John Kalafatis: The Successful Greek Who Revives Manhattan’s Skyline

While Greece’s overseas reputation has been badly hit by its debt crisis, there are still some Greeks that make us feel proud.   John Kalafatis, the CEO and owner of Skyline Restoration, is one of them.

Attaining the American Dream 

Born on the Greek island of Lefkada, John Kalafatis is the personification of the American dream, people who rise to the top of their profession through determination, imagination and hard work.

Since its inception in 1989, Skyline Restoration has built its sterling reputation on the hard work and dedication of Mr. Kalafatis and his staff.  His company is among the top building restoration firms in the New York metropolitan area, having completed construction work on over two thousand buildings.  Skyline Restoration strives daily to stay abreast of the latest developments in construction technology.

Do you consider yourself an American or a Greek?

I consider myself Greek with an American mind set.

How did you get your start as an entrepreneur?

I originally came here as a college student at the School of Architecture.  While in college, I set up a small sign fabrication store which helped me comprehend the principles of being an entrepreneur.  Right after college, I established Skyline Restoration as an extension of my acquired respect for the heritage and preservation of New York City buildings.

How did you end up creating one of America’s biggest restoration companies from scratch?

It was not as difficult as most people would think.  I simply followed my heart and enacted my beliefs in my daily business life.

  • Understand the subject well and offer your services at the highest professional level.
  • Never underestimate people, always treat them with respect and honesty. 

What does it take for someone to conquer the American dream?

I never set out to conquer a dream, but if the American dream is success, just follow the rules outlined above.

I would prefer to use the word challenges rather than obstacles, which primarily consist of hiring, training and directing individuals, as well as creating an infrastructure, to meet industry demands.

 What have you changed in yourself all these years? How has your life been affected?

I’d like to believe that I have grown but not changed as a person.  The only actual difference would be financial comfort and the opportunity to work alongside very interesting people/professionals to the mutual benefit of all parties.

 What are some of your company’s big projects?

  • The Graybar Building
  • The New Yorker Hotel
  • 1515 Broadway at Times Square
  • Manhattan Center
  • Hippodrome
  • New York University
  • Columbia University
  • Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital
  • United Charities
  • The New Yorker Hotel – 481 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10001
The New Yorker Hotel, one of the proudest projects of Skyline Restoration

What was your  favourite/important project and why?

The New Yorker Hotel. This 85-year-old historic hotel has been through good and bad times over the years. With the coordinated restoration efforts of the Owners, Architects, Engineers, and Skyline Restoration, the Hotel has successfully regained its original luster as one of the few “art-deco” buildings in NYC.
What do you  think of restoring Athens? There are many buildings almost falling apart. Is there a different law in  NYC that helps keep the buildings so well maintained or is it just a difference of attitude in people?
In my opinion, and with few exceptions, a lot of neoclassical buildings in Athens were allowed to become run-down. I believe that the existing government incentive programs need to be reevaluated to achieve results. The antiquities, on the other hand, seem to be properly maintained and on the right track to restoration. In New York City, all private buildings are funded by the owners for their restoration needs. There is a also a New York City Façade Inspection and Maintenance Program (formerly known as Local Law 11/98) which makes it mandatory for building owners to inspect and correct structural deficiencies of the building’s façades, primarily for safety reasons.

You’ve been an immigrant yourself. What are the similarities and what are the differences between your generation of immigrants and the new  one?

The new wave of immigrants had to face additional burdens in the US such as stricter rules and regulations, particularly as a result of 9/11, a substantial increase in competitiveness, as well as the complexity of the financial system.  However, the established system does not discriminate against new immigrants, offering them opportunities as always.

Unemployment and depression rates have doubled, and the worst part is that no one seems to have an answer as to how Greece is going to overcome this tragedy. How can Greece break this vicious cycle created the by never-ending austerity measures imposed by the IMF and the EU?

Without sounding naïve, why don’t we simply correct, like so many other nations before us have done, what brought Greece to its knees.  Modernize the rigid, anachronistic public sector that does not produce. Fully enforce – across the board, no favoritism – taxation laws. Enact taxation laws with validity and permanence to attract foreign investors.  Lastly, all Greeks need to understand and accept the concept of living your life within your financial legitimate means as the rule, not the exception.  I strongly believe the austerity measures will have no positive effect on Greece’s economy.

Despite the fact that the US is also going through some bad economic times your company is thriving. Do you have any advice for business owners in the construction/restoration industry in Greece who have been badly hit by the crisis as to how they will overcome this tragedy and move on?  

More opportunities will be available within the construction sector in Greece when the above rules are implemented.  It would be to their obvious advantage to join forces and push the Greek government in that direction.  Unfortunately, I honestly think that my recipe for success in the US would become a huge fiasco in Greece, as there is no opportunity for correct business practices to prevail, at present.

What about American investments in Greece? Do you think that Americans will invest in Greece or is it just wishful thinking on our (the Greeks’) behalf? 

Wishful thinking until things improve!!!