From rural Kazakhstan to Trump SoHo in Manhattan, Tevfik Arif has built a successful business that spans continents and industries.
Born in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan to an ethnic Turkish family, Tevfik Arif ambitiously pursued his interests in international business to establish himself as a leading entrepreneur. His most prominent achievement in the United States was the development of Trump SoHo by Bayrock Group, his property development and real estate firm.
Tevfik Arif from the beginning
Arif’s career was built over decades that have seen dramatic shifts in the way business is conducted. He completed his education in international relations and economics at a Moscow University. His early career took him down a familiar path for young, successful and aspiring young men of his generation, a position within the Soviet government bureaucracy.
Tevfik Arif worked for 17 years within the Hospitality Management Department of the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade. He held numerous positions during his tenure, rising to deputy head of the department. There is no doubt that his time working within the Soviet government sparked an interest in hotel property development and management which he would eventually pursue in the private sector.
During the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the privatization of industry that followed, many enterprising individuals seized the vast opportunities to enter the new economy through investments and business acquisitions. Arif and his brothers were among this new class of rising business entrepreneurs. They invested in the natural resources sector of Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics. Arif furthered his interests in the industry through the development of additional companies and partnerships, eventually, he would expand his business into the automobile and food sectors.
Pursuing a new direction in business
The success achieved through these early ventures enabled Tevfik Arif to shift his focus to pursue his passion in real estate and the tourism industry. His time as a civil servant working within the hospitality sector of the Soviet Union gave Arif a different perspective on the tourism and hotel industry.
Relying on this experience and knowledge, Arif’s first projects included the Labada hotel in Antalya and the predecessor to the Turkish hospitality & leisure firm Rixos Group. These endeavors introduced the all-inclusive luxury resort model that would eventually flourish in Turkey.
Motivated by his success in Central Asia and Europe and a desire to be closer to his family living in New York, Arif made the move to expand his real estate ventures to the United States. He founded the New York-based Bayrock Group in 2001. The company’s early projects were focused on small to mid-level developments and included the renovation of a shopping center in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, a popular enclave for former Russian and Soviet immigrants to the city.
Bayrock Group and Trump SoHo
Growing confidence and understanding of the market would propel Arif to seek greater heights for his rising Bayrock Group. The company opened a new office space in the epicenter of Manhattan’s prestigious and competitive real estate industry within the exclusive Trump Tower.
It did not take long before Bayrock Group, a fast upstart in the industry, caught the eye of the Trump Organization. The companies began talks to collaborate on upcoming projects in deals that would be mutually beneficial to both – providing notoriety to Bayrock’s projects and licensing opportunities for the Trump Organization.
Bayrock Group was in the early stages of development of a new hotel and condominium tower complex in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan with its development partners, the Sapir Organization. The two companies signed a licensing and management contract with the Trump Organization for the project, securing the use of the Trump brand for the Trump SoHo Tower.
The Trumps did not invest any of their own capital in the project but in the licensing deal, they acquired 17% equity in Trump SoHo. These deals were a common practice for the Trump Organization which was focused solely on licensing and managing contracts during the time.
Trump SoHo was completed in 2008. The $450 million, 46-story, 391-unit hotel-condo complex became a distinctive feature of the Manhattan skyline and a luxurious addition to the city’s hospitality offerings. The high-profile achievement would represent a turning point for the Trump brand.
Tevfik Arif: After Trump SoHo
Bayrock Group and the Trump Organization were interested in pursuing additional projects under similar licensing and development agreements. Potential ventures in the United States – including in Arizona and Florida – and abroad were considered. Ultimately, none of these deals progressed beyond the early stages and after the United States real estate market downturn in 2008, the partnership between the two companies ended without any viable options for collaboration.
During the years that followed, Donald Trump entered politics and become the controversial president of the United States. Many of his previous business deals and partnerships would come under the microscope of the American public and desperate conspiracy theorists. Tevfik Arif, as a foreign businessman who came out of the former Soviet Union, became an easy target for those trying to establish a Trump-Russia connection. These reputation-damaging, unfounded claims do not reflect the reality of Arif as an individual or as a businessman and there is no credible evidence to support them.
Donald Trump and Tevfik Arif’s companies established a legitimate business partnership that ended when opportunities to cooperate no longer existed. This working relationship, including the development of Trump SoHo, concluded long before Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 US presidential election began.
As for Tevfik Arif, his Bayrock Group ended its business operations in the United States in 2008. He continues to maintain interests in Central Asia and Europe but has retired from the daily activities of the business he built, passing the reigns to the next generation of business leaders in his family to which he remains a vital and trusted advisor.