When Christos Lazari was 16 years old, he left his family in their small village in Cyprus and moved to London with £ 20 in his pocket.
“I felt that the grass was always greener somewhere else, and I was too young to think twice,” he recalled during an interview. The buildings were certainly more valuable. Lazari, whose investment firm now owns about 2.64 million square feet of real estate, mostly office rentals, in London is worth $2 billion, enough for him to debut among 290 newcomers to the 2015 Forbes World’s Billionaires list.
The journey to riches had a less-than-glamorous start. After he arrived in London in the early 1960s, Lazari washed pots and pans in restaurants until he could save enough money to enroll in a London Fashion Design course. He then set up a fashion label under the name “Drendie Girl.” It was a hit and made it into the windows of retailers across London’s High Street.
But in 1978 he thought it was time to diversify. He took profits from his fashion line and gambled on real estate. “My father was a builder and I was taught the value of real estate from a very early age,” Lazari said.
Six estates, or 92% of his portfolio, are today located in London’s top-of-the-line West End neighborhood. A seventh property is in North London. The company also acquired the Brunswick BC -2.66% Shopping Centre in Bloomsbury, London for $200 million (£135.5 million) in 2014, adding 45 retails shops, a movie theater and 408 apartments to its holdings.
Lazari is still actively involved in Lazari Investments as its chairman. His wife, Maritza, is listed as a co-founder and their sons Len and Nicholas and daughter Audrie are all directors. Len and Nicholas hold economics degrees, while Audrie has a background in property law.
After all these years in London, he has not forgotton his roots. Though a British citizen, he has remained close with his mother country. He even calls the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades a close friend; the two met while they were schoolmates in Cyprus but reconnected again with when Anastasiades studied in London. In 2014, Lazari offered to foot the bill for private planes the president needed after the Eurozone bailout and austerity measures squeezed the country’s budget.
He says he typically visits two times a year, though when his father was still alive, he would visit as much as six times. His mother was a housewife, and he grew up with two brothers and two sisters, who still live in Cyprus. Through his still-thick accent, he says: “My family was poor but rich in love and I was taught to be honest and to value the small things in life.”