InsiderBusinessGilad Shabtai: "No investors, no future"

Gilad Shabtai: “No investors, no future”

Interview by Pambos Charalambous

Following his investment into over 130,000 sq.m. of land in Zakaki, Limassol, multinational businessman Gilad Shabtai reveals more about this landmark deal, as well as his future plans for investment in Cyprus and beyond. The man behind pioneering land development company Emerland Real Estate by Gilad Shabtai, the real estate expert, has been investing in Cyprus for 25 years.

He explains how Cyprus could greatly benefit from attracting more investors like him.

What made you decide to make such a significant investment in Limassol’s Zakaki area?

It was the area’s proximity to the upcoming integrated casino resort that first got my attention. I was interested in the positive impact that City of Dreams Mediterranean is expected to have on the surrounding area. I know that the casino will influence the evolution of the area as a whole which will be further enhanced by the golf course and the mall, creating a new destination for Cyprus – both for locals and international visitors. This is the main reason that I purchased it. But also, because we have a long-term vision for Cyprus, with big plans for further development. I strongly believe in the island’s potential, as a dynamic and growing economy, as well as a lucrative real estate hub.

I aim to retain our position as industry leaders, setting the new standards and raising the benchmark for premium quality, high-end real estate opportunities that maximise value. And this is reflected in our expertly curated asset portfolio of iconic projects which elevate the destination. Zakaki fits into this portfolio perfectly. And I intend to keep acquiring land for another 10 years, mostly residential properties with integrated services and facilities as well as hotels. Most importantly, we want all of the projects managed by us to maintain the same consistent high quality.

How do you select projects for investment?

Although I have a trusted team of experts to advise me in the many sectors I invest in – from real estate and technology to agriculture and aquaculture – I have also learned to rely on my gut feeling. My team may have deep understanding and know- how in the field, which can sometimes lead them to advise me against an investment. But even though the experts are saying ‘no’, if my instinct says ‘yes’, I will go for it. When selecting projects for investment, I have two advantages in my favour. The first is that, as an outsider, sometimes you see the bigger picture in a different way than the locals. With this bigger picture in mind and basing my final decision on my experienced eye and gut feeling, I believe I am able to see the future opportunities and beyond, which is what happened in the casino area. Zakaki as a district already had a reputation in Limassol, which caused locals to sometimes disregard this part of the city. But when I came in, I saw the impressive development happening there, with the casino, the mall, the golf course, and I realised that there was huge potential here for the repositioning of Zakaki – transforming the area into a new vibrant and desirable destination. This is all about the future of Limassol.

The second advantage is that we are a small team of effective decision makers, who together with timely and efficient procedures, are in a position to act quickly. As a private company, when we see an opportunity, we can take a fast decision.

You have chosen to work closely with UDS architects for Emerland’s projects. Why UDS?

Pavlos Antoniades and Andreas Eleftheriou, UDS Architects is established as a leading architecture office in Cyprus. Their work is unified by a mission to design exceptional architecture which respects its surroundings, and transforms the economic, cultural and social life of residents and users. And we found a lot of respect to this culture along with their huge expertise in high scale developments.

What do you believe makes Cyprus an attractive destination for foreign investment?

My decision to do business in Cyprus was motivated by more than the country’s overall favourable infrastructure and rising opportunities. I am also attracted to this beautiful island thanks to its thriving and dynamic business environment. The market and the economy are both growing and Cyprus is a very convenient base for technology companies. There is also an excellent, superior quality of experts and corporate service providers here in Cyprus. Such as lawyers, accountants and consultants – all of whom excel in their respective field. The bespoke support I have received through these top-calibre professionals has empowered my businesses in Cyprus to maximise potential, positioning and profitability. Knowing that I can relocate any company here, and that I will have immediate and easy access to a 360-degree range of first-class services, is a very attractive proposition indeed. This is a very big advantage that Cyprus has.

What more can Cyprus do to attract further international investment?

The Cyprus economy and real estate market would definitely benefit by attracting more foreign investors like myself. The island is ripe for further investment, with attractive advantages and huge potential for both investors and business owners. I believe that in order to do so, the island needs to create a favourable environment, that motivates people like me to invest here. It is also important for the government to facilitate investment, to create incentives and make the procedures for the investments easier, so that they come faster and bigger.

Foreign investment has benefited Israel in a great way. It’s all about investors, investors, investors. I also believe that Cyprus could take more advantage of both its location and its relatively small size. The bigger a country is, the harder it is to create and pass new policies. Cyprus can use its small size to its advantage and quickly react to needs, such as taxation and what is happening in Europe. Being small and fast means that you are able to react quickly and offer investors the ideal workplace.

In addition to real estate, what other sectors are you interested in investing in?

I may have sold my majority share in Viber (the cross-platform voice and instant messaging application), but that does not mean I am no longer interested in investing in technology. I also have a keen interest in the agriculture and aquaculture sectors, including land- based indoor salmon and shrimp farms.

The future of aquaculture looks very bright and promising. And that is both for the economy and for the environment. Free of chemicals and antibiotics, the salmon cultivated in our advanced indoor aquaculture facilities around the world which are deploying our technology, are just as tasty as those fished in the wild – but without the environmental impact.

When it comes to agriculture, I want to invest in things that make a difference in the world, including improving food resources, supply chains and supporting sustainability. In order to reduce our environmental impact and prepare for a future where it may be too warm to grow food outside, my agricultural companies have started growing indoors. In this way, we are contributing towards making a change. This is the thing that I am very passionate about.

Can you reveal anything else about your plans for the future?

I am no longer doing this for the money. I am now addicted to success!

Gilad Shabtai best known for the sale of his majority shares in telecoms start-up Viber – acquired for $900 million in 2014 – Shabtai runs successful businesses across a wide range of industries, from real estate to technology in more than 15 countries.

In the last decade, Shabtai has built several luxury residential projects in Israel, owns a portfolio of plots of lands in hi-demand areas in Israel, and currently his group is engaged in the planning and building of about 20 residential projects in Israel and in Cyprus. Shabtai also invests in an extensive construction activity in Africa.

He invests in a variety of technology based companies in the fields of consumer technology and software, aquaculture, food manufacturing, pharmaceutical and financial technology.

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