New York – Mimar Sinan, the most famous architect in Turkish history, was a genius who served four Ottoman Sultans and created hundreds of buildings (1490-1588.) Mimar Sinan’s intelligence, inventiveness and distinctive architecture place him firmly in a key position in world architecture. Major monuments such as the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and Taj Mahal were built by Mimar Sinan’s students.
We tracked down Murat Ağırnaslı, a fellow citizen of Sinan in New York, and had a chat.
Murat Ağırnaslı, a New York businessman of some 25 years’ standing in textiles and real estate, has now joined the elite list of names contributors to the renovation of Williamsburg, an up-and-coming New York district.
In 1983 Apparel Trading International, Inc., a company cofounded by Murat Ağırnaslı and his wife Ender Ağırnaslı, began marketing surplus designer apparel to off-price sales chains. Since 2002, the year he entered the residential development market his joint venture partnerships has completed 64 flats, eight of which are luxury properties, in four different projects in Williamsburg. The construction and develpment company MKD Group LLC is a joint venture company of Kiska Group LTD and Agime Capital LLC.
Currently under way is the 58-flat and 70-room McCaren Park Hotel and Apartments projects. We chatted with Murat Ağırnaslı about a three-decade period that begins with him still at school.
How did you first go into business?
I began to work every summer holiday as early as the age of eleven. It’s naturally not that easy to embrace work wholeheartedly when you’re a child. But my father, may he rest in peace, encouraged me so much so that I matured quite early as I learned about the world of business. I began working in earnest between 1976 and 1977 while still a student at the Bosphorus University when I started employment in the marketing department of a company that sold textile products to Europe. After working there for about a year, I decided to set up my own business.
How did you come to be in the USA?
I fell in love while still a student at university with Ender, my now business partner and wife, and I married in the third year. Needless to say, both families were concerned at first since we were so young. We finished university in 1979. That summer we went abroad, both as a belated honeymoon and also as something of a search for a new life. We visited a few cities in Europe and then came to Virginia to visit some close friends. I’ll never forget it; it was on our fourth day when I had already made my mind up. The USA was like no other country. I said to myself, “This place is utterly devoid of prejudices; people spend money freely. There can be no better environment in which to trade.”
We first enrolled at an MBA program in Finance. It was during this higher education program that we were able to lay the foundations of our new life in the New World.
How did you get to New York and establish your business?
We lived in Virginia close to two years. I was importing textiles from Turkey and marketing these products to purchasers in New York as well as clients. I spent virtually half the week in New York. By the end of 1982, my wife and I decided to settle in New York and grow the business here. It was a tough decision, as my wife didn’t want to move to New York. It took a lot to convince her that New York was the center of world trade and it was the indisputable choice for business. She now loves New York far more than I do and I suspect she wouldn’t live anywhere else.
We first set up the New York-based Apparel Trading International, Inc. in 1983. Today we trade with 16 countries. We have an office and a warehouse in Nicaragua in Central America, employing some 110 staff. Apparel Trading markets surplus production for designer apparel to off-price sales chains. My wife heads that business. We have ten staff in the New York office. Our second company, AGIME Capital LLC, was set up, again in New York, in 2002.
Where is AGIME Capital’s focus?
Our focus is residential development industry and construction. Our entry into the construction sector is the happy outcome of a coincidence. Sometimes faith does take a hand. One fine summer evening, Erden Arkan, the General Manager of Kiska USA and I were chatting at a Turkish American Business Forum cocktail party. Erden mentioned during the course of the evening that Brooklyn’s Williamsburg district was poised for the same sort of redevelopment as SoHo had undergone. Three senior managers within Kiska, supported by Oğuz Gürsel, Kiska’s proprietor, had decided to enter residential development and already started a couple of projects. Erden proposed I join them. We got together the following day, agreed in principle, shook on it and laid the foundations of today’s partnership. Our friends and acquaintances have also supported us as investors. I believe we managed to some fine work here.
Can you talk about your projects?
We built and sold a 14-flat condominium in Williamsburg South 6. Then we purchased a former women’s prison in Harlem. This was a protected, landmark building. We rehabilitated the interior entirely, converting it into eight luxury condominiums and sold them. Then came the 28-flat building in North 11, which, in my view, is the finest building in Williamsburg. Many friends joined into this project as a consortium.
It was a good job and a profitable one. We have currently finished a new building of 14 flats. This building will go to rent. In addition there is another new construction project under way: McCaren Park Hotel and Apartments. This project comprises two buildings of 58 apartments as well as a 70-room boutique hotel, a health club, a restaurant, a 130-car park and a roof-top bar on the roof of the hotel with a New York view. It’s a very exciting and good project. It fits in perfectly with Williamsburg’s demographic make-up and lifestyle. Young couples, for example, will be able to order cleaning and linen changing service from the hotel. They will be able to return home from work in the evening and relax at the sports hall and spa, and then order room service food. They will then be able to enjoy post-dinner drinks at the roof-top bar, enjoying a fabulous New York view.
Close to New York City, Williamsburg is a settlement that has welcomed Germans, Hassidic Jews, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Popular with the artistic crowd and the hip as well as with migrants, Williamsburg was a particular favorite with artists due to lower rents as much as its proximity to New York in the 1970s. This tradition lasted well into the 1990s. At that time, some 3,000 artists resided in Williamsburg.
WHO IS MURAT AĞIRNASLI?
Son of Niyazi Ağırnaslı, one of the best-known lawyers of Turkey, Murat Ağırnaslı, was born in Ankara in 1955. After graduating from the TED Ankara College, he finished the Bosphorus University School of Management in 1979. In the same year, he was accepted at the MBA program of the University of Richmond and obtained his MBA in 1981.
He still serves as CEO at Apparel Trading International, Inc., which he founded in 1983. ATI, a leading off-price wholesaler for 25 years, has many an accomplishment to its name in the ready-to-wear industry. He founded the AGIME Capital LLC. in 2002 to invest in construction, finance and property. Murat Ağırnaslı currently heads the New York-based Turkish American Business Forum. He is married and has a son named Erman. He speaks English, Spanish and Turkish.