$36b hardmen: Meet the Concrete Kings
Some started working on building sites for $60 a day; one has a laneway named after his brother at the local council's insistence; another has been dubbed the "Baron of Blacktown".
Meet the Concrete Kings of Sydney.
The Sunday Telegraph today unmasks 10 builders who've shaped Sydney and ridden an unprecedented wave of property development fuelled by record population growth.
Some have obvious claims to fame; Jean Nassif's Lamborghini purchase for his wife and former Auburn mayor Ronney Oueik's sacking alongside deputy Salim Mehajer being two.
Others are known only as the money men behind major sponsorship or property development deals with NRL clubs.
The Concrete Kings have a back catalogue and project pipeline worth at least $36.79 billion and 110,000 dwellings - mostly apartments across at least 100 Sydney suburbs.
To put that in perspective, that is 30,000 more dwellings than what currently exists in the whole City of Parramatta council area.
They are also an ethnically diverse group, with members coming from Lebanese, Chinese, Irish, Indian and traditional Australian heritage.
Among them is mogul Bhart Bhushan - dubbed "The Baron of Blacktown", Khattar family patriarch Joe - known as "the Harry Triguboff of Parramatta", 30-year-old Jin Lin - heir to his family's $25 billion fortune, and Steve Grant - a multi-millionaire who found any excuse not to go to school thanks to his dyslexia.
STEVE GRANT - FROM SEFTON TO SUCCESS
He is the dyslexic son of a Sefton sheet metal worker and a receptionist who left school in Year 10 to work in construction.
Today, it's estimated he's worth at least $100m and is currently overseeing projects worth about $1 billion.
Mr Grant says his dyslexia taught him the importance of laser-like focus and getting things right.
"If I rush an email for example people might not be able to read it," he told The Sunday Telegraph.
"When I was younger I couldn't spell, I couldn't read. I can't read out loud today."
Mr Grant said although he liked school, having dyslexia meant he found excuses not to go.
"If there was a spelling bee at school and people were going in turns around the room, I had to find a way to get out of there," he said.
"Whether it meant making myself sick, or whatever excuse I had, it was like panic stations that I need to get out of there."
Mr Grant said there wasn't a single key to his success, but rather "doing 100 things right".
To date, he has built 46 buildings in Norwest business park in Sydney's north west - bringing to life his vision of converting it from a cow paddock to an economic powerhouse.
He said the most powerful way to get business was taking clients out to Norwest, knowing that "the best advertisement was a recommendation".
"I would say to (prospective clients) pick one of those buildings and I will call the client and see if we can get in and look at it," he said.
"I rang the client and by the time I brought the prospective customer in, more than likely the client would meet them and tell them how good I was.
"And that would be the sale for me."
He also owns the first two stages ($450m) of the four-stage $1 billion Woolooware Bay Town Centre development in Sydney's south.
The apartment, retail and hotel development, which has been sold to Chinese developer Aoyuan, is being done next to Shark Park in Sydney's Sutherland Shire.
Last year he sold Capital Bluestone, a company of which he was the majority shareholder, for $200m.
He named the Chinese Consulate General building in Camperdown as "the best building I've done".
JEAN NASSIF - KING OF THE HILLS
He was the little-known property developer until his Instagram video of wife Nisserine - "Congratulations Mrs Nassif - you like?" went viral.
The February video, where he is gifting his wife a $480,000 yellow Lamborghini, spawned a host of spoof videos.
Mr Nassif has numerous projects near the airport, but makes most of his money from apartments in Sydney's Hills district.
Since escaping the Lebanese civil war in 1988 and starting a concreting company in Sydney, he's delivered more than 30,000 apartments.
Unlike other property developers who avoid publicity like the plague, Mr Nassif speaks often about "unnecessary delays caused by the current planning system".
He told the Sunday Telegraph dealing with government "has become increasingly difficult in recent years with both government officials and politicians isolating themselves from any kind of meaningful discussion with the property sector".
He had a tough 2019, pleading guilty to cocaine possession and having his proposal for 46 high-rise towers in Cherrybrook containing 3200 homes knocked back in October.
He has asked the NSW Department of Planning for a review of that decision.
Mr Nassif's company JKN Para 1 is being taken to the NSW Land and Environment Court by owners of Parramatta Rise.
Property owners claim the company built the 28-storey building using illegal combustible cladding, while the company says it is compliant with state laws.
Mr Nassif is also taking City of Sydney council to court over who will foot the bill for a set of traffic lights at a 393-apartment development in Rosebery.
SARKIS NASSIF - HIGH-RISE HEAVEN
If there is one thing Sarkis Nassif hates, it's being compared with his brother.
But he can console himself with the fact he's richer, keeps his gripes largely private, hasn't been the subject of spoof online videos and hasn't been busted for cocaine possession.
Sources close to Sarkis say he and his brother "are chalk and cheese" and that Sarkis is the often-frustrated patriarch of the Nassif family.
Sarkis Nassif started out in the 1980s on $60 a day working as a form worker (similar to scaffolding) on building sites.
He's gone on to make a hell of a lot of money turning Parramatta, Meadowbank, Burwood and Auburn into high-density neighbourhoods.
He also owns numerous shopping centres including Windsor Marketplace, Burwood Plaza and Chester Square in Chester Hill.
Industry insiders say "he's very well regarded and seen as decent to do business with".
"Very early on he did build Auburn Shopping Centre, which is a disaster, but he has lifted his game since then," the source said.
In July 2019 two Ryde apartment blocks built by Holdmark were issued with orders over concerns they had combustible cladding.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: "Starting Holdmark was a challenge, however it taught me to never do anything that you are not passionate about, and I am very passionate about Holdmark".
JOE KHATTAR - "THE HARRY TRIGUBOFF OF PARRAMATTA"
The Khattar family and Dyldam are so massive in Parramatta that in 2015 a laneway beside the Parramatta River - at Parramatta Council's insistence - was named after Joe Khattar's late brother George Khattar.
Joe Khattar is the boss of that family and the founder of the behemoth that is Dyldam.
Joe started out in construction after moving out from Lebanon in 1967.
He went on to co-found a company which at one stage three years ago had 17 major projects on the go at once - all of them worth at least $100m.
Sources say two distinct branches of the family are often at odds, but Mr Khattar told The Sunday Telegraph "we still work as a group - there are no differences".
The company also had a falling out with radio presenter Ray Hadley, over Hadley's claim that subcontractors had not been paid by Dyldam subsidiaries.
Mr Hadley, who paid tribute on 2GB to George Khattar when he died in 2010, said recently: "I no longer do live reads for Dyldam and have not for some time. They are no longer an advertiser on 2GB. I greatly respect Joe Khattar and always will."
Mr Khattar said the company had very little involvement in the subcontractor matter and "I still respect Ray Hadley and like him as a family friend". Mr Hadley
Me Khattar has also hosed down fresh controversy over Parramatta Council bypassing protocol to name a lanewayafter his late brother George.
George died in 2010 and five years later Parramatta Council passed a councillor-led resolution to name a laneway after the property developer.
Mr Khattar told The Sunday Telegraph this week "the council wanted to honour my brother" for the "amount of work he had done with Parramatta council".
He also said George was also a big sponsor of the Parramatta Eels, donated to charities and made a "huge contribution" to the area.
Parramatta councillor Lorraine Wearne was lord mayor at the 2015 ceremony and unveiled the plaque and street sign.
She distanced herself from the naming this week, saying the council bypassed normal naming protocols to ensure he was honoured.
"Personally it seems to me some questions around the appropriateness of naming a laneway after a very prominent property developer in the area," she said.
"There was no research as to whether there should be other people considered to have it named after them.
"Usually there is a methodology. This did not arise through council and its normal methodology to have a street named after someone.
"It arose out of a resolution of the chamber."
Joe is also a community leader in the Maronite Christian community and leads the Australian-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce.
"We are like the Harry Triguboff of Parramatta and western Sydney in terms of our sheer size - but we're not competitive like that," he told The Sunday Telegraph.
RONNEY OUEIK - "NEVER SAY NEVER"
Former Auburn mayor and state Liberal Party candidate Ronney Oueik hit the headlines in 2015 in the wake of his deputy Salim Mehajer's lavish wedding.
The subsequent public inquiry into Auburn Council shone a light on Mr Oueik's extensive development portfolio and close relationship with former Auburn Council planning executive Glenn Francis - a man who now works for him.
The public inquiry found that when Mr Oueik was a councillor, Auburn Council and the state government approved rezoning of the Marsden Street Planning Proposal - increasing his extensive property holdings in a few Lidcombe streets by $24m.
Mr Oueik was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Mr Oueik was the Liberal candidate for Auburn in the March 2015 state election.
He campaigned with then premier Mike Baird and missed out on a seat in NSW Parliament by 4527 votes.
He continues to be a major player in Auburn and Lidcombe buildings and hasn't ruled out a return to politics, telling The Sunday Telegraph late last year "never say never".
FOUAD DEIRI - FULL STEAM AHEAD
The past decade has been stellar for his company, culminating in big contracts with government developer Landcom to build the Tallawong station precinct and the old Castle Hill Showground site.
He's also a massive Dragons fan, such that his company sponsors the NRL club.
Mr Deiri learned his trade on buildings sites run by the McNamara family - a major building company in Parramatta. Since then he's gone onto oversee $2.5 billion in development in 37 Sydney suburbs.
He's on the board of the Australian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce and Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
In 2014 a company spruiking his Dei Cota apartments in Redfern claimed: "Dei Cota has good rental return and convenient location. The Aboriginals have already moved out, now Redfern is the last virgin suburb close to city."
