The Closing with Izak Senbahar

Mar.March 01, 2013 07:00 AM

Izak Senbahar (credit: STUDIO SCRIVO)

Izak Senbahar is the president of the Alexico Group, the development firm behind high-profile condo projects such as Grand Beekman on East 51st Street, 165 Charles Street, the Laurel on East 67th Street and the condo conversion of the Mark Hotel. In January, Alexico secured $350 million in construction financing to jump-start its stalled 60-story residential condo at 56 Leonard Street in Tribeca. The Herzog & de Meuron–designed project will have 145 units and is now slated to be complete by 2015. The company is currently working on projects with a combined value of around $2 billion.

What is your full name?

Izak Senbahar. No middle name.

What’s your date of birth?

March 21, 1959.

Where did you grow up?

Istanbul. I went to the French Lycée [a French-language school] until I was 17. Our background is Spanish, but my parents thought the French education was better. It’s a city of east meets west — very James Bond-ish.

What were you like as a kid?

I was funny. I was the class clown at times.

What did your parents do?

My father had a factory for bras. That’s a good business, no? It beats real estate. My mom took care of us.

When did you move to the United States?

In 1977, when I was 17. I went to the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to become a mechanical engineer. After that, I went to NYU to do my master’s in business. I was always a bit of a rebel. That’s why I came to the States. I thought, “That’s a country for rebels.”

What was your first job out of NYU?

It was at Sucre et Denrées, the biggest French commodity trading company. I was at the precious metals desk. For a 23- or 24-year-old kid, to be trading a lot of volume, it was very exciting. It was all computer screens, paperwork and people screaming at each other. You had to be quick.

How did you first get into real estate?

I was about 26. An international construction company called Kiska, based in Istanbul, wanted to build a Manhattan high-rise. They wanted somebody local, and I was the only guy they knew. I said to them, “I really don’t know [anything about real estate],” and they said, “We’ll teach you.” It just fell on my lap, and I was scared. You can’t find a job like that in the classifieds.

Why did you eventually leave Kiska?

They went into infrastructure work. I liked that, too, but it’s more jazzy to build condos or hotels.

Where do you live?

On the Upper East Side on Fifth Avenue next to the Guggenheim.

Do you have any other homes?

I have a home in Water Mill, Long Island. I spend just the summers there. I’m a city person.

How many kids do you have?

Two. Alexi and Oliver. One is 18 and one is 16. Alexi is at SMU [Southern Methodist University] and the other one is in a boarding school. We’re empty nesters.

Your wife, Sarah, 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.

How did you meet Alexico cofounder Simon Elias?

In the gym. I used to live in 100 UN Plaza, and Simon and I were neighbors. He was in the hotel business and I was in construction and development. At first, we just told each other about our deals. At one point we said maybe we’d do a deal together. Then we did one and just kept doing it.

Is there a project from your career that stands out as being particularly meaningful?

The one I’m building now at 56 Leonard. It’s going to be a landmark. It’s sitting on an Anish Kapoor sculpture [integrated into the building’s base]. I can’t wait for it to go up.

That project stalled after the financial crisis. What was that time like for the company?

That was a tough time. We opened the sales office the day Lehman Brothers went down. We saw the recession coming, but we didn’t think it was going to be that bad. After Lehman, our bankers [wouldn’t] go forward with the construction loan. We also thought maybe it wasn’t the right time to build, so we mothballed it until two years ago. In the last 18 months, we began talking to the banks again and we got a construction loan started.

There are a lot of sponsors involved with that project.

It’s a partnership between Dune Capital, Goldman Sachs and Alexico. A normal meeting is at least 15 people.

You faced foreclosure suits at the Alex Hotel and the Flatotel after the recession. What was that like?

The recession hit us pretty hard. It looked like we were going to lose some [properties]. That’s what happened to the Alex and Flatotel. We kept the rest. We learned from that to be more conservative. Deleveraging is a new word.

Do you have any hobbies?

I like drumming, percussion and bongos. I have drums at my house. At parties, people tell me to join the band and I’ll go play with them. Or maybe I bother them, I don’t know.

What do you read?

I read Dalai Lama books and anger management books. I’m short-tempered. so I have to work on it. I read a lot of things that teach me how to behave.

You don’t seem like an angry person…

I am, trust me. I had an ulcer when I was 17. I’m a fair and polite person, I think, but I can’t take it when other people are not fair and polite.

Do you have a strategy for dealing with your temper?

I usually say, “I’m going to hang up now and I’ll call you when I feel better.”

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