AN INTERVIEW WITH KAMBIZ MERABI, a Commercial Real Estate Developer
Conducted by Scott Thornburn, July 16, 2017
Kambiz Merabi is the president and CEO of the Merabi Organization Group (MOG), a development firm behind many high-profile luxury building projects. In January, Merabi Organization Group started bidding on a $900 million-plus project, having secured construction financing to jump-start the stalled progress on an 80-story mixed (retail, hotel, and hotel) residential condo at 361 South Hill Street in LA. The Ashai Group-designed project will have 145 hotel-condo-residential units in 2021. The company is currently working on projects with a combined value of around $2 billion. Mr. Kambiz Merabi, 58, is a New York-raised luxury developer of office, retail and residential rental buildings. His company also provides property management services for all his buildings. MOG owns the landmark Friar Professional Building on Friar in Van Nuys and is currently a developer of 3941 Weslin Ave. in Sherman Oaks designed by the well-known architecture firm Ashai Design in Beverly Hills.
Kambiz is a Los Angeles-based investor, developer, and long-term owner of prime real estate in NYC, & LA. He is recognized for pioneering the development of emerging neighborhoods in NYC & LA. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of Van Nuys and sits on the board of the people for Van Nuys Museum. He is also a noted philanthropist who supports the arts, civic organizations, heart disease and breast cancer issues.
“I started working, and I really developed the passion for commercial Real Estate that was what I did at the family business,” he said. “The more I did it, the more my passion grew.”
In retrospect, working with my grandfather, father and older brother “was the best thing that happened to me,” Kambiz said. I had to work hard and learn the business .My job was not offered to me on the silver platter since it was my family’s business therefore “Being successful, you don’t go straight up,” “There’s going to be learning, making mistake, but never repeat the same mistake and other obstacles along the way to reach the top.” Kambiz said.
What is your full name?
No middle name?
Yes I have Aharon which is my dad’s both maternal and paternal grandfather’s name
Where did you grow up?
I was born on January 21, 1959. I grew up in Tehran, and then Great Neck, NY. I went to Queens College. My family’s background is Jewish Persian; however, my parents thought the US education system was better than Europe’s. New York is a great, diverse cultural city where the west meets the east and middle east.
What were you like as a kid?
I was serious kid growing up. I was a leader in my class, but I was also always a bit of a rebel.
Did you play sports as a kid?
I played water polo, volleyball, soccer and tennis. My favorite sport was water polo, I love the water.
When did you move to the United States?
I left Persia in 1978 and spent six months in Italy before I came to the U.S. in 1979.
When did you start working?
I started working at our family business in the summer of 1979.
How is business going so far this year, 2017?
Surprisingly well. We just started the construction of 3941 project and we already have a few offers to sell.
How did you know real estate is what you would like to do?
I was about 26. An international luxury clothing company, based in Italy, wanted to open a store in Manhattan on Madison Avenue. They approached me regarding renting a store on Madison Ave. and wanted to know if I had a building there. To my luck we had just purchased a building on the northeast corner of Mad and 74th Street (24 E 74, and 935/941 Mad Ave.), that a 3,000-square-foot corner store supermarket was leaving. They took the store at prime rent, and that’s when I realized I really love commercial real estate “1985”.
Why did you eventually change from building owner to developer?
I started renovating our buildings in 1992 when the economy started improving, but I could only do so much to these old walk-up buildings. It took a few years until I decided to build my own buildings the way I like them to be. My passion is luxury class A buildings, it’s jazzier to build luxury rental and it makes a difference in regard to the tenants you attract.
Where do you live?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 from NYC to be near my in-laws. They live in Encino, and so do we.
Do you have any real estate in New York still?
Yes I do, in Upper Eastside, and on 53rd street. I still have an apartment on Park Ave, and 71 street. I’m a city person, and I love NYC.
How many kids do you have?
