Entrepreneur Chahe Yerevanian

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  • Topic: Real estate, Real estate development, Real property
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  • Published : October 8, 2012
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COVER
FEATURE

Chahe Yerevanian took his
family’s struggling real estate
development business and
turned it into one of Lebanon’s
biggest players. Here’s how
the company remodeled from
the bottom line up.
By Eliot Stempf

Chahe
Yerevanian
Reconstructing
business

40| Entrepreneur October 2012

T

he turn of the millenium bore ill for
the three brothers of the Yerevanian
family, Vahe, Chahe and Serge. Ara
Yerevanian, their father and founder of the
family real estate development firm, passed
away after months of fighting cancer – and
having led the family through a host of other
struggles besides.
Ara had shuffled his family between Paris
and Lebanon with the ebb and flow of conflict
in the civil war, and eventually landed his
family in Canada. The war hardly could’ve
come at a worse time for Ara; just three years
before the calamity began in ‘75, he’d been
elected a member of the Lebanese parliament.
Yet Canada cast its own set of troubles
on the family’s fortunes. The recession of
the late ‘80s hit the real estate development
partnership they’d established with the
Armoyan family, a successful ArmenianCanadian clan. The threat of bankruptcy drove the Yerevanians back to Paris in 1990. Only the
conclusion of the war offered a reprieve: In
1995, the family returned to Lebanon.
Ara marked the return with a whole new
venture: the development company SAYFCOAra Yérévanian and Sons. Their focus was to provide affordable housing. “Since the ‘60s
and ‘70s my father had chosen the middle
income bracket,” Chahe says. “His slogan was ‘a
home for everyone’; he believed that since the
government couldn’t help provide housing, he
would take the task on himself.”
Serge, the youngest, was still in school;
but Vahe and Chahe joined their father. Vahe
was in charge of managing the construction,
while Chahe was to cover sales and marketing.
Business finally began to pick up for the family.
From 1994 to 1998, they report averaging a
turnover of $3 million to $5 million a year.
But the death of Ara suddenly tossed the
company’s future into doubt. The company
was at the time built around him, and the trust
that he himself had personally garnered. No
one knew his sons. The family business had at
that time taken on more risk than it had in the
past, all while the Lebanese real estate market
was foundering. The family had just purchased
$5 million of land in New Rawda – paid for
entirely by credit.
Saddled with debt and with sales at a
standstill, by 2001 the business was on the
brink of a collapse. So the family called on
Chahe in 2002 to rescue the business. “I
believed,” Chahe declares, “that if I proved that
I could take this middle sized family business
that was going through rough times to the
next level, I could prove that I deserved to be
the chairman.”

To do so Chahe had to leave his other
ventures. He’d been a co-founder in Allô Taxi,
and a far more personal project, the real estate
portal OneEstate.com. During the time of its
operation the website was one of the top real
estate sites region wide; Chahe reports that
they achieved $15-20 million dollars in sales
from which the site took a commission. “It was
back in the dot com days and the company was
doing well,” Chahe recalls. “I’m not going to say
we were on the verge of a groundbreaking IPO,
but business was solid.”
Nevertheless, the connections he made
through OneEstate.com would be the
foundation on which he’d rebuild the family
company. But the first item on the agenda, of
course, was to grapple with the ballooning debt
and interest rates. The bankers were calling.
So Chahe sold land – and lots of it. Though
the ledger was steeped in red, the company was
nevertheless flush with assets A few thousand
square meters went in one direction, ten
thousand in another, fifteen thousand elsewhere.
In short, Chahe hit the reset button on the
company. What they’d acquired during their...
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