The Real Deal
July 7, 2009
Miki Naftali is CEO and president of the Elad Group — a real estate and hotel development conglomerate based in Israel — and its New York-based subsidiary, Elad Properties. Naftali’s signature project is the Plaza Hotel, which Elad purchased in 2004 for $675 million and spent $500 million to renovate. Elad is also planning to erect a 3,000-room Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. And along with its partners, the firm is in the midst of building a $1.1 billion hotel, residential and retail development in Singapore called Beach Road.
What is your full name? Michael Naftali.
What is your date of birth? June 7, 1962.
Where did you grow up? Tel Aviv.
So why do people call you Miki? I insisted from a really early age to be called Miki. I didn’t like Michael. In my middle school graduation, my teacher called me to the stage and she called Michael Naftali and I refused to go up. After two, three times, she said Miki.
Where do you live now? In Demarest, N.J.
How do you get to work? I drive. I don’t need a driver.
What kind of car do you drive? The BMW 750 Li.
What about traffic? I really don’t care, because I leave early in the morning and the minute I’m in the car, I’m working. We work all over the world, so early in the morning, I’m speaking with Asia or Israel, and when I’m coming home late at night I’m speaking with the West Coast or, again, with Asia.
What time do you leave in the morning? Around 6:30 a.m. I’m home as early as 8 p.m. [or] as late as 9:30 p.m.
How long have you been married? 17 years [to Frieda Naftali]. Do you have kids? Two girls, Danielle, 16, and Loren, 13. Are they at the age where they’re embarrassed by their parents? They’re embarrassed. They don’t want to go out with us to restaurants or watch a movie.
When did you first move to the United States? I graduated in 1989 from U.S.C. My sister at the time lived in California, so it was quite convenient for me.
Was that your first time in the U.S.? I [visited for] a couple of months in ’84 or ’83.
How did you get into real estate? I needed to fund some of my tuition and my living expenses, so I started to work as a property manager. Then, I established my own company. I managed three buildings in rough areas in Downtown L.A. That’s how I started.
When did you first set foot in the Plaza Hotel? When I traveled in ’84, like any other tourist in New York. I saw the Plaza and obviously I was very impressed. [But] I first looked at it seriously [when Elad] was bidding on what is now 15 Central Park West. The day that I found out that I lost the bid, I was walking around the park and I was looking at what is the next opportunity for us. I entered into the Plaza and said, “Okay, let’s try to buy the Plaza.”
What aspects of the project are you most proud of, and what do you wish you’d done differently? I’m most proud of the extensive restoration work that we did. We had many challenges through the way, but I’m very proud that we put it back for New Yorkers to enjoy … for the next 100 years.
What do you say to criticism about the quality of construction at the Plaza? I encourage everyone to come and see the hotel, walk the public spaces, to see the amazing restoration of the Palm Court, to book a room, to see the amazing rooms that we have, and then to make a decision.
Switching gears, what are your hobbies? I like boating, sailing. Do you have a boat? I don’t, at this moment.
So do you have to rely on friends to take you sailing? Either friends, or whenever I have time, I rent boats in different parts of the world. For example, in the Caribbean, in the British Virgin Islands. I like that part of the world because it’s very natural, not too many tourists.
Are you pretty skilled at sailing? Yes. I’ve been doing it since my mid-20s.
What are your best and worst qualities? I think my best quality is that I’m very determined. I make things happen, I get the job done. Some people might say that I’m, maybe, too aggressive. I hope that people see me as fair.
Do you have a bad temper? I don’t know [if I have a] bad temper, but when I’m upset, I know how to voice my opinion.
In your family, are you the bad cop or the good cop? I’m actually the nice cop with the girls, but I would say at work I’m probably the bad cop.
What are your daughters doing for the summer? Loren is at sleep-away camp. Danielle is in Hawaii on a Teen Tour. It’s funny how they communicate these days. She contacts me on BBM [BlackBerry Messenger].
Is that the easiest way to get in touch with you, on the BlackBerry? If she calls, I answer.