Clint Reilly, the son of an East Bay milk man with roots in San Francisco stretching back to the 1860s, launched his business career in his early 20s with a waterfront junk store. Nearly 50 years later, Reilly now helms a wholly-owned commercial real estate portfolio of signature properties, along with two of the city’s most coveted historic event venues, a thriving food and beverage operation, and an iconic local monthly publication, all contributing significantly to an overriding philanthropic program. Along the way, Reilly managed to pioneer modern campaign and political consulting, combining data science and creative messaging to build one of the top political strategy firms in the nation, and helped launch the careers of San Francisco luminaries such as Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and many others.
Reilly left political consulting for good in 1995, the same year he purchased his flagship property—the landmark Merchants Exchange building—from Walter Shorenstein and the Swig family. Since then, Reilly has worked to return the Merchants Exchange to its former status as a premium corporate address, while simultaneously transforming the building into the nerve center of the City’s high-end social, political, philanthropic and corporate events.
Reilly now employs a wide breadth of professionals, from his long-tenured executive team, to chefs, publishers, event managers, accountants, operations experts, janitors, creative directors, sales managers, admin staff and security guards—nearly 150 in all—making the Merchants Exchange a hive of activity.
Most of the action takes place in and around the jaw-dropping Julia Morgan Ballroom, an architectural jewel that has hosted everyone from President Obama and Steve Jobs to Jane Goodall and Aung San Suu Kyi, among countless business, entertainment and philanthropic titans.
Reilly’s hospitality business accelerated in 2009 with the hire of Philip Spiegel, now Executive Vice President of Reilly’s combined companies. Under Spiegel’s management and at Reilly’s direction, events in the Ballroom soon became fully-produced operations. The vertical business model—controlling every aspect of the customer experience to ensure consistency and quality throughout the organization—was a lesson learned during Reilly’s campaign days with printers and designers, and extended to the world of hospitality, where guest experience was paramount.
Food and beverage operations quickly became a major part of the company’s hospitality arm, overseen by Spiegel and executed by accomplished fine dining chefs like Chris Fernandez and Larry Finn. Reilly scored another coup by hiring 19-year Olympic Club director of operations, Vicki Tom. Reilly’s next step was to scale. Sixteen stories below the Julia Morgan Ballroom, the former Merchants Exchange Club lay dormant after nearly 100 years of activity as a premier men’s social club. Today, the reborn Merchants Exchange Club serves as a sister venue to the Ballroom, combining with its counterpart for a range of conferences, tradeshows, nonprofit galas and other events.
In 2009, with the economy spiraling and most businesses retrenching, Reilly worked with longtime collaborator Frank Holland—now also executive vice president with the company—to develop Credo, a stylish Italian eatery that occupies the chic street-level space in Reilly’s 360 Pine Street building. Nearly eight years later, Credo continues to serve the Financial District as one of the neighborhood’s hippest options in a thriving dining scene. Lunch hour brings a who’s-who of FiDi heavyweights, young up-and-comers, and the occasional celebrity, from Dwyane Wade to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Reilly’s hospitality business has expanded tenfold since 2009, but in 2016, he turned his attention back toward his roots—media and communications—and added another beloved San Francisco institution to his stable of them: the Nob Hill Gazette.
Acquiring the magazine, which has served as the publication of record for the City’s social and philanthropic scene for more than 40 years, added an exciting new dynamic to Reilly’s portfolio, leveraging his deep knowledge of the City, strong commitment to philanthropy and keen understanding of media and communications to rejuvenate yet another storied San Francisco brand under his stewardship.
Reilly assembled an exciting team to run the Gazette under Holland’s leadership, anchored by former Hollywood Reporter editor Erin Carlson and art director Matt Petty, design guru formerly of the SF Business Times and SF Chronicle.
Reilly is equally active in the community. He is the former President of the Board of Directors for Catholic Charities of San Francisco and the founder and President of Bay Scholars, which currently provides support for nearly 400 disadvantaged youths attending private Catholic high schools. Reilly is a major contributor to the SFMOMA and a longtime supporter of programs like CORO, Salesian Boys and Girls Club, 826 Valencia, the UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies, Summer Search and the Mission Dolores Academy, among many others.
It is through this lens that the full thrust of Reilly’s business enterprise can be best understood. It is less a story of individual success than one of organizational impact. A focus on community engagement and charitable giving runs throughout the company. From high-profile political, corporate and nonprofit events in his event facilities, to marquee NGO tenants such as the Asia Foundation, to the Nob Hill Gazette’s renewed commitment to the philanthropic and nonprofit community, the Clint Reilly organization reflects the priorities and direction of its founder.