When Tevfik Arif set his sights on the Manhattan real estate market, he made it a priority to develop important connections with business and political insiders to help him establish a foothold in the industry.
Tevfik Arif is an ambitious entrepreneur, industrialist, investor and property developer with a diverse background and experience working in various markets around the world. Arif, whose family is Turkish, was born in the Soviet Union Republic of Kazakhstan.
With a keen eye for people and business, he pursued a degree in international relations at a university in Moscow. Upon completing his degree, Arif began his career as a civil servant in the Soviet Union Government Ministry of Trade within the ministry’s food and hospitality department. For 17 years Arif served within the government agency as chief economist and deputy director, gaining extensive knowledge and understanding of the inner workings between business leaders and government officials.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Arif left public service for the private sector. He started a private company, the Specialty Chemicals Trading Company, that dealt with the export-import of raw materials, primarily chrome and other rare metals. He continued to expand his interests in the mining and raw materials industry through advisory, managerial and ownership roles in several companies over the years.
With his experience and expertise in the hospitality industry gained serving in the Soviet government, Arif began investing and developing luxury hotels in Turkey, including the Hotel Labada situated on the Mediterranean coast, now part of the Rixos chain of resorts.
Delivering Luxury to the New York City Property Market
In 2001, Tevfik Arif ambitiously expanded his international luxury real estate ventures to the United States. He launched the company Bayrock Group and began investing in the New York City property market.
After first investing in commercial and residential property developments in Brooklyn, such as theLoehmann’s Seaport Plaza in Sheepshead’s Bay, he quickly outgrew the borough and set his sights on the more prestigious real estate market of Manhattan.
To generate new opportunities and to ensure the success of his new business enterprise, Arif made it a priority to establish mutually beneficial relationships with leading businesspeople and influential politicians. He sought out industry insiders to help him learn the ins and out of the New York City market. He positioned himself within a circle of influential New York City real estate investors.
Arif took Bayrock straight to the heart of Manhattan real estate by establishing the offices of the firm on the 24thfloor of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. This was not a coincidence, but a strategic decision by Arif, as it positioned the firm’s office directly outside the elevators used by executives with offices on the upper floors of the building, including Donald Trump himself, who had to transfer elevators before going down to the street level.
Through his networking efforts, Tevfik Arif was able to establish a partnership between Bayrock and another prominent Manhattan real estate property development firm, the Sapir Organization, founded by Georgian immigrant and self-made billionaire Tamir Sapir. This profitable alliance would lead to the construction of a luxury project that would become the highlight of Bayrock’s development portfolio.
Tackling the US Bureaucratic Structure
The United States bureaucratic system presented additional challenges for Arif, who was familiar working within the bureaucratic structures governing markets in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Europe. Property developers are subject to numerous federal, state and local zoning and building regulations, with cumbersome legislation and bureaucratic requirements potentially hampering the progress of development and construction.
Throughout the construction process, developers are also required to obtain several permits issued by local government agencies. From his previous government and business experience, Arif understood the need to build useful relationships with influential politicians who could help break down barriers and expedite the bureaucratic process.
Arif created alliances with local and federal officials, who had influence over zoning laws and controlled agencies responsible for the approval of building permits. He also made political donations to Hillary Clinton, then the Democratic Senator of New York and later Democratic candidate for president, and Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and Republican candidate for president.
Supporting politicians of both across the political divide is a strategic move rather than an ideological one. In supporting several candidates, a business leader is able to initiate a positive relationship with government leadership regardless of which political party the elected candidate belongs to. Arif made it a priority to maintain strong alliances with those in power by regularly attending political banquets and events, raising his public profile and maintaining lines of communication with government leaders.
Trump SoHo and Beyond
Continuing Bayrock’s expansion, Arif’s company and the Sapir Organization initiated a joint venture to develop a luxury hotel and condominium complex located in a prime real estate district in lower Manhattan. To raise the profile of their development, the partners approached renowned real estate developer Donald Trump proposing a licensing and operating agreement in which he would lease his name to the project. The luxury project would become known as Trump SoHo.
Under the agreement, Trump did not invest his own capital in developing the building that would feature his name, rather all financing, development and construction would be completed by Bayrock and the Sapir Organization. The Trump SoHo development was featured on Trump’s hit television show, The Apprentice, boosting its public profile.
The land purchased for the project was originally zoned for manufacturing, but Bayrock and the Sapir Organization were able to obtain approval for the design of the hotel-condo development with certain stipulations through negotiations with then-Democratic New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The $450 million 46-story skyscraper was completed in 2010.
Tevfik Arif and Bayrock explored the possibility of expanding the licensing partnership with Trump in projects developed in the United States and other countries, however, none of these projects were pursued. Arif and Trump ended their business partnership with the downturn of the real estate market during the recession in 2008.
Tevfik Arif, while maintaining an advisory role, has largely retired from the day to day operations of his family’s business. His entrepreneurial success has allowed his family to expand their operations globally into several industrial sectors and real estate markets. Through equal parts ambition and perseverance, Arif has transformed himself from a young boy growing up in Soviet Kazakhstan to a savvy business leader with successful ventures across the globe.