John Catsimatidis, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Red Apple Group, sat down for an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter and spoke about US Politics, picked his favorite candidate for US President, discussed possibilities for investment in crisis-hit Greece, and admitted that he still might run for mayor of New York City in the next election.
The fortune of Mr. John Catsimatidis (who grew up in Harlem, the poorest borough of New York City) today exceeds the billion dollar mark. While he was studying at NYU, he was working as an employee of a super market, though he never managed to get his degree. Despite the fact that he never finished, this University (which is one of top ten Universities in the US) granted him an honorary Doctorate.
Red Apple Group has holdings in oil refining, wholesale and retail petroleum distribution, convenience stores, supermarkets, real estate, and aviation. Red Apple Group posted revenues of over $4 billion in 2010. Mr. Catsimatidis is a major employer in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio with over 8,000 employees, a global leader in the Greek Orthodox Church, in which he chairs the Religious Freedom Committee, bonding together Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Jews in support of religious freedom around the world.
Read the interview with John Catsimatidis below:
What do you think should be done to fix Greece and do you think that Greece will exit the Euro?
I think it could hurt Greece a great deal if it goes out of the Euro. My recommendations to all the officials of Greece were that they should work out a deal with Germany and they should take the 360 billion in debt traded for 360 billion 30-year bonds at the European interest rate of 2, 5%. That way you take the problem and you put it away for 30 years and Greece could afford to pay 2,5%. And that would take a Euro guarantee. In that way it will take the pressure off and puts the problem out for 30 years. Unfortunately, I’m upset they weren’t able to do it that way.
I think it was the Germans who did not want to discuss this scenario.
You can say it as a joke or seriously, but the Germans might have started WWIII, but with economic bullets, not with gun powder bullets.
So do you think that Germany should give something to Greece?
I think that if the EU wants to survive as a community, it has to bond together and be all for one and one for all. But then it will take more restrictions, and the individual governments cannot do whatever they want and give retirement ages of 35 years old because numbers don’t really work. The European community has a time-line to fix the problem before it gets worse. I really wish they are smart enough to do so because this is an international problem.
Now, I know you are a very good businessman. You have made everything out of nothing. You have started alone and you know where opportunities are. Do you believe Greece is a good opportunity for businessmen like you, Greek-Americans or non Greek-Americans to go and maybe do business there, acquire some real estate or invest in the country now?
With the aura of instability that now exists, it’s hard to say or view opportunities. Everyone fears that something might go wrong.
You’re from Nisyros, so you probably know that although the Greek islands used to be expensive, now the real estate prices are down to half or less.
The real estate prices are half because everyone is afraid. I got an email yesterday that the big hotel Asteras is available for some months now. I said ok, we need to see what the overall condition in Europe is because banks in Greece tend to place extremely low value on their portfolio bonds. All Greeks who have money withdraw it from their accounts and send it off to banks abroad, in London, NY etc.
So would you and your company Red Apple Group be interested to buy Asteras, or invest in something similar.
We will look at the possibility of Asteras and explore the possibility. We will look at various things but we found it very difficult to do business in Greece given our previous experiences. They are now paying the price for all the difficulties we had to face in the past.
You have openly supported many politicians in the past. Would you support Barack Obama in the next US election?
I would not support Obama because when he first got elected we all looked at him and said “let’s give him a chance” but he has made so many mistakes. He has created a mind of “us against them”. He has started a civil war between those who work hard and those who don’t and still profit. This is wrong. The problem is that 30 years ago the amount of people that lived off the federal government was maybe 10% and now it’s 42%. The American Congress has been following the same tactics as the Greek parties have: “vote for us and we’ll give you more.” This is a bubble and will not work. Someone needs to break it.
President Obama criticizes all business people all the time. What did we do wrong? He says it’s the banks’ fault. If someone or the bank made something wrong, send him to court and then off to prison. If someone stole, they must go to prison. But if you constantly criticize the banking sector in general, the banks begin to fear for their own existence, just like it happened in Greece. And if banks feel insecure about their own existence, they will not give money to businesses to start new projects. Instead, they are afraid of losing their own company. That is the problem such politicians have brought upon us.
So you are saying there’s a terror amidst business people and banks?
They are terrorized and afraid for their own existence, for them to create loans to business people and new jobs.
So I suppose you will be supporting the Republican Party. But who exactly?
Yes I will, although I was a collective Democrat before. I think Romney is the best presidential candidate at the moment. He is a businessman, he is smart and honest. I really wish he gets nominated to run for President.
Let’s go to your own business Red Apple Group. Are there any new plans or developments?
Well, we are doing very well. The energy business is doing very well and there are food companies in NY that are also profitable. We are also busy building our real estate companies in Brooklyn. We are moving along with building on Coney Island. Brooklyn is only 20 minutes away from Manhattan, yet prices there are half way down compared to downtown.
You’ve been in this country for so many years and you have grown this company so much. You have seen the crisis, the good times and the bad times, as they say. Do you think that the present is the bottom or can it get worse?
I think this is the worst time ever and if we don’t change the political situation in November, the whole world will be in trouble.
But you believe that the economy will get better? Because some people think that it might get worse.
I think the current government will employ mirrors to twist around reality and cook the numbers until November. That happened in Greece too. And after the November elections, the truth will finally come to surface.
In the past you have expressed your interest to run for mayor of New York City. Is it something you maybe have in mind again?
They are pushing me to do it and I told them I would consider that. I haven’t pushed any buttons yet whatsoever. I had the nomination last time and I gave it back to Bloomberg. I will have made up my mind by summer since Bloomberg cannot run again for the fourth time in a row.
Would you like to add anything?
Greek-Greeks, American-Greeks or Greek-Americans, we all love Greece. We want to help in any way possible and Greece must promote its tourism. Imagine that NY had a record of 50 additional millions of tourists this year due to their campaign. What was Greece’s score? Whatever the number, Greece can do better. It can double the numbers of visitors to the country and it must pursue it.
The problem now is that the riots in Greece and the images of the country are scaring everyone.
The riots are nonsense. The people who cause the riots are those who are 54 and would retire at the age of 55. That is what I told everyone here when they asked me what was happening in Greece.
Have you visited Greece recently?
I travelled to Greece last August straight to Kos, without stopping in Athens, and made a cruise in the Dodecanese. We had a really good time.