New York's Elevator Magnate: Karl Reeves The Rise of an Immigrant's Son

A good life …but something was missing.

As a child of modest surroundings, Karl Reeves realized at an early age that his own drive and determination would be the sole way to actualize any measure of personal success. That, and a little luck on his side. As the son of Hungarian and Polish immigrants, Karl and his sister received their grit, perseverance, and love for America the honest way…they inherited it. His mother was a first-generation Polish immigrant whose family courageously lived, and died, during the Nazi onslaught through Europe – and his father and uncle fled Hungary during the 1956 attempted revolution against the communist government. The struggles and constraints imposed upon his parents and their families during those turbulent times set the stage for their life in America. They knew this country would offer them endless freedoms and opportunities and were determined to not let it go to waste.

Karl admired his father immensely as he watched him hustle day in and day out to build a better life. His father spent long workdays away from family, trying to take advantage of the free-market system that America offered. He utilized his skills and knowledge in early electronics and found himself in the elevator industry.

“His work ethic and ambition were incredible, it’s what guided him to eventually start Consolidated Elevator in 1970,” New York’s premier elevator installation and maintenance company went on to say. “Simply, and at the risk of sounding cliché, he truly started on the bottom floor and ascended to the penthouse.” His success was inspirational, but Karl and his sister missed their father at home.

Following in his father’s footsteps …kind of.

Young Karl took every opportunity to shadow his dad at work. He was at Consolidated so much that the mostly immigrant employees joked about the company breaking child labor laws. Karl was spurred on by his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, but his parents insisted that college be the first thing on his agenda. After high school, he earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and a BA in Psychology. Though Karl could have easily landed a key position at Consolidated, he didn’t want to be known as the owner's son who got a handout. Karl sought to create his own life and transitioned to the world of finance in the 1990s. It was an admittedly unexpected path.   A new direction, hard work, a lot of fun …and some luck. With With hopes of losing the moniker of “owner’s son,” Karl begrudgingly trudged to Pennsylvania Hotel to attend a job fair. “I say begrudgingly because I was dreading the stereotypical job fair environment…bad swag and speed-dating interviews.” But all of that changed when Karl had a chance encounter with a stranger before leaving the fair. One question from a financial recruiter changed Karl’s life forever: “Would you be interested in a career in finance?”

Karl started as a registered Series 7 representative, expanded as a broker, and became a registered principal. New York was the world headquarters of the Financial Industry and like so many others, Karl loved the pressure, hustle, and lifestyle. He recalls that this was the most fun he ever had and some of the best years of his life. “I loved the rush of meeting with traders on the floor of the NYSE. It’s funny though, I try to explain to my daughter about being a broker before the days of the internet and cell phones and she just can’t comprehend it…kids!”

Karl spent over 20 years in the financial sector achieving many great successes. He eventually opened Principal Advisors Inc., a full-service broker-dealer clearing through Stern Agee. “If you would have told me at 18 years old that this is what I would be doing when I was 35, I would have laughed. I am tenacious and have a lot of confidence, but I would have never predicted this journey.”

Back to His Roots … with new knowledge in hand.

Karl always had a desire to return to the family business, but the decision became easier after two once-in-a-lifetime market crashes within eight years. “That was a brutal time for almost everyone in the industry. Especially for me, after 20 years in the grind. You learn things during trying times that you cannot learn at Harvard Business School. Until you make money and lose money to the level of the 2000 dotcom bust, it’s the stuff of fiction.”

The psychologies of greed, fear, and keeping your head on straight were some of the largest learning experiences of his life. Nonetheless, he was ready to jump back into the elevator industry. Karl, luckily enough, never really left the business. Throughout his years on Wall Street, he always supported his father (and Consolidated) as a consultant.

Karl took his Wall Street acumen, hustle, and Rolodex back to the family business with the intention of taking Consolidated to the next level. He also had a 20-year understanding of what made elevators an attractive business model: re-occurring revenue, non-cyclical, and recession-proof. With a lot of firsthand experience with contracting law, GAAP accounting, and technology, Karl paved the way for Consolidated Elevator’s 2010-2012 acquisition of Colonial Elevator. This was no easy task, but the ease and precision with which Karl facilitated the acquisition propelled him to become CEO of Consolidated. With successes in both the financial sector and the family business, life was going well.

  Twists, turns, …and personal tragedy.