I have three angels: Adena, Adiela, and Daniela. They are in universities. We’re empty-nesters.
Your wife, Arezoo, is often called a socialite. Are you active on the social scene as well?
Not as much as her. She does a lot of charity work and keeps me on my toes with our social life and traveling.
What’s your main role at MOG?
I help with the design, management, and execution of most of our projects, and I’m also in charge of implementing my vision and mission for MOG. I like to negotiate all my commercial leases as well. I’m a perfectionist and very hands-on. I know it’s my weakness. I have a hard time delegating tasks and responsibilities, although I’m working on it to improve my control in my company. I’m working on so many things to improve on my personality, so soon I will be a renewed “improved Kambiz Merabi,” then I’ll be perfect.
How did you get to the Van Nuys area?
A very good friend of my brother-in-law is an attorney whose wife is a broker in Van Nuys. They both were working in Van Nuys and I knew I was a developer. At first, they just told me about the south-east corner of Victory and Van Nuys and an assemblage that was up for sale.
At that point I was ready to start, however that assemblage did not work out because every property had a different owner and they all teamed up to raise the selling price. I started purchasing on Sylvan Street and began to build the first project. Then just kept buying on Sylvan to build.
How did you get involved in politics?
My parents are nonaligned & unbiased; however I am not like them. I have opinions on matters that are important to my family, community and country. I was introduced to a well-known political UN reporter who started taking me to political events in NYC. Arezoo does not like the politics but has supported me in all my involvement in politics.
What had motivated you to run for Van Nuys Neighborhood Council?
In 2014 it started simply as articulating a “desire to genuinely make a difference.” I was motivated to run after many conversations I had with other landlords in the Van Nuys area who did not want to take any initiative to help the community, and to help with fund raising for improving parks and libraries in the area for the community, and they were not willing to take on the challenge. As a businessman and landlord of several buildings in the area I feel there is a great potential for the community. To help existing businesses, expand senior programs, kids’ after-school activity, help the homeless situation, attract new year-round businesses and engage the community to attract young families to be more involved in Van Nuys are just some of the positive directions that I was hoping to accomplish by running for the vacated seat in Van Nuys.
Who are the politician and president you admire?
The Presidents, Washington, Lincoln and Regan, politician I have none these days..
There are a lot of sponsors involved with your 361 projects.
Only one, It’s going to be a partnership between a hotelier and Merabi Organization Group. A normal meeting is at least 15 people, it is my dream building.
How did you weather the great recession of 2007-2009?
The recession hit us pretty hard. It looked like we were going to lose some [properties]. That’s what happened to our NY properties and just a few here in LA but we managed to keep the rest. We learned from that to be more conservative and more prudent.
What differentiates MOG from other leading developers in New York or Los Angeles?
At MOG we always strived to be a place-maker and a leader in creating best-in-class luxury living experiences in both the home and the office – I think that’s what sets us apart. It’s important that each of MOG’s building reflects our appreciation for art, environmentally friendly and this has played a large role in helping us redefine neighborhoods and set new standards in building amenities and design.
Outside of your own projects, what’s your favorite new development currently under construction within the LA?
I am hoping the Governor take initiative and push to improve California’s highways infrastructure, and the mayor of LA take initiative on major commitments at LAX and Van Nuys airports, new bridges, and renovations at the LA Convention Center. Together these infrastructure projects propel the state and the city to new heights and enable developers to plan even bigger real estate projects and investments.
What are MOG’s key priorities for the future?
As MOG looks to the future, we’re aiming to seize opportunities that vary in strategy and returns, strive for efficiency, and set new, higher-than-ever standards. We’ll continue to focus on opportunities in the commercial, residential, retail, and hotel realms in NY & LA urban centers.
What advise do you have for people who want to get in to Real Estate or business?