Mr Deiri was forced to step in and apologise to indigenous leaders. He told The Australian newspaper at the time that the Chinese company tasked with selling the apartments created advertisements that were "just not worded correctly".
He declined to comment when contacted by The Sunday Telegraph.
JOHN KINSELLA - DAIRY FARMER WHO DARED TO DREAM
If you drive through Rhodes, Sydney Olympic Park or Wentworth Point in Sydney's inner west you can't miss John Kinsella's buildings.
The Irish-born son of a dairy farmer - who by his own admission grew up in "humble surroundings" - started a construction company with his brother Bill in 1988.
Today, the company is one of Sydney's largest privately-owned developers.
His family has both ends of the business sewn up. His wife Riezel is the owner and founder of RK Realty Group, the company that markets Billbergia's apartments.
Like many of the big players, Billbergia has not been tainted with the Opal/Mascot towers brush.
"The recent issues with building quality, also has an impact on the industry as a whole," Mr Kinsella told The Sunday Telegraph.
"While Billbergia hasn't been associated with any of these negative issues, the industry needs to give people confidence in what they are buying."
Asked what he wants his legacy to be, he said: "We want to look back and be proud to see thriving communities in well-built developments that add to the quality of life".
TONY MERHI - "PROPERTY IN MY DNA"
Tony Merhi is a fantastic property investor/developer - just ask him.
His bio boasts about his "phenomenal success rate" and "using a small loophole in the LEP" of Hills Council to get some of his previous developments through.
His main business is getting planning approval for large sites before onselling.
What his bio fails to mention is the $5000 he deposited into the account of Liberal Party fund Eightbyfive shortly before the 2011 NSW state election.
Property developers are banned from donating to political parties in NSW.
The payment was directed by Mr Merhi himself, according to the 2016 ICAC report into the NSW Liberal Party electoral funding.
There were no adverse findings against Mr Merhi.
That same report heard evidence that Mr Merhi is "very close friends" with Dominic Perrottet, who is now the NSW Treasurer.
According to his bio, Mr Merhi has "combined gross realisations for all current DA approved projects to more than $2b".".
Government sources described him as someone "who is very good at associating himself with people in power on both sides of politics".
"I have a family background in the building industry. You could say that property is in my DNA," Mr Merhi said.
BHART BHUSHAN - "BARON OF BLACKTOWN"
If anyone has ridden the golden wave of immigrant-driven property development in western Sydney, it's the 'Baron of Blacktown' Bhart Bhushan.
The Indian-born developer started solo in 1997 and has since developed 2500 properties, employing about 264 people - many on 457 visas.
Sources say he loves to walk around in humble clothes and a baseball cap but don't let that fool you: Internally he's known as "the billion dollar man".
His company specialises in townhouse and detached home developments. He runs projects in-house from start to finish from his twin factory site at Girraween.
In 2011 ASIC found Mr Bhushan engaged in "unconscionable conduct" by offering dodgy vendor loans to both Centrelink recipients and new immigrants who barely spoke English.
He avoided prosecution by agreeing to a victims compensation scheme.
He's also a master of using the Land and Environment Court to get his developments faster approval.
His companies have lodged more than 180 appeals with the NSW Land and Environment Court since 2012, costing Blacktown City Council ratepayers more than $2 million in legal fees since then.
"We tried to have a truce with him at council but that lasted about two months before he was back into it again," Blacktown councillor and Labor MP Stephen Bali told The Sunday Telegraph.
"He just wants to ram through acres of development in 40-60 days."
Blacktown Council has called on the NSW Government to reform the "deemed refusal" provisions Mr Bhushan uses.
Blacktown Labor MP Stephen Bali said the Bathla Group's Schofields neighbourhood as "a Soviet-style development" and "the worst developed property in NSW".
That development, finished in 2018, was the result of a court case the council lost.
In 2018 Mr Bhushan's Universal Property Group was fined $135,000 for breaching the Work Health and Safety Act.
A surveyor working on their Doonside building site fell 4m before becoming impaled on upright concrete reinforcing bars.
In 2016 Bathla Group offloaded an approved 2.2ha development site for $43.7 million in one of northwest Sydney's largest land deals.
Mr Bhushan declined to comment.
JIN LIN - MAN OF MYSTERY
He's young, "brash" and absolutely loaded (with a personal wealth of $659m), but the real Jin Lin remains a mystery.
The Macquarie University graduate who will one day inherit his father's $25 billion Chinese property empire has been tasked with steering Aqualand's $5 billion in projects in Australia.
He is close to his father Yi Lin, whom he speaks with every day.
The family shot to fame when they stumped up $52 million for the Villa Igiea in Vaucluse before applying for a $22m renovation.
Industry sources say he loves soccer and "thinks he knows the property industry better than anyone".
"His father also brought in some steady hands to the business a few years ago, and so he has good people around him," the source said.
Sources say he spent his childhood on building sites learning from his father, whose expectations play a big role in the young man's life.
Mr Lin declined to comment.