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While the family has owned Nina for more than half a century, running the business hasn’t always been easy.
“It can be very difficult for businesses to survive families,” says Silverstein, who tried unsuccessfully to sell the company three times during his tenure. “It’s unusual that it has lasted this long.”
After his second heart surgery in 1994, Silverstein decided it was time to hand over the reins to Scott, who, at the time, had been with the company for more than 10 years. “I had trained him in every angle of the business that could be trained. And it wasn’t easier for him [as my son],” says the elder Silverstein. His philosophy meant giving his son “the toughest, dirtiest jobs of all, and if he survived it, I would give him the next toughest. It was the way to break him in.”
But for Silverstein, leaving wasn’t easy. “Was it hard in the beginning? Yes. But I believe in what I say. There can only be one boss.”
Before retiring to Florida in 1996, he was a board member of the Mount Sinai Heart Research Foundation and president of the co-op board of the historical 828 Fifth Avenue. (Mike and Renee owned the parlor-floor apartment of the 19th-century mansion from 1984 to 1994. Their Manhattan home housed a vast art deco collection that was auctioned by Sotheby’s when the couple relocated to Casey Key.)
Today, Silverstein puts his executive skills to good use in his Sarasota-area community. “I am very much involved in politics. Another Cuban buddy in Casey Key and I were big sponsors of Governor [Charlie] Crist.” He is also a staunch supporter of U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.).
Silverstein has gotten involved in the political game himself as the chairman of zoning and government relations in Casey Key. “I’m the one who works with all the commissioners and the mayor of Sarasota,” he says as he packs up his briefcase to head to another meeting. “So that keeps me quite busy.” In addition, Silverstein has served on the board of directors for the Sarasota Film Festival, the Asolo Repertory Theatre and the Sarasota Orchestra. He and Renee also enjoy traveling, attending the opera and spending time with their four children and 12 grandchildren.
And Silverstein says he is no longer defined by Nina Footwear. “I quit while I was still young enough. And while I resented not being the boss, I was able to do many other things in my life.”