I say to them plan for success, Know that THE POWER OF SUCCESS WILL transform communities, therefore plan well. My pointers for them are:
- Start Small at the beginning of any investment,
- Prepare and plan with exit strategy
- Be Patient, And Don’t Change For The Sake Of Change
- Surround Yourself With Successful People who are Two Steps Ahead Of You
- Know what you want make an image in your head or on paper and Get Clarity On What You exactly Want in real estate or business
- Do not give up, go to the end, success lays at the finish line for the beginners.
The people that have influenced your life the most?
We all need people in our lives who love a sincerely care about us, we can look up to, whether that’s our parent, a friend or even a famous person we respect. We need their encouragement during the hard times and a nice pat on the back from them during the good times.
There are many people who have influenced my life, thank you to my maternal great-grandparent, grandparent, my parents, and my aunt Dr. Pari Cohen, because of them who I am today, and I have a greater application for many things in my life.
Who are the people that inspire you?
There are many people who inspire me from various walks of life. Some are famous people who have changed the world for the better. Others reflect a more personal choice like My parents, My wife, my daughters, my employees and my tenants.
Who are the well know people who you admire or are inspired by?
For good or for bad, our leaders can be powerful forces for change in the world. But who are the most impaction people and I admire the most that they ever hold prominent positions of power are: Cyrus the great, Winston Churchill, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Condoleezza Rice, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem.
Who are the Influential Entrepreneurs that you admire? Andrew Carnegie, William “Bill” Gates, Jeff Bezos, Coco Chanel, Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, John P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like to play chess, and tennis, I love to listen to music, and clothing and shoes are my hobbies.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I do like silence, but it is a rare luxury, so I like pretty much all kinds of music (except Gangster Rap) Classical, Film Music, Musicals, Rock , Pop, etc.
Who are your favorite music artist?
This is a LONG answer. Sorry about that… but I found myself incapable of assembling a small list.
My favorite music artist are Madonna, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Gwen Stefani
The bands are The Beatles
The Rolling Stones
Who are your favorite actor artist?
Again, I am sorry it is going to be a LONG list.
Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, keira Knightley, Michael Douglas, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Catherin Zeta Jones, Johnny Depp, Kate Hudson, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, and Robert Downey.
Who are your favorite artist/painter?
Again, it is a LONG answer. The language of painting says something different to every viewer, I have many.
When I took my family to the Met (Metropolitan museum in NYC) every month I asked my three children to select a favorite painting each time.
They would remember art and painting are timeless, the artist are Icons of museums forever, and they are ultimate learning environment for any age and provide essential resources for the community.
What do you read?
I read history and autobiographies of political icons. I read the Dalai Lama’s books, and books about self-improvement.
What are your favorite books?
Here we go again This is a LONG answer.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Odyssey by Homer
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad,
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
Maus by Art Spiegelman.
Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls-taught me about loss and love
The Giver, by Lois Lowry-taught me about the symbiosis between pain and pleasure, and grief and happiness
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson -taught me about individuality and friendship; about growing up and finding out who you want to be
Who are your fashion Designer?
Tom Ford, Etro, Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander Mcqueen, Ralph Lauren, and Gianni Versace.
What are your favorite car and what do you drive?
My favorite car is Bugatti, but I like Aston Martin Rapide too, I know Bugatti is delivering the CHIRON SUPERCARS that I think is ultimate car and toy for men like me. I drive a four-door sedan MB,
Did you know every person has a story to tell, And so, does the car that person drives, Impacts their Image?
Yes in LA it makes sense.
What is/are your favorite color/s?
I love blue, green and gray.
Did you know, the blue represents love and harmony, you are reliable, sensitive and always make an effort to think of others. You like to keep things clean and tidy and feel that stability is the most important aspect in your life. And Green. the color green is often affectionate, loyal and being strait forward. Gray is a cool, neutral, and balanced color.
I did not know this, wow it is so true, thank you for sharing it with me.
Thank you, Mr. Merabi, for your time and thoughts. I look forward to future interview with you.