In this series, we are introducing the GSH partners and giving you insights into their lives, their views, and philosophies.
How did a former Israeli politician wind up becoming a partner in a real estate investment firm in Michigan? A chance meeting, a passion for building connections, and a belief in following pursuits founded on trust.
After a lengthy stint in politics in Israel, Shmuel Cohen started a career in private business in the early 2000s. While looking for new opportunities, an old soccer-playing friend mentioned to Shmuel that he was starting a real estate business. It sounded dynamic and interesting, so the two joined forces. At the time, most real estate deals in Israel were managed by major companies and massive funds, but as independent investors, Shmuel and his partner wanted to do things differently. They began to create a pooled fund, which was truly a new system in Israel and the only mechanism for private real estate investment and development. This system became quite successful, but around 2011-12, a new wave of government regulations made their work incredibly difficult and Shmuel shifted focus to opportunities in the US.
Following the subprime crisis in 2012, he and a friend from Israel decided to bring a similar pooled investment model to Detroit, where they acquired small multifamily properties with a pool of investors from Israel. A few years into investing in the U.S., a childhood friend who knew about Shmuel’s real estate work introduced him to Hannan.
“We were the same age, grew up in the same city, and had many mutual friends, but had never met,” says Shmuel. “We hit it off immediately. It was like we’d been living parallel lives in the real estate industry – one in the US and one in Israel.”
Hannan approached Shmuel about organizing a group of investors to purchase some properties along with Hannan’s colleague Gideon. The investment quickly brought returns (and has ever since – the team still holds these buildings today), and the realization that this was a smart business.
The rest, as they say, is history. In 2016, Gideon, Shmulik and Hannan joined forces in an official capacity, formalizing their business model and continuing to grow a portfolio of communities. But what you know as GSH now never would have been possible without a foundation of trust.
“Despite growing up in the same town and being the same age as Hannan, we didn’t know each other as kids. I trusted the mutual friend who introduced us,” shares Shmuel. “Later, Hannan, Gideon, and I all trusted one another’s judgment and business sense. And there was a deep feeling of trust amongst the small circle of friends I called to invest in that first property.”
Trust remains paramount to Shmuel’s role at GSH.
“It is my philosophy that business is built on trust,” says Shmuel. “In Israel, if you don’t know the person, you don’t give them money. So when I first started raising money in Israel, I approached people I knew. I started with friends, and over time, that network extended to friends of friends and family, and then to their lawyers, and accountants, and work connections. Each relationship was based on trust, and as the business succeeded and investors appreciated the way we did things, the network would grow.”
When Shmuel first started investing in the US, he followed the same approach, reaching out to the same trusted friends and connections who had invested in the Israeli market.
“They knew they could call me at any hour and still get an answer,” says Shmuel. “They could ask me millions of questions and I would be transparent with them. We went to coffee or lunch and followed up with each other regularly. It’s that kind of personal connection that builds trust and strengthens what we do as a firm.”
In addition to valuing trust, Shmuel brings a belief that the job isn’t done when we raise the money. There is regular follow-through that needs to happen, whether that’s sending financial reporting updates, letting investors know that he is always here to answer questions, or mentoring our team.
This business has been possible because of a deep sense of trust shared by our partners and our investors, as well as the trust and responsibility placed in our team. Specifically, Itamar and Mataan are the next generation of leaders who continue to create a sense of trust, honesty, and follow-through in everything we do at GSH. They help us foster strong connections with our investors and our communities – and, as Shmuel’s story shows, you never know what will come out of a trusted connection!
Connect with Shmuel on LinkedIn.