Alex Boyarsky: 1943-2021

April 20, 2021 by J-Wire
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Builder, developer and philanthropist Alex Boyarsky passed away in Sydney last week following an illness spanning over a decade.

Alex Boyarsky

His son Andrew, currently the president of NSW UIA, delivered the following eulogy:

“So how do you sum up a life as rich and full as that of my father Alexander Jack Boyarsky. I keep thinking of Tom Wolfe’s classic A Man in Full, but that was 754 pages and didn’t even cover the protagonist’s whole life.

My Dad was a larger than life character. He was a big man with big passions, big ideas and bold actions. He had an intensity and drive that is not common. He had a creative pioneering streak and a great intellect and curiosity. Where did it come from? Understanding this will go a long way to understanding the complex man he was. To do that one probably has to understand a little about where he came from.

Dad was born in Shanghai on April 16 1943. His late mother Irene who many of you also knew and reached the amazing age of 100 was a Nachitagaloff. Hard Russian stuff from Petrovpalsk, Siberia. His father Jack who had his own journey was 22 years Irene’s senior. He had been the youngest of 17 children, but unlike most of his siblings was able to survive by escaping the pogroms of the early 20th century by making his way to Tientsin China.  Alex was the younger brother of Angelica who was 3 years his senior, and whilst he was a child, they lived a sophisticated and glamorous life in the French concession in Shanghai. Jack Boyarsky was a well-respected, highly cultured and successful figure, being a chemical engineer of high repute who designed and built the Tientsin Brewery. During these years under his father’s influence, Dad started his lifelong passion of classical music,  something which he has shared with his oldest and closest friend Greg Zeltzer who has been part of the family since they were five years old.

However, as is all too common for our people, the good times did not last. The war came, the Japanese invaded, and the family had to make a fast escape to safer shores. With only a handful of items, the Boyarskys made a hurried journey to Australia in 1952. Dad was nine years old. They landed in Sydney and together with other estranged Jewish Russian families from China, and much like the European Holocaust survivors, began to rebuild their lives.

It was a difficult time. Jack Boyarsky didn’t speak a word of English and was starting from scratch yet again. The third displacement in his life. He was older and it was harder. After working as a janitor they saved enough money to open a delicatessen in Clovelly where they lived in a small apartment. Alex was a rambunctious child according to his friends. He was a natural leader but found the adjustment to a new life in new surroundings tough. He rode his bike everywhere, had a lucrative newspaper run and worked hard to save money. He ended up at Randwick Boys High, whereupon he was tormented as a “Refo”. He wasn’t going to take that lying down. I imagine it steeled his resolve to make something of himself. Knowing him it would have downright pissed him off. He proved that he was tough by playing footy, riding his 500cc Norton, drinking and being one of the lads. Between the footy concussions and the motorbike accidents, it may have set the stage for the health troubles he endured later in life.

He went to uni at 17 and started in construction and engineering followed by an MBA. He wanted to build things. Lay his foundations. Make something of himself by creating things that you could touch and feel. It was a tough game where you could prove yourself. He continued playing footy and made some good mates. A lot of them came from more well to do homes and this just drove him harder. He was hungry.

His harder living days gave way to his ambition. He started applying himself completely to his work and started as an apprentice at Perini and then site foreman at Civil and Civic which evolved into Lendlease. He met Vera during this period and with Mum’s Holocaust background, they shared the same drive to make a better life for themselves. It is no surprise that on one of their very first dates Dad took Mum to tour one of his building sites. He was always such a romantic bugger.

Dad was promoted through the ranks quickly. He had a sharp mind, was good with numbers, had technical brilliance and wouldn’t take shit from anybody. Great assets in the property game. He was put in charge of Bankstown square, followed shortly by the State Office Block on Macquarie street. He excelled.

In doing so he came to the attention of Dick Dusseldorp who took a liking to Dad and realised his leadership potential. He offered Dad the position to look after Dick’s personal favourite project, the building of Thredbo village.

Whilst appreciative and realising he had a great potential career at Lendlease. Dad declined. Newly wed to Mum in 1968 and being 25 years old, they decided they were going to make it on their own. Anka was formed. This didn’t go down too well with his parents. Given the instability of their lives, they thought he was mad to take the risk of losing such a lucrative career. However, Elizabeth Steiner, Vera’s Mum believed in Alex even though he was rough around the edges. She saw a good man with an insatiable drive to make something of himself. She staked him with what little savings she had for him to go out and buy a wheelbarrow and a shovel to start his fledgling construction business.

Courage and hard work defined those early years. Dad would tender dozens of jobs and the business was growing. But Dad sensed a greater opportunity in Western Australia. Perth was growing at a faster rate than Sydney given the resource boom of the late 1960s. So in 1971 he packed up the family which now included Michelle who was born in 1970 and moved to Perth. This was a gutsy move. They knew no one and started from nothing. Again. A true pioneer, demonstrating a great conviction in his abilities. In Perth they not only built a business, but they also built a life filled with lifelong friends. Machy Machlin became my godfather when I was born in Perth in 1973. As well as the Machlins, the Schaffers, the Kessels, the Simonsons became close.

