Skip to main content

All In

All In

Rob Verrone ’90 didn’t leave anything on the field when he played soccer at Moravian College. That same fierce drive helped him build a successful commercial real estate company, and it fuels his giant support to keep Moravian strong.
By Jeff Csatari

“Swiss cheese, Grigsby! You’re like shooting through Swiss cheese!”

It’s 1988. Soccer practice before the Eastern College Athletic Conference playoffs. Legendary coach John Makuvek runs his team through one of his favorite drills: Kill the Goalkeeper. He’s tossing balls to players on the 18-yard line who fire shots on the defenseless goalkeeper, Bryon Grigsby ’90—then a sophomore, now Moravian College president. Teammate Rob Verrone ’90 is at the line taunting him viciously: “Are you ready, Swiss cheese?”

Coach Makuvek is keen to the trash talk and nods a cue to Grigsby before lofting the ball extra high, causing Verrone to take his eyes off the goalie. “I went for Rob and leveled him,” Grigsby says with a laugh. “He didn’t see me coming.”

“I don’t remember being leveled, but I do recall him coming up knee first,” says Verrone, founder and principal of Iron Hound Management Company, a New York City–based banking firm. The name Iron Hound is a sandwich of Verrone’s high school mascot, the Ironmen of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, New Jersey, and Moravian’s Greyhound. Iron Hound specializes in restructuring troubled commercial real estate loans.

Verrone is laughing into his phone while driving from Iron Hound’s Lexington Avenue offices to his home in Short Hills, New Jersey: “Let’s put it this way, Grigsby’s a better president than he was a goalie.”

That’s just the kind of chain yanking you might expect from college buddies, former roommates, and teammates who would drop everything to help one another. When Grigsby injured his knee in soccer and couldn’t make it up to his third-floor dorm room in Bernhardt on crutches, Verrone welcomed him to bunk in his first-floor single for six weeks. “Rob is the kind of guy who will bust on you to no end—he’s absolutely ruthless—but the minute you need help, he’ll give you a kidney,” says Grigsby. “Rob has a very big heart, even if you have to get through the armor.”

This year, Verrone, 51, established the Emilio and Grace Verrone Endowed Scholarship Fund in memory of his mother and father. The $1 million pledge is the largest given to Moravian College by a living alum. “My parents were very proud that I went to Moravian,” says Verrone. “I was the first in my family to go to college, so they were very excited, and they loved that I played soccer there.”

The Verrone scholarship will provide financial support to students who have demonstrated need and strong academic potential. While preference will be giving to first- and second-generation students from Passaic County, New Jersey, who are interested in pursuing a business degree, all first-year students are eligible. “I would just hope this gives others a shot at the American Dream—getting a great education and earning a good living,” says Verrone.

“Rob is always challenging us to be better.” —Bryon Grigsby ’90 P’22

verrone family
Verrone's parents at their 50th
wedding anniversary celebration
surrounded by their

Italian Roots

Verrone was born in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Italian immigrants. His father, from a small fishing village near Salerno, was a cutter for garment makers and played on local soccer clubs in Paterson. His mother, from Sicily, was a homemaker who moonlighted as a seamstress in dress factories when money got tight. The family (Verrone has a sister, Rosanna) moved to North Haledon, near extended family, when Verrone was in fifth grade.

“There were Verrones everywhere there,” he says. From an early age, Verrone displayed the restless spirit of a budding entrepreneur. In 7th grade, when vacationing with cousins at the Jersey Shore, he took a job as a boardwalk barker, goading passersby to play a drag racing game on the Seaside Heights amusement pier. In high school, he washed dishes and painted houses.

“I wasn’t a great student in high school, not terrible, but school didn’t come easy for me,” says Verrone. “At Moravian I became an all-in guy and never looked back. I got involved.” In addition to playing varsity soccer, Verrone served as a resident hall advisor, vice president of the United Student Government, and senior class president. As a sophomore, he convinced the Moravian College Board of Trustees to fund the renovation of the basement of Zinzendorf Hall, turning it into a student hangout called the Doghouse.

“Rob has grit and resilience; he doesn’t take no for an answer. We always said he’d be the first of us to make a million dollars ... or be indicted,” says Grigsby, laughing. Verrone’s response: “Grigsby’s a moron.” (Trivia note: Years after graduating, Verrone and Grigsby were surprised to run into one another at the funeral of a relative and realize they might be very distant cousins.)

soccer  golf

(Left) Rob Verrone ’90, number 13, sits in the front row. Standing in the back row (left) in the yellow jersey is President Grigsby.

