Zaya Younan came to the United States from Iran alone and essentially penniless. A pair of worn-out shoes he wore when he first came to America, a passage-marked Bible from his great-grandfather, and a $25 tip from a businessman who mistook him for the doorman at one of his properties are all that Younan had on him during his humble beginnings.
While living in Tehran, Younan learned of the school University of Illinois at Champagne after he had allowed a tourist to use his family’s bathroom. “I told him I always wanted to come to America,” Younan recalls. “He was from Chicago … and helped me to write the school a letter. [The school told me] if I could get to Chicago, I could go to school for free and stay one year. I started fixing bikes and charging my friends until I got enough money to buy a ticket.”
Eventually, Younan raised $800; he spent $760 on the only ticket he could afford—a hopscotch of four cities in a 48-hour flight. He had his passport and visa and was packing his clothes when his mother came upon him and asked him what he was doing. “I told her I was going to America,” Younan says. “I had it all figured out at the age of 13.” A year later, Younan’s parents and five sisters joined him in Chicago, where he’d go on to graduate from high school and earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Champaign.
After graduating at age 19 from the University of Illinois with a Mechanical Engineering degree, Younan worked several low-level jobs. Younan graduated on a Saturday, and was working on Monday. He spent more than a decade as a young executive with companies across the business spectrum, including General Motors, Johnson Controls, and TRW.
In 2002, at age 39, he founded Southern California–based commercial real estate company Younan Properties Inc., where he remains as its current Chairman and CEO. Despite zero experience in the industry, Younan made his first office investment in January 2002 on a 21,800-square-foot building at 412 W. Broadway in Glendale, Calif., which had sat empty for two years. As he scouted for tenants, he worked side-by-side with contractors to learn plumbing, drywall, HVAC, and everything about keeping a building running smoothly.
Younan grew this business from scratch without any previous knowledge or connections, and always put in his own capital to grow the business. Since inception, YPI has managed more than 120 transactions, has purchased more than 35 properties and has completed transactions exceeding $6 billion. Today Younan owns 15 regional office buildings totaling 6.4 million square feet in the top markets in the US, making him one of the nation’s largest office property owners. The company’s portfolio of high-rise office buildings is worth $2.8B.
In 2016, Younan expanded his global footprint when he began to invest in several luxury Chateaux throughout Europe, quickly transforming them into four– and five-star luxury hotels. Growing up in such tremendous poverty, he says he was fascinated with the idea of castles, and always wanted to own one. This prompted Younan to establish global private equity firm Younan Company, with subsidiaries La Maison Younan & Younan Properties, Inc.
Over just a few short years, the company rapidly expanded its portfolio with Luxury Hotels, French Bordeaux vineyards, Golf Courses, Spas, and Resorts, Parisian Design agencies and luxury consumer products like premium cigars and wines, across the world. Younan Company creates long-term value by specializing in the acquisition and development of commercial real estate, luxury assets, services and companies, with an emphasis on branding and marketing. To date, Younan has completed $8 Billion in transactions with Assets Under Management surpassing $4.8 Billion.
Mr. Younan has served as a member of the executive committee of the board of directors of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California, a member of the board of directors of the Smithsonian Institute’s Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas, and a member of the board of advisors of Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California. He supports myriad charitable endeavors including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Autism Group, Wounded Warrior Project, Red Cross, and A Child’s Hope Fund.
Younan has and continues to remain a large supporter for Assyrian Activism. Below are a few of his key involvement in the Assyrian community: