby team the scrum was mostly football players. It was a varsity sport and it was great fun. I played my last rugby game when I was 34, which is a sign of I don't know what. I played in the alumni varsity games. It was more fun than any sport that I played. I loved the camaraderie.

Q: You majored in economics at UCLA. I assumed that still comes in handy?

A: Yes, very much so. Macroeconomics is a big part of our business. In those days it was precomputer basically. So you didn't have big econometric models the same way we do today. The macroeconomic course was called business fluctuations. We certainly have business fluctuations. I really enjoyed it. I was a very serious student of economics, and I ended up grading papers for three of the classes that I had taken.

Q: So why law school?

A: Before I went to law school I had never met a lawyer. So I had no idea what a lawyer did. My parents were wonderful parents and of modest incomes, so it wasn't like I lived in a neighborhood where the kid the down the street, his father was a lawyer. I was thinking about doing graduate work in economics or going to law school. I just intuitively felt the economic rewards of being a lawyer would be greater.

Q: And you practiced law.

A: I was very fortunate to be hired by O'Melveny & Myers. I was a corporate securities lawyer.

Q: Then you got heavily involved in politics.

A: The 1960s were very volatile times politically, so I was very interested in that. I volunteered for Bobby Kennedy in 1968. We had some very important issues civil rights and the war in Vietnam being at the very top of the list. So I was more interested in politics than in practicing law.

Q: So how did you go from volunteering for Kennedy to running John Tunney's Senate campaign?

A: When Ronald Reagan won (the governorship) in 1966 there was a group formed called the Committee for California. Among the founders were Victor Palmieri and Warren Christopher. I was asked to be a member of that. It was my third year of law school, I was the young one.

Q: What did you do?

A: I was responsible for working with the board on the speakers. The first speaker we had was John Tunney. I picked him up at the airport and at that point he was running for his third term in Congress, and we became good friends. I helped him with speeches and things like that. And he approached me and asked me if I'd consider running the campaign.

Q: How did you work that out with your job?

A: I took a leave of absence, spent about 13 months on that assignment. He was elected to the Senate in 1970 and he was the ripe old age of 35. And I was 28 as his campaign manager.

Q: Did you throw your friends and family for a loop when you took the leave?

A: Yes. People said, "You went to law school and now you are doing this?" But my wife, Sharon, was very supportive.

Q: Is it true that around that time you had a stint as a movie producer on a film based on Tunney?

A: I was the associate producer of "The Candidate," the (Robert) Redford film which was not based on John Tunney, by the way. It was a composite figure.

Q: How did that come about?

A: Well I was going back to practicing law but during the Tunney campaign I met a director named Michael Ritchie who had helped advise us on media issues. And Michael called me one day out of the blue, and he asked if I might be interested in producing a movie. I went and spent the weekend with him and Redford going over it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We had fun making it.

Q: What did you do as a producer?

A: This film was put together on a very low budget. We had to be creative. I was being asked to run it like a political campaign. I'll give you an example. We needed to show Redford getting out amongst the people. Thanksgiving was coming up and we hadn't started production yet. One of my advance people called Tracy High School in Modesto, which was having a big football game. He asked if they'd like to have Redford as grand marshal of their parade. They said, "We aren't having a parade." And my guy said, "I guess you are now."

Q: Did you fall in love with the Hollywood lifestyle?

A: No, but it was fun to do.

Q: You live in La Canada Flintridge. Would you ever consider moving downtown?

A: At heart I am very urban oriented. We still have a place in San Francisco at Mission Bay. When I was running Catellus (in San Francisco) I didn't own a car. I was there for 11 years. I did own a car for a while but it became useless so for the last seven or eight years I didn't. So I walked everywhere or took a cab. I am very into that sort of experience, but on the other hand we live close to downtown.

Q: I imagine it's been a busy and stressful month. How do you unwind?

A: I haven't had time to unwind yet. Physical fitness is a very important thing. I like exercise. I like to walk. That's very relaxing. My golf game is a little on the sidelines because of a back issue but I love to play golf. Family is really key. Family time is very important to me.

Q: Two of your sons played football for Duke University. With your busy schedule were you able to see them play?

A: I tried as much as possible when my oldest son, Christopher, was playing to make it to every one of his games. And when I did that I took young Matthew who is 16 years younger. Sharon would come with me. Christopher played middle linebacker at Duke and (Coach Steve) Spurrier was head coach then and they won the ACC championship his junior year.

Q: How about your other son?

A: Our youngest, Matthew, was a walk-on and he ended up earning a scholarship his senior year. Sharon and I tried to make as many of those games as we could. It was great fun. We are a very close family. We don't need to go to a football game to have that closeness.

Q: Were your children excited that you took this job?

A: There is no question that dad was not the retiring type.

Nelson C. Rising

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Company: Maguire Properties Inc.

Born: 1941; Queens, New York

Education: B.A., economics, UCLA; J.D., UCLA School of Law

Career Turning Point: Leaving O'Melveny & Myers to enter into a real estate career with turnaround specialist Victor Palmieri

Most Influential Person: Attorney and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who guided Rising in his political activities while at O'Melveny & Myers

Personal: Lives in La Canada Flintridge. Married to Sharon Rising since 1963. Three adult children.

Hobbies: Spending time with family and close personal friends.

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