Georgian businessman's Hollywood story - From taxi driver to billionaire
13 May, 2014
Georgian businessman's Hollywood story - From taxi driver to billionaire
Richest Georgians can be found in nine other countries besides Georgia.
Davit Iakobashvili, Tamaz Somkhishvili, Davit Zhvania, Kakha Bendukidze, Levan Vasadze, Vyacheslav Mirilashvili – Georgians who got rich in various ways and periods of time. It is known that besides our country, these people live in nine different countries around the world. We will try to better acquaint you with them, their way of thinking and formulas of successful business.

Temur Sepiashvili, originally Tamir Sapir, is a Jew who emigrated from Georgia and is now among the world’s richest people, with his net worth estimated at 1.4 billion dollars in 2010. But it needs to be said that by the time Sepiashvili took 721st place among 937 of the world’s richest people, his net worth was already reduced to 700 million.

His company possesses 2.5 million square metres of real estate in. He leads a rather interesting life that resembles a Hollywood movie. Once an ordinary student in Tbilisi, Tamir went to America in search of a better life and lucked out by pure accident. This is a joke, of course, but every joke has a grain of truth to it.

Sapir speaks four languages, has a 17-storey house in Mexico, a personal plane that he bought from Syria’s former president Hafez Al-Assad and one of the biggest yachts in the world. However, he frequently got involved in various scandals, but always managed to come out clean. It is said that Sapir never hides his past and remembers with a smile the Soviet times when he earned his first money.
Temur Sepiashvili was born in Tbilisi. His family owned three rooms at Khodasheni Street, 14. His father was a major in the Soviet Army. Upon finishing school, Temur began studying journalism at Tbilisi State University. He was in his fourth year when his family left Georgia and he had to discontinue his studies. “My classmate at the university was Stalin’s grandson Vasily, whom I was friends with. I’ll never forget the time when I invited him to my home and introduced him to my father. When my father realized whose grandson he was, he fell on his knees and wept tears of joy” – recalls Sapir.

Following the death of his father, Sapir’s family ended up in a difficult social situation. But Temur managed to find a way out – his friend, who worked in the passport system, taught him to
process the passports for immigration to Israel, thus giving him a job. Back in the day there were long queues for passport-related matters, and Temur eagerly took to that new field of work, making quite a profit from it. He got married at the age of 24 and went to Israel soon afterwards. There was a war between Arabs and Israeli in 1973, so Temur decided to leave Israel and head to a small town in Kentucky. “I was ready to accept any job, so I ended up caring for elderly women. Every day I took them to a special facility where they entertained themselves by knitting, singing and other things. They were the ones who taught me English. Right next to me lived a rich man who owned several shops. He had a business selling tools and offered me to work for him.” – remembers the billionaire. He worked as a driver, janitor and a loader, while dedicating his free time to studying English and saving up money. In 10 months, his family came to live in New York and Temur Sepiashvili became a cabbie. “I worked day and night, because I wanted to buy out the car. I slept at the airport, waiting for the first flight to arrive. In six months, the taxi became mine. I made 300-400$ per day and had time to go with my family to the park, to the movies, to the restaurant”, - says Sapir. He had almost everything that was needed for a quiet life, but decided not to stop at that. Sapir knew that there is nothing to be gained without taking risks. One day he took all his savings as well as 10,000$ bank loan and, along with an emigrant Sam Kislin, invested it into opening an electronics shop on Broadway. “Emigrants visited our shop, mainly guests from the Soviet Union. What did they take back to their homes? Tape recorders and VHS’s,” Sapir recalls.

Former President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze played an important role in his success. “Once USSR’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, visited my shop. One of his bodyguards, Murad Kazishvili, turned out to be my childhood friend. Back in the day, an organization existed called “Council for American-Soviet Trade”, in which over a hundred large American companies participated, among them “Occidental Petroleum Hammer” and “Pepsi-Cola”, which also had business ties with the USSR. With Murad’s help, I also joined this organization and went to Moscow with Vice-President Bush, who headed the Council,” Tamir says. According to him, during his stay in Moscow, one of his friends advised him to start exporting carbamide to America. This substance is necessary for oil production and during Soviet times it cost 5 times less than in the US. The Carbamide trade gave Tamir his first million and as he says, whet his appetite.

He exported American clothing, footwear and tech to USSR while importing oil and oil products from there, investing profits into real estate in New York. Prices on real estate were low in 1995-1996: for example, a skyscraper that is now estimated to be worth approximately 1.5 billion dollars cost just 17 million back then. Sapir got incredibly lucky; according to his own words, it was nothing less than divine intervention. In 1997, real estate prices grew and property that Sapir bought for miniscule prices was sold for colossal amounts of money. This is how Sapir got his first billion.

In order for Tamir Sapir’s biography to be complete, recollections of his classmate, Sergo Davlianidze, must be also mentioned. “We managed to be friends and also fight in the 60’s. My classmate from Tbilisi State School #45 was a boxing enthusiast, just like me. Who could imagine that he would become a businessman? He lived in a communal apartment near an Ashkenazi synagogue in Old Tbilisi, where all neighbors had to use the same water closet. Last time I saw Temur was in 1984 in Moscow, when he studied at Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs’ academy. He already had his own business then and offered to provide me with foreign electronics and tech if I wanted to. He was also present at an opening of a synagogue in Tbilisi in 2009, but I failed to meet with him then” – recalls Temur Sepiashvili’s classmate. It is noteworthy that the fact of émigré billionaire’s study at Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs isn’t featured in any of his biographies and neither does Sapir himself talk about this in his recollections.

Currently he lives in New York in one of the most expensive houses near “Metropolitan Museum”, which he bought for 40 million dollars long ago. It is not known whether Sapir owns real estate in Georgia or whether he has any business interest in Georgia, but local Jews benefit from his charity. It is known that he financed the restoration of “Beit-Rahel” synagogue in Tbilisi. Sapir has two children – daughter Zina and son Alexi, who are also his business partners.

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