6 important things everyone should know about Robert Reffkin, who left a successful career at Goldman Sachs to take a chance on real estate – and is now poised to become America’s youngest Black billionaire

Compass Co-Founder and CEO, Robert Reffkin
Compass Co-Founder and CEO, Robert Reffkin. Compass

  • Robert Reffkin grew up in Berkeley, CA, with his mom, who is now a Compass agent.
  • After graduating in two years from Columbia, he began his career on Wall Street.
  • Reffkin took Compass public Thursday, making him one of just 8 Black billionaires in the US.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Robert Reffkin may soon be the youngest Black billionaire in the US after taking his real-estate startup Compass public on Thursday.

The 41-year-old cofounder and CEO has risen to prominence quickly. From growing up in Berkeley, CA with a single mom, to becoming a White House fellow and rising through the ranks at Goldman Sachs before launching Compass, here are some things to know about the up-and-coming executive.

The women in his life have inspired him

Reffkin grew up in Berkeley, CA, as an only child with a single mom, who is now a real estate agent for Compass. In a LinkedIn post Thursday after his company went public on the New York Stock Exchange, Reffkin said, “I started Compass because of my mom, Ruth, a single mom who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Today, Reffkin lives in New York City with his wife, Benis Reffkin, who is a business and life coach. He dubbed her the “most important person” in his life and an inspiration, in a LinkedIn post from Mother’s Day 2019 that documented how she lived the American Dream. The couple have three kids together.

He’s been a founder before

Reffkin started his first business when he was just 15 years old, according to an article from Columbia College Today. Backed by babysitting and bar mitzvah money, the young founder started a DJ company called “Rude Boy Productions” that brought in a total of $100,000 by the time he graduated from high school, the article said.

In later years, Reffkin founded two philanthropic educational groups prior to starting Compass. One is Success Academy Charter Schools, a school system for low-income Black and Hispanic students in New York City that helps diminish educational disparities.

The second is a 501c3 non-profit called America Needs You, which according to its website, “fights for economic mobility for ambitious, first-generation college students.”

He’s a runner, too

Though he founded two philanthropic organizations, Reffkin’s generosity doesn’t end there. Even his running hobby is helping others.

His “primary philanthropic undertaking” has been running a marathon in each of the 50 states in the US to raise $1 million for youth education and enrichment programs, he said in a bio on America Needs You.

robert reffkin central park
Reffkin running in Central Park in 2014.

Read more: Compass is gearing up for an ambitious $10 billion IPO. We pored over its 261-page S-1 filing and came away with 5 key revelations.

He rose through the ranks on Wall Street

Reffkin graduated from Columbia University in just under two years, according to Fortune, which placed him on the 40 under 40 list in 2014. He then became the youngest business analyst ever hired at McKinsey & Company where he spent two years before returning to his alma mater to get his MBA and then going back to Wall Street as an associate at Lazard.

He then rose through the ranks at Goldman Sachs, eventually becoming the chief of staff for Gary Cohn, the former president and chief operating officer of Goldman. But he left the storied Wall Street firm in 2012 to start his company.

Real estate isn’t his forte

Reffkin left his banking career to start up Compass with the tech entrepreneur Ori Allon. But sources told Insider previously he didn’t actually know much about the industry he was trying to disrupt, saying he had a rudimentary knowledge and didn’t know the difference between a co-op and an apartment.

Doing things he’s uncomfortable with is just part of his personality, though. One person said he’s lacked experience in almost everything he’s ever done but that’s part of what makes him an “extraordinary person.”

His former boss, Cohn, said Reffkin just has an “aura of confidence.”

He may someday run for public office

In 2005, he was a White House fellow under the George W. Bush administration, where he served as the special assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow.

He’s always had big ambitions for his career, sources told Insider previously. Those close to him have said he has talked about someday running for public office, such as mayor of New York City.

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