Ara Hovnanian, president and CEO of Hovnanian Enterprises

Ara Hovnanian

August 27, 2007 06:39PM

President and chief executive officer of  Hovnanian Enterprises, the sixth-largest homebuilder in the United States. The firm has delivered close to 300,000 homes since his father founded it in 1959.

What is your full name?
Ara Kevork Hovnanian.

What is your date of birth?
July 4, 1957.

Where do you live?
I live on the Upper East Side, and I have a home in Rumson, N.J.

What was the first job you ever had?
My whole career has been spent at Hovnanian Enterprises. In the summers, before I graduated high school, I started on the construction sites, cleaning houses and carrying kitchen cabinets and appliances from the trucks into the homes.

What is your total compensation?
The salary is fixed at about $1 million. In 2006 [other] compensation went down dramatically [from 2005]. The bonus went from about $15 million to $5.8 million. The value of the stock options went down to $7 million from $19 million.

In 2007 the bonus will likely be close to zero, and the value of the stock options will be considerably less than in 2006. [Hovnanian’s stock, for the year to date, had lost 49 percent of its value as of press time.]

How does it feel to be rich?
My father [Kevork] is 84. He still works every day. He lives in the same house he lived in 35 years ago. He could have retired many years ago or sold out. He’s not driven by the financial rewards, but the dream to build a world-class homebuilding company. I don’t quite have his stock ownership [Ara owns less than 10 percent, and his father owns around 30 percent] and therefore don’t have his wealth, but I could have retired, sold stock and lived very comfortably for some time, but that’s not what drives me either. I love the business. I eat, sleep and breathe it.

Obviously we are in America and the financial rewards are wonderful, and I believe in capitalism, but it’s far more than the compensation which is driving me.

When it comes to homebuilding, is bigger better?
I think better is better. It’s more important to be a really good homebuilder than a really big homebuilder. But if you do things well and you reinvest in the company, bigness does come as a natural outgrowth, and has for us.

What is a personal example of a time when you turned calamity into success?
I suppose the biggest personal calamity I had was losing my 15-year-old son in a boating accident [five years ago]. I wouldn’t be able to say I turned that into a success, but I think it made me a more sensitive and caring person.

How do you unwind?
I like good food, so my wife and I love to go to different restaurants. I’m very active in sports and like to work out regularly, either on a
bike in Central Park or in the gym in my building. I developed a bad knee, so biking has become more defensive because it’s a little more kind on the knee.

I’m a squash player as well. I play at the Racquet [and Tennis Club] on Park Avenue [between 52nd and 53rd streets]. And I like to travel. I’m just giving you the tip of the iceberg.

What’s your favorite restaurant?
We are regulars at three different places. Number one is Harry Cipriani, which just reopened, number two is Nello, and number three is Le Bilboquet. They’re all within a few blocks of our home.

Do you and your wife cook?
My wife loves to cook. Her mother ran a gourmet cooking school for a number of years in Texas, where my wife is from. Interestingly, I went to Le Cordon Bleu one summer, a cooking school in Paris, when I was in college, but I think it was more to impress the girls than serious long-term interest. I gave that up after college. My son, incidentally, went to Cordon Bleu this past summer. He’s 17, and he has a passion for cooking.

Does your wife work?
She is an artist. She’s at her studio painting every day. She drops off the children at school in the morning and goes straight to the studio, and comes home at the end of the day when they’re coming home from school. She has a big show coming up in November at a gallery, Jason McCoy, on 57th Street.

What do you read every day?

About 10 bajillion e-mails and usually the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

What was the last book you read?
One of the last I read was “Everyman,” by Philip Roth [Vintage, April 2007]. I went to school at Penn [the University of Pennsylvania], and Philip Roth was a professor when I was there, although I didn’t take any of his courses.

Do you have an iPod?
I do.

What do you have on it?
Robin Thicke, Ayo, Corinne Bailey Rae, James Blunt, Nelly Furtado, John Legend and Maroon 5, to name a few.

What is your apartment like?
Actually, I have a traditional apartment in its bones and moldings, but my wife and I designed it with a Dutch designer, Piet Boon, and it’s quite contemporary inside.

What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
They probably don’t know that I am a big sports nut. I don’t like to watch any sports, but I like to participate in sports. And they probably don’t realize what a fabulous dancer I am. I attend a lot of philanthropic events, and if there’s a good band you’ll always find me on the dance floor with my wife, whether it’s swing dancing or hip-hop.

Are your kids like — “Oh my God!”?
No, they’re used to it. They only say that when I sing, because I’m so bad.

Interview by Lauren Elkies

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