When asked what his proudest accomplishment has been, William Z. Fox, 79, said that, aside from family, it’s how a young Jewish kid from a modest background achieved all that he had.
“My father provided for us,” Fox said, “[but] my father wasn’t wealthy, he didn’t really leave us any significant assets when he passed away. The one thing he did leave my brother and I was his good name.”
It would be enough.
Fox is the chairman and CEO of Rextar, LLC, and a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation. He lives in Pikesville with his wife of 57 years, Myra. They have four daughters, Janice, identical twins Sheryl and Susan, and Laura.
He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1942. When he was 3 years old, his family moved to Baltimore, where his father, Michael Fox, was originally from. He had a traditional Jewish upbringing, he said. He went to public school while attending Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Hebrew school program, and he inherited from his parents a strong sense of his Jewishness and a passion for Israel.
After returning to Baltimore, Fox’s father started an auction business. Fox grew up in the family business, typically working for his father over weekends and summer breaks.
After graduating from high school in 1959, Fox enrolled at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but two years later, his father had a heart attack, and he returned home to help run the family business. While taking night classes at Johns Hopkins University, he learned that the University of Baltimore allowed those with enough credits to enroll in its night law school without a bachelor’s degree.
Fox’s father’s business often dealt with legal issues such as foreclosure and bankruptcy, and Fox saw law school as an opportunity to become more proficient in that area. He earned his law degree in 1966, later passed the bar exam and established a small law practice on the side.
With Michael Fox’s health improving significantly, William Fox began to feel the urge to escape his father’s shadow.
“I didn’t have my own identity,” Fox said. “My dad, being in the auction business, was very visible in the Baltimore business community and in the Baltimore Jewish community, and Bill Fox was really not Bill Fox, he was Mike Fox’s kid.”
With his younger brother David stepping into his place, Fox left the family business, eventually taking his interest in the stock market and turning it into a profession. He found work as a trainee in the stock brokerage business in 1968. Afterward, he worked his way up in Baltimore companies focused on the stock market, from stock broker to a branch office manager, before spending two years in Los Angeles as the Western regional vice president for a New York stock exchange member firm.
When Michael Fox died in 1973, William Fox moved back to Baltimore and back into the auction business, entering into a 35-year partnership with his brother. Together, they transformed their mom-and-pop auction business into Michael Fox International, Inc., a company with seven or eight sales offices around the country, specializing in machinery and equipment for manufacturing as well as in real estate.
In 1998, as chairman of the board and CEO of the business, Fox started thinking about how the emerging technology of the internet might affect his company. He began working on a new dot-com company, originally named assetTrade.com, later GoIndustry.com, designed to sell machinery and equipment online. Handing his CEO position at Michael Fox International to his brother in order to focus more on the new company, he grew the business into a London-based, publicly traded company with 47 offices in 27 countries and over 600 employees. It eventually acquired Michael Fox International as its North American arm, as well as a half dozen other businesses, and was itself later acquired by a U.S. company listed on the Nasdaq.
Fox decided to retire in 2006, in part to devote more of his time to his pro-Israel activism. He recently finished a term on AIPAC’s national council, and he currently serves on the national board of the Development Corporation for Israel, better known as Israel Bonds. He also serves on the national board of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and is one of the founders of FIDF’s Baltimore chapter. On Dec. 6, Fox and his wife Myra were honored for their contributions at an annual FIDF gala with over 500 attendees.
Fox’s retirement, though, would prove nontraditional, he said, as he worked to help found a trio of new companies. This included Fox Residential Auctions, focused on selling residential real estate, and Fox Commercial Auctions, a commercial real estate business. He and his partners also founded Rextar.com, which allows users to buy and sell real estate. So far, Fox shows few signs of truly slowing down.
“I’ve always believed, and will say to you, that the day I retire is the day somebody’s shoveling dirt on my box,” Fox said.