Robert Levy, of auctioneer Hilco Industrial, and I had a leisurely dinner after the blockbuster auction he and Myron Bowling conducted at M & D Machine near the Baltimore Airport on May 29th. Robert slowly nursed three vodkas on the rocks as we discussed some of the highlights of his past 33 years on the stand, first with the firm his dad started 61 years ago, Norman Levy Associates, then Dovebid, and finally as President, then Managing Partner and Principal of Hilco Industrial for the last 10 years.
I’ve known Robert for most of those 33 years in the rough and tumble auction game. His interest prior to entering the auction business was making jewelry, but he left that occupation to join his father in the auction business in 1980. In 1981, Robert went to England to develop and run the UK business. He came back from London to Detroit at the age of 25 after his father passed away, when the family business needed the talents of him and his brother David. Lew Nucian, Norman’s top lieutenant, mentored Robert for years as he sharpened his skills. Today, at 56, with millions of miles in his bones from schlepping around the world looking at deals, Robert still loves the game and is extremely good at it.
The M & D Machine sale was an interesting deal, if not a terribly lucrative one for him. He said 11 auction companies had bid on the deal, which had a fabulous group of Haas and Doosan machining centers which had run mainly on very precise aerospace jobs. A 2007 Haas VF-6B/40 5 axis vertical machining center brought $118,000. A Doosan MYNX 750 4-axis vertical machining center (new in 2008) also brought $100,000, plus the 18% buyer’s premium.
A deal like M & D in Baltimore is almost a “vanity” deal. The auctioneers beat each other up to buy a deal with pizzazz. The sale attracted 160 people to the location and 260 more attended online. Levy and Bowling both worked the stand to integrate the internet bidding with the onsite bidding, with several rebids of major items because online bidders did not accept the prices the auctioneers said they had bid.
The sale I attended in Maryland was a far cry from the one Robert held not long ago in Alaska. He had been contacted by a bank in Rhode Island to sell a seafood packing plant in Adak, Alaska, the last island in the Aleutians in the Bering Sea near Russia, population 326. Robert Levy, one time jewelry maker turned auctioneer, is also a brilliant photographer. When he was pushed out of Dovebid a few years after making a shrewd sale of his firm to the Dove rollup of industrial auctioneers in the late 90’s, he actively pursued his love of nature photography, turning it into a part-time business. He regarded Adak as both a business opportunity and a chance to indulge his love of the outdoors.
There were only two flights a week to Adak. Housing was a former Army barracks. Eating was confined to the one bar on the island. Robert’s task was to generate enough interest in the defunct seafood plant to get more than one bid. The locals were interested because it was the biggest employer on the island. The landlord was also interested, though he denied it shrewdly. Another seafood packer lurked in the weeds, but was undecided about bidding. Robert publicized the deal and set up shop in Anchorage because Adak did not have reliable internet connections to connect off site bidders. He sought an opening bid and eventually bid up to the reserve established by his client, the Rhode Island bank. Finally the outliers started bidding, and he had an auction. The Aleut Corporation, which was the representative of the island folk, ultimately bought the plant at the high-end of the pre-auction forecast to protect the valuable infrastructure built on the island, and so an operator would reopen it. Levy made a nice fee and had pleasant memories of helping to breathe life into a moribund fish factory at the end of America.
Robert delighted in telling the story of his Alaska auction odyssey. For an auctioneer like Levy who loves the game, but also appreciates the people and the color he encounters along the way, it doesn’t get any better than Adak.
Question: Do you prefer attending auctions live or online?