The most ambitious project built by the real estate firm Jerome (Jerry) Goldberg cofounded in southern Maine nearly three decades ago almost never happened. When Goldberg and his son Brian proposed a 76,000-square-foot office building for a parcel of land in South Portland, city planners balked at the idea, claiming the site was a swamp.
Goldberg, however, quickly launched a counteroffensive, organizing a team of engineers and architects to prove that the twenty-acre parcel, though surrounded by a brook, was actually environmentally suitable for an office development. In the end, the team convinced city planners, and in 2003, Bramlie Corporation built the world headquarters for WEX, a credit-card processing firm.
"He just kept pushing people to show them that their initial read on the property wasn't correct," says Brian, president of Bramlie. "I think his persistence got the project moving."
Goldberg's ability to analyze the project's economic potential and successfully advocate for its approval drew on two sets of skills he gained at Cornell through the joint M.B.A./J.D. degree. The program allowed Goldberg to develop a diverse career that included working at one of northern New England's largest law firms, at the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC), and finally at his own real estate company.
"Cornell gave me much greater flexibility," Goldberg says. "I was able to go from working in a specialized tax practice in a traditional law firm with over 100 lawyers to a major public accounting firm, and then I was able to go into business."
As an economics major at Colby College, Goldberg decided he wanted to attend law school, but at the same time, he realized he had a passion for business. He was accepted at Cornell Law School without knowing a joint M.B.A./J.D. program existed. But when his adviser at Colby called to tell him about the dual degree, Goldberg immediately applied.
"It was very challenging, and it gave me more of an insight into the business world than I would have gotten at the time in law school," says Goldberg, who took courses in finance, marketing, and public utilities at what is now Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. "The whole spectrum of business courses exposed me to things that quite frankly I knew nothing about."
At the same time, the courses he took on taxation and contracts at the Law School helped him better understand what he was learning at the business school. "I think the degrees complemented each other," he says. "It was all part of my four-year experience."
Ultimately, Goldberg decided to pursue an area of law that was business related, and landed his first job at Coven and Suttenberg, a small firm in Boston that specialized in tax matters. Four years later, Goldberg and his wife, Susan, who had worked in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Cornell while in Ithaca, moved back to their hometown of Portland, Maine.
Goldberg continued to specialize in tax law, working initially at his own practice and then at the firm Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson, where he was a partner for more than twenty years. Practicing law in Maine meant handling everything from individual and corporate tax matters to criminal tax cases.
"You learn by doing, but I know that the things I learned in law school and in business school helped me when I started practicing," he says. "I think it all came together and made me better at what I did."After a brief stint at Cooper & Lybrand, where he ran the office's tax practice, Goldberg decided to form a real estate company with his son, who had just graduated from college and wanted to renovate a commercial building on the outskirts of Portland. From that single project, the father-and-son team developed a company that has built or rehabilitated dozens of office, retail, and commercial projects in Maine and New Hampshire.
Having spent nearly his entire career in the Portland area, Goldberg was active in the Maine State Bar Association and was appointed by two Maine governors to serve on advisory committees on tax policy. He also helped create the Estate Planning and Tax Institute at Colby College, which was held every summer for more than twenty-five years.
While he now winters in Boca Raton, Goldberg remains active in the real estate company and another major project he has been closely involved in—the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has awarded more than $20 million to nonprofit groups in southern Maine since it was formed in 2005.
After establishing the foundation for his late client, Sam L. Cohen, an entrepreneur who lived in Biddeford, Maine, Goldberg served as the board chairman and helped run the day-to-day operations of the organization until an executive director was hired.
Jeffrey Nathanson, president of the foundation's board, says Goldberg was instrumental in starting the foundation, which is now one of the top ten philanthropies in Maine. "Jerry was really the leading force behind creating the vision, the strategy, and direction of the foundation," Nathanson says.
Goldberg's contributions to the foundation have been valuable not only because of his legal and business skills but also because of his ability to work with people, Nathanson adds. "He's a very gracious person," Nathanson says. "He has a curious mind. He wants to figure out how to do the right thing and what the right thing is, and that influences a lot of what we do in a very positive way."