In 2008, Karl’s younger and only sibling, Karen Forte, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. “It was a scary time but everyone, including me, was sure she would be fine.” Unfortunately, her condition went from bad to worse and she succumbed to cancer in September of 2012. “She was my little sister. We were extremely close, and she was truly my best friend. We lived with each other when she was diagnosed, and I was there with her through thick and thin.” Karen's death was devastating for Karl, and it took him a very long time to move forward.

Karen’s passing still cuts deep for Karl. Nevertheless, he beams with pride when he talks about her. “She lit up a room with her smile and she was very smart…annoyingly smart!” He jokes. She worked with the premier sell-side analysts covering the aerospace and defense sector at Bear Stearns. Later, she moved to Sun America and was one of the lead analysts covering the same sectors as well as Industrials. “I was so proud of her,” he says.

Tumultuous Times …met with unrelenting perseverance.

A glimmer of light crept through the black veil that draped Karl’s heart during this mourning period: he met his future wife. They met through a mutual friend and coincidentally traveled in the same circles with many connections. “I was ecstatic that I met someone that my friends genuinely knew. A much better option compared to the ‘unpredictable’ internet dating scene.” They married in 2015, and with the birth of his beautiful daughter in 2016, Karl finally had the family he always dreamed of. He felt that the planets had aligned for him.

Unfortunately, the alignment didn’t last long, and Karl and his wife split unexpectedly when their daughter was 3-months old. Karl says it was like living in the twilight zone.

A paid hit-piece was put out on the internet with a known scam non-for-profit, whose founder Jill Jones Soderman has had her social work license revoked by multiple states. Soderman was convicted of pretending to be a Ph.D. and trying to smear judges as a business model. The founder has also been convicted of writing egregious faux articles about abuse by multiple courts. Karl sued the foundation and fought against the tabloids that restated the slander. It is still under discovery as to why it was written. The New York Post began to follow the story in the courts, and eventually began to redeem Karl in a positive light. The situation led to Karl receiving temporary sole custody of his daughter in 2019, which was later confirmed permanent in 2022. “I’ve been raising my daughter 100% for just about four years. That doesn’t happen often, the axis of the world has rightened itself.”   Hope, happiness, …and Hungarian.

Karl was determined to do what his father didn’t have the option for and stepped down as CEO and sold Consolidated Elevator in 2022. He finished his consulting agreement in the spring of 2023 and has taken an extended time to be with his daughter fully to strike a better work-life balance. With his time devoted to being a father, Karl has never been happier. “We spent this summer on a long vacation, and we are now spending every moment together.” Karl realizes that these are things he would not be able to do if he was still running the company. “My focus these days is investing in her future. I love being a father.”

Karl admits, however, that he’ll miss his company and the elevator industry. “Looking back, I am happy with how everything played out. I must be the only person in the world who is a ‘Qualified Elevator Inspector’ (QEI licensed) and a Series 24 registered principal having owned an elevator company and a Broker Dealer.” Again, he laughs and admits that he never would have predicted this path.

Just as well, Karl knows he will never leave the business completely and wants to give back to the elevator industry. He knows first-hand the importance of elevator mechanics and remains a voice for advancing technical education and credentialing for elevator technicians. “Being in an industry up to your eyeballs, then stepping back for a bit makes you clearly identify key weaknesses better than when you’re close. I want to help fill that void.”

Karl wants everyone to understand that skilled elevator mechanics are some of the most highly compensated specialists in all trades. He emphatically and proudly states that a working elevator is truly a public service because cities don’t work without it. “People would much rather have no heat or hot water than walk up the stairs.”

Reflecting on his past, Karl feels that his life has come full circle. He achieved the American dream, and is a proud New Yorker, but now spends his days refreshing his Hungarian language skills as he plans to visit more frequently and embrace the culture that made him who he is today. He loves walking around the 1000-year-old city of Szentendre, Hungary where his family is from, and he touts its amazing history. “I love being in my grandfather’s house in Hungary, where my uncle now hosts my many cousins. The traditional extended family lives on.”

New York’s elevator magnate will tell you that his life was an up-and-down ride to this point. He has experienced both professional successes and personal heartaches but credits his immigrant upbringing for his strength and perseverance. Strength and perseverance that he proudly used to build two impressive careers, an elevator empire, and to get through very difficult times. For now, all his grit and determination will center around being a dad and providing the best life possible for the love of his life – his daughter.