(Right) At the annual soccer vs. football golf match at Due Process Stables Golf Course in Colts Neck, NJ (from left to right): Craig Danielson ’88, Bill Fitzell ’90, Thomas Ike ’90, Drew Lynch ’90, Dave Mittl ’90, Robert Verrone ’90, Scott Stanilious ’89, and Chris Mueller ’91. “Soccer has never lost,” Verrone points out.

Wall Street Swagger

While at Moravian, Verrone got a summer internship at Bear Stearns through a high school friend’s sister who worked there.
 He liked the people and the hands-on experience and decided that Wall Street was for him. “I love competing, and there’s no better place to compete than Wall Street,” he says.

Bear Stearns hired him after graduation, and Verrone spent the next four years there cutting his teeth in banking before being
let go. He considered going to Duke for an MBA. While visiting the school, he passed through Charlotte and interviewed at First Union, the bank headquartered there. They offered him a job. By the time he turned 28, Verrone was running the bank’s lending and securitization business. In 2002 he moved to Wachovia’s New York offices, where he developed and managed the bank’s Large Loan Group, specializing in loans of over $50 million. He’s been credited with helping to popularize what’s known as “mezzanine” financing, in which several lenders are recruited to secure very large loans. Verrone grew the business to over $20 billion in loan originations, which earned him the nickname “Large Loan” Verrone and stories in Businessweek and the Wall Street Journal. In 2007, Verrone was promoted to co-run the entire real estate group. He resigned just before Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo after the 2007–2008 financial crisis.

In 2009, Verrone launched Iron Hound, a real estate company specializing in “workouts”; that is, restructuring commercial 
loans for borrowers in financial distress through interest rate and amortization relief, maturity extensions, and recapitalizations. In 2019, Verrone’s team, including Moravian grad Patrick Perone ’16, negotiated an $80 million refinance for Wells Fargo Place, a 37-story office property in St. Paul, Minnesota, through Starwood Mortgage Capital. Since its founding, Iron Hound has brokered $50 billion in commercial real estate transactions for hotels, retail, multifamily complex portfolios, and office buildings, including the 2012 restructuring of the $1.8 billion deal for 666 Park Avenue in New York City, then owned by the (Jared) Kushner Companies. Verrone, who is the father of four, regularly makes the Commercial Observer’s list of the 50 most important figures of commercial real estate finance.

The coronavirus pandemic has been both a boon and a bust for Iron Hound. While brokerage deals have dried up and Verrone needs to rebuild that part of his business, he says debt restructuring has “gone through the roof.”

Verrone credits his success with being nimble, having “great mentors like Larry Brown and Bill Green,” and working nonstop. “I just don’t get laziness,” he says. “My relatives came [to this country] with nothing and worked to make it to the middle class. We work seven days a week, but honestly, I never felt like I had
 a job a day in my life. I enjoy what we do. We love figuring out deals, we love the competition. Never once was I like, ‘[Expletive], I gotta go to work.’”

“Rob speaks his mind, but his great skill is that he’s so animated, it disarms people,” says Borko Milosev ’04, who interned for Verrone at Wachovia when he was an international student at Moravian. Milosev became Iron Hound’s first employee. “I wish I had half of Rob’s talent,” he says.

Milosev was the kind of graduate you want to hire, says Verrone: “As an intern, we didn’t pay him. He slept under his desk. He wanted it bad. And he’s a super-talented guy.”

Milosev, whose parents live in Serbia, calls Verrone “my American dad and mentor.” When Milosev left Iron Hound to launch 
his own real estate company in the Lehigh Valley, Post Road Management, Verrone partnered with Milosev and helped him find financing to expand the company’s portfolio of properties. “Rob is the glue between his work colleagues, college buddies, and high school friends,” says Milosev. “He makes a conscious effort to stay connected.”

Former roommate Grigsby concurs: “In his own way, Rob is always challenging us to be better. And with this scholarship, he’s paying it forward to give other poor and middle-class kids a chance to have an exceptional educational experience.”

Jeff Csatari is executive editor of Galvanized Brands (the media company founded by Moravian alumnus David Zinczenko ’91) and an adjunct professor of journalism.