A Conversation with William Levine ’54
|William Levine '54
Talk to enough entrepreneurs and you will find they have
something in common: They are risk-takers. William Levine ’54
certainly falls into that category.
In 1959, Levine was working for an industrialist in New York
who sent him to Phoenix to buy a piece of land. People were
buying and selling a significant amount of property there at the
time, and many of the deals were being done with leveraged
money. When Levine arrived, he saw enormous potential in the
local real estate market and wanted to take part in it. So, six
months later, he left Brooklyn—where he was born and raised—
and moved to Arizona.
Initially, he started out managing apartments because he had
previous real estate experience in New York. He subsequently
bought a coffee shop in Phoenix and then continued buying
restaurants until he owned dozens of them. Along the way, he
used billboards to advertise his restaurants. When he realized that
one company had a monopoly on the area’s billboard business,
Levine started building his own. He soon had more billboards than
he needed for advertising his restaurants, and so he began to sell
In 1984, Levine formed a partnership with Arte Moreno. The
men had originally met when Moreno, then working for a competitor,
sold Levine ad space. Over the next 12 years, they developed an
extremely successful business, originally called Outdoor Systems
(now known as OUTFRONT Media), and launched an IPO in 1996.
The stock price increased substantially in a short time, and the
business grew into the largest billboard company in North America,
with more than 250,000 display properties. The company was sold
in 1999 to Infinity Broadcasting, a public radio company, for more
than $10 billion. Infinity Broadcasting was later acquired by Viacom,
which also owned CBS Broadcasting. Subsequently, Viacom spun
off CBS, which held the billboards. Levine and Moreno became
substantial stockholders of Viacom and CBS.
Today, Levine remains active both in his professional and
leisure time. He continues to manage a large portfolio of his own
real estate investments, in addition to developing new projects.
He also generously supports the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C. After being involved for more than
a decade, Levine last year contributed $25 million toward an
endowment that will ensure the museum’s educational mission.
Despite his remarkable success and significant philanthropy,
Levine remains exceptionally humble. He lives in Phoenix,
exercises every day, and most enjoys spending time with his wife,
Susan, the executive director of Hospice of the Valley, a nonprofit
organization that runs one of the country’s largest hospices.
During a recent conversation with Jen Swetzoff, managing
editor at Brooklyn Law Notes, Levine shared his thoughts on law
school, business, philanthropy, and luck.