The companies headed by Nicholas Schorsch have bought more than $10 billion worth of hotels, clinics, stores, apartments, stockbrokerages, and investment funds across the United States, doubling their collective size. And that's just so far this year.

"This is not growth for growth's sake," the fast-moving, solidly built Schorsch, 52, insisted in a conference call with investors Thursday.

Rather, he said, "it is an all-out effort to gain competitive advantage" by growing so big that the group can buy and sell assets more cheaply.

By passing along savings and reducing up-front fees, Schorsch hopes to create a sort of Vanguard Group for real estate investment trusts - bundles of properties managed to boost dividends and minimize taxes - and other assets.

Schorsch's major companies include American Realty Capital Properties Inc., a Nasdaq-traded real estate investment trust that owns most of the group's thousands of store properties; AR Capital, which manages specialized health-care, retail, and other real estate funds; and RCS Capital Corp., a New York Stock Exchange-traded holding company and investment bank that has lately acquired the stockbrokerage Investors Capital Holdings and the Hatteras Funds group.

These outfits are run by a growing team that includes veteran Philadelphia financiers and a growing list of women in prominent roles.

"These guys are riverboat gamblers - with the best research, due diligence, standards and practices available," says Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor who serves on American Realty's board.

"He has built a better mousetrap," says lawyer Richard Silfen, partner at Philadelphia's Duane Morris L.P., who has worked on key Schorsch deals.

William Stanley, president and founder of Berwyn-based Stanley-Laman Group and a director of several Schorsch companies, recalls how a Wall Street underwriter suggested Schorsch would collect a fortune for himself and other dealmakers by charging a percentage of assets to take American Realty public four years ago - a standard and lucrative fee imposed by publicly traded real estate companies.

"We'll waive it," Schorsch replied, according to Stanley. "One of the accountants cleared his throat and told Nick, 'We're walking away from $114 million.' He said, 'It's the right thing to do.' " By declining up-front fees and promising to defer management fees until investors had gotten back at least 6 percent returns, Schorsch was defying industry precedent and putting clients first, Stanley said.

Schorsch is an heir to a Philadelphia business family - his grandfather developed suburban real estate, his father was in the scrap-metal business, and he dropped out of Drexel (where he's now a trustee) to join his brothers running metal-alloy plants in Northeast Philadelphia and South Jersey. Schorsch sold the family factories and began buying surplus bank branches in the 1990s, setting up Jenkintown-based American Realty Finance Trust to take the business national.

Forced out in a business dispute with his friend and partner Lewis Ranieri, Schorsch moved to Manhattan in 2007. He opened a Park Avenue headquarters (but also kept offices in Jenkintown and Dresher, which now employ about 70 of his nearly 500 staff), and gathered a team of Philadelphia and New York finance veterans.

The group raised money from Wall Street contacts, and bet big on a rapid recovery by buying buildings housing Walmarts, Walgreens, and other stores at low prices in the depths of the recession.

It worked. As prices rebounded, Schorsch and his team packed their properties into portfolios they sold to yield-hungry investors turned off by stock and bond losses, and plowed profits and new capital-raisings into new properties, and new hires.

"I'm the only thing that ties them together," says Schorsch. "Myself and my team." That team is led by William Kahane, his real estate partner, a veteran of Morgan Stanley and Catellus Development Corp.

The group's rapid expansion has made some investors wary. "We are concerned about potential integration issues with the numerous transactions" by American Capital, analysts Michael Gorman and Timothy Feron wrote in a Janney Capital Markets report to clients.

"A lot of funds are starting to follow his model. The test will come when interest rates rise. Will all the money-raising continue?" said Peter Fass, partner in the New York office of Proskauer Rose.

Schorsch's group owns so many properties - more than 3,000, once current deals are completed - it has developed smartphone apps so clients can keep track of each building and its valuations, the kind of transparency that earns points with Securities and Exchange Commission regulators.

"I would like to work about 19 hours a day," Schorsch said in a quip to investors last week. In fact, Schorsch said in an interview, his wife, Shelley, who worked for his previous company but is now officially retired, urged him to build his current group of companies so he'd have enough to do to keep him busy.

Schorsch likes to compare himself to Liberty Media titan John Malone, who sets the tone for a diversified and often-changing business group.

"The goal here is to build the greatest company on the planet," Schorsch told the investors. "I am kind of in the second inning. I have a long way to go."

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