Sam Mizrahi: Designing Canada’s Future With Resilience and Optimism
In any discussion of Toronto’s economic and architectural future, Canadian developer Sam Mizrahi is at the center, just as his sleek and beautiful towers are becoming centerpieces of the city’s skyline.
His most ambitious project is also his most dramatic statement: “The One,” the innovative skyscraper currently rising from its prime location at the corner of Yonge and Bloor in midtown Toronto. When completed, it will be the tallest residential structure in Canada.
Q: You have always been bullish about Toronto and Canada. How have things changed, from a real estate development perspective, over the course of your career?
Sam Mizrahi: Over the past 25 years or so, Toronto has become much more sophisticated in the way real estate is done, and in terms of what the consumer expects. Even the way planning proceeds from idea to completion is different – including the finer details of the permitting process. “Sophisticated” is a word I use a lot, because I see it all around me in Toronto. Homeowners, tenants and retailers are far more sophisticated; our communities have become more sophisticated; we are absolutely world-class across the spectrum.
You may have heard me refer to Toronto as the new Switzerland. We have a lot in common, metaphorically and according to many metrics. Around the world, everyone knows that Canada is a great place to live. I know this on a very personal level, having come to this country at the age of six, after my family was forced to leave Iran. You can see the greatness of Canada in the architecture; and not just in our historical inheritance, but in the exciting new structures we are building. I’m proud to be part of that, especially as someone who came to Canada with so very little. From a real estate perspective, the many virtues of our country drive immigration, which increases demand and stimulates supply. As a result, we are creating one of the world’s strongest asset classes.
Canada is also universally recognized as a safe harbor, a peaceful port in any storm. We saw that in the financial crisis 15 years ago – we saw how resilient Canada’s real estate market was to a global economic recession. We also saw how quickly Toronto and the Canadian markets rebounded. Even the pandemic, which created incredible stress on our system, in the end proved the resilience of real estate, in terms of value and volatility. Here, too, the word “sophisticated” applies. It’s the sophistication of those who are driving the market that helped prevent wide swings, and has kept everything on an even keel.
Q: In many circles, you are as well known for your philanthropy as your architectural achievements. What is your philosophy of giving?
Sam Mizrahi: There are two sides to professional success, in my view. There’s the entrepreneurial side of the coin and the philanthropic side. One is the imperative to do well financially, and the other is the moral responsibility to give back that belongs to all of us, but especially those of us who have enjoyed great fortune. As entrepreneurs, we create value, and ideally create something of lasting value. Something that will outlive us; something that quietly announces to future generations that we once, way back when, created something beautiful and enduring.
Business and philanthropy are not incompatible. Quite the opposite, there is a symbiotic relationship. Success in business gives you the tools to bring change to the world, to communities and to real people. My personal philosophy, that you may have heard me talk about before, is that my goal is for every person who comes into contact with me or my company should feel that they have been elevated by the contact; that our contribution to that person’s life story has been a positive one, perhaps even integral to their future happiness and success. It’s a pretty high standard, and of course it cannot always be met, but it’s a powerful aspirational goal.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?
Sam Mizrahi: When I speak of challenges, it’s rarely in the past tense. Surmounting one obstacle brings new challenges, and stimulates new thinking and new solutions. It’s part of the creative process, really, the process of improving, refining and perfecting. In my work, challenges are daily companions. In fact, I would go so far to say that without challenges, life would lose a great deal of its vibrancy and excitement. Challenges give us the chance to prove something to ourselves, and often to the world. We are all here for a purpose, a wonderful and exciting purpose; and although we may not have yet discovered that purpose in our lives, the one thing we can be sure of is that it is not to be idle.
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