The Royal Family

When Lee Tabas went public with a letter questioning his brother Robert’s leadership of the family bank in Narberth, he pulled back the veil on a real-life soap opera: a storied, wealthy Main Line family torn asunder by greed, backstabbing and gossip; a colorful patriarch who pitted son against son; and a trail of scandal and lawsuits that has almost everyone not talking to someone else. Meet the Tabases

“Lee had no problem with that,” says Fogwell. Rather, he suspects, any trouble between the brothers got particularly prickly when the bank — along with every other bank in the country — started going downhill last fall. Which is why Fogwell calls Lee’s letter “snide.” “Merrill Lynch went south. So did Bear Stearns and Lehman’s and the Royal Bank of Scotland,” he points out. In this scary economy, with Robert in the captain’s chair, “Royal Bank isn’t doing that bad at all.”

“All those years, Robert was sort of in the background,” says Fred Sherman, chief economist for Royal Bank (and best known for his 25 years as a stock analyst for KYW Newsradio). “Suddenly he’s up in front now, and he’s doing an outstanding job. I admire that. Because these are difficult times for the banking industry.”

As a stockholder in a publicly held company, Lee had every right to make his opinion known. But to bash his brother in his letter so directly and publicly? Was Lee bitter that he’d ruled the bank under his father’s thumb and never got the chance to shine on his own? Or that his brother was getting the credit for keeping the bank he built afloat? Or that his little brother might actually be doing a better job than he did?

Or was it, simply, part of being a Tabas?

They grew up in a family where money was everything. Where siblings resented each other, and in-laws filed lawsuits — where cousins sued cousins. And partners. And friends.

“To tear a whole family apart over this is overkill,” says Fogwell. “How much money do you need?”

THE FUNNY THING is, the Tabas family started out with no money.

At all.

Once upon a time, in the heart of Russia, a poor peddler’s 13-year-old son, named Samuel Tabachnik, decided he was going to be something.

“I did not want to spend a lifetime of working to stay in the same place,” he later wrote in his memoirs. “I wanted to work to help my parents and my brothers and sisters.” So Samuel started collecting junk. He trudged by foot to nearby towns, collected trash, and sold it to wholesalers. Business was so good that he could afford to leave it all behind — in 1904, he bought a one-way ticket from Bialystok to Philadelphia. Without a penny in his pocket, the newly renamed Samuel Tabas ended up on Christian Street, where he did anything he could to make a buck — washed soda bottles, hawked tomatoes from a pushcart. Finally, he went back to what he knew best — selling scrap.

He saved and saved until he could send for his family, then set them up on Poplar Street, in the loveliest house they’d ever lived in. After just two years, Samuel headed east to Atlantic City, where he bought a warehouse. Then he bought a truck scale and a scrap-cutting machine, and opened Acorn Iron & Supply Company.