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From Basement to Boardroom

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Page 53 of 99

52 Robert Klein lovingly credits his wife with talking him out of retirement twice: Once in 1990 to found Safeguard Properties and once just a few years ago to launch RIK Enterprises. His son-in-law Alan Jaffa, who replaced Klein as CEO at Safeguard in 2010, affectionately quips: "Robert doesn't retire; he just focuses somewhere else." Although he remains involved at Safeguard in his role as Chairman of the Board, his focus these days is almost entirely on the family investments he oversees. Moreover, he is so completely energized by his current businesses activities that he continues to address neighborhoods blighted by foreclosed and abandoned houses throughout the U.S. that he observed during his two decades running his mortgage field services firm. "One thing that always bothered me was the plywood boarding," he says. "at's a killer. You put up a plywood board on a property, and you advertise it: ere goes the neighborhood. But no one had a better solution than to board up a property with that eyesore plywood." No one had a better solution until a few years ago, when an inventor came to Klein with a game-changing idea he called SecureView. It's a security system with clear polycarbonate plates that can be installed over windows and are basically impenetrable. As a test, Klein enlisted firefighters to hack away with sledgehammers and axes. e result? Barely a scratch. Klein even went so far as to challenge a senator from Ohio during a visit to Slavic Village, an older ethnic neighborhood in Cleveland, where RIK is managing a project to protect, restore and sell the more than 2,000 homes in the community. "I said, 'Senator, if you can break that thing, I'll give you a donation for your campaign,' " Klein recalls. "Boy, did he go at it with everything he had, but no luck." To promote national awareness, RIK spent more than a year exhibiting and demonstrating the product at industry events. ree years later, it's gained widespread popularity as a plywood replacement. "A number of investors and financial services organizations are all using our product, and they are expanding use on a nationwide basis," Klein informs. "It's the right product and the right concept. You install these secure windows, and you can't tell the property is vacant." As another key component of RIK, Klein started Community Blight Solutions to oversee projects such as the effort in Slavic Village neighborhood that will address blighted homes community by community, rather than by single properties in scattered locations. He hired Rebecca Steele as the Executive Vice President of Community Blight Solutions and SecureView LLC. "We both knew security was just one piece of the puzzle," says Steele, who has more than 20 years of experience with mortgage origination, community and consumer housing communications and solutions. "We met with the National League of Cities, and we started to generate solutions to address the blight and impacts from the foreclosure crisis that have damaged so many communities." For the Slavic Village endeavor, they spent more than a year developing a for-profit LLC that includes the Cleveland-based real estate and property owner/manager Forest City Enterprises. ey worked closely with the banks to identify properties within the targeted re- development zone. Robert's position within the industry opened the doors to be able to discuss the issue with senior banking officials and create donation opportunities that would fit nicely with the program's objectives. ese properties also require substantial additional investment so they can be repaired and placed into marketable condition. Once rehab is completed, the properties are then sold for about $60,000, which equates to a 30 year mortgage at $490 a month in an area where properties rent for $800 a month. To be completely honest, though, despite the early successes, even the workaholic Klein's focus does not remain entirely on RIK enterprises. At his downtown Cleveland office, the walls and credenza behind his desk are layered with family photos. "I've been blessed with four lovely children who are all married, and we have 19 grandchildren, too," Klein says. "But perhaps the greatest blessing I've had in my life, and I've had a number of them, is that they all live right up the street from us. So, I'm surrounded with love." e windowsill overlooking Cleveland's Public Square and Lake Erie coastline also displays a half dozen or more of Klein's trademark hats. His colleagues in the mortgage field services industry often joked that they didn't recognize him if he wasn't wearing one. "I've been wearing these since long before Indiana Jones," Klein confirms. Ultimately, foregoing retirement to sustain his entrepreneurial drive all comes down to the fact that he loves his wife of 41 years and she loves him – as long as he doesn't stay at home. "I always say, for better or worse, but not for lunch or dinner," Klein, 62, concludes with a smile punctuated with a sweeping wave of his hand. "Besides, I'm too young to retire. All of this is still in my blood." No Time for Retirement Executive Profile: Robert Klein 52

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