In fact, John Schaffer one of dad’s closest friends is with us today recounted to me recently how he met Dad. This young guy (only 27 at the time) who they suspected was Jewish marched into their office at Calsil Bricks and announced: ‘I’m from Sydney. I’m going to build a lot of stuff. I’m going to need 1 million bricks. What can you do for me?’ John looked at his father and said is this guy for real? Or is he nuts? Not only did that start a lifelong friendship but that started Mum and Dad on their way. In their seven years in Perth Dad made his first million dollars. It was the hardest he has said to me, but the most rewarding. In Perth Anka and the Boyarskys left their mark. Dad built several convalescent hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and community assets. He built for and canoodled with some real characters from Australia’s past. He built for Alan Bond and Laurie Connell. He competed with John Roberts on tenders. He has a litany of stories from Australian business folklore of that time. He recounted to me once that Alan Bond didn’t want to pay his drawdown one month on one of his jobs. Alan offered to pay by sending him some company share certificates. Dad retorted “My blokes can’t eat share certificates Alan – send me the cash now”.

This was a great period in Mum and Dad’s journey. Dad even became President of UIA during his time there whereupon they went on their first UIA mission to Israel in 1975 that would sustain their strong lifelong love of Israel and the Jewish People. So too did he build the Jewish centre that has stood in Perth for the last 45 years.

On their return to Sydney in 1979 Anka went from strength to strength. Dad undertook numerous highrises in Sydney on Sussex and Kent St and built a great friendship and business relationship with Michael Hershon. He also built relationships with other colourful characters like Warren Anderson and Eddie Kornhauser. He started building not only in NSW but up through Queensland. He built many shopping centres and apartment blocks in Burleigh, Mooloolaba, Maroochydore and the Gold Coast. He built office buildings in Mt Gravatt and Brisbane. Work was frenetic. He tried to spend as much time with Mish and I as possible but the pressure was constant. Dad was going onward and upwards. Nothing seemed to slow him down. It was in 1984 that Dad stood up to the unions at the dreaded time of the militant BLF. He stood up to them and for his efforts he had a few islanders meet him in his carpark with crowbars after work one night. 100 stitches later and a major concussion. The price ultimately was high.

The 80s wasn’t only a time for laying foundations. Dad started to branch out. It was the flamboyant age of anything goes. It was the years of Dad smoking Rothmans and Mum the occasional St. Moritz. My parents started to travel. Europe, the US and Israel. Mish and I were lucky to join them on some amazing educational trips which Dad had planned meticulously for months. They started to dabble in art and antiques which became a lifelong passion and journey. Dad was curious, paranoid and looking for opportunities. He started to diversify. Having been scarred by his parents disrupted lives and that of Vera’s Holocaust upheaval, Dad wanted to make sure he had other assets overseas just in case. He wasn’t going to get caught out. No way. He was a student of our people’s history.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were the brief disastrous forays into currency trading. I remember dad sitting us all down in our house one night and telling us that things were going to be tight for a while. He had just lost the GDP of a small country on shorting the Swiss franc. Let’s just say he was not happy with the bankers. Then there was the interlude with going public. The days of Citistate corporation were creative and stimulating for dad. He came up with fantastic creative structures for funding like pioneering the zero-coupon bond and structures for doing international developments. He also continued to innovate. He negotiated with the NSW government to buy the air rights over the Darling Harbour car parks to build the IBIS and Novotel Hotels. Both hotels are still there. He built large shopping centres in and around Washington DC. However, this foray into public markets was a huge disappointment. He didn’t like dealing with shysters, users and the unprincipled hangers. It cost him a lot but he took Anka private again. Unfortunately, his trust in people took a big hit and from then on Dad returned to the position of trust no one but yourself and my Mum. His love of litigation was embedded. No one was going to get the better of him ever.

When I finished school in 91 and went on a road trip up the coast with my girlfriend at the time I was gobsmacked with the number of buildings my Dad had built by this time. It was impressive. He had certainly left his mark. He had laid his foundation. It made me so proud. It also inspired me to continue in his footprints and I took up engineering at uni.

The 90s was a time of consolidation. Anka was private again and Dad was in charge. He would get back to basics. Rebuild. Focus on what he knew best and loved and that was development and property. With Mum at his side smoothing out his edges and looking after the people side of things they rebuilt the team. Work was slow in the first few years which was excruciating for him. Mish joined Anka briefly at this time but it wasn’t the easiest with the lack of work. Dad started looking further afield for opportunities and dabbled in the UK, Spain and Israel property markets. Ultimately, he decided on Seattle in the States. He saw the rise of Microsoft and sensed the opportunity. He started an office and developed various retail and residential projects there. Finally, by 1994 just before the announcement of Sydney as the 2000 host of the Olympic Games, Dad secured a major Sydney development site, the 14ha redundant CSR site in Concord. With his strong conviction, appetite for risk and creativity the site became the 900-unit Liberty Grove suburb. It kicked off the Rhodes peninsula redevelopment and was a huge success. It was one of the first community title projects in Australia.

The late 90s was great for Mum and Dad it was more settled although not without its struggles. Mum had her bout with cancer but with Dad and Mish’s inspirational support she got through it. Unfortunately, at the time I was a little too absent and a little too naughty. Also, Alex’s sister Angelica passed away after a valiant struggle with illness, She died too young at only 58. However ever since, our bond with Benny, Helen, Anthony, Naomi, Lucy, Joel and Nikki has only grown stronger.

On the positive side Mish got married to Jez and they started to grow their family with the birth of their first grandchild Josh. Ethan followed a couple of years later. They have now grown into fine young men. Dad had a new boat built in Taiwan which they of course named Anka. He loved to tinker on it. It was his meditation. So many good times.  They bought a holiday house in Thredbo from his old uni mate Reg Sherlock that furnished them lasting memories with friends and family over the decades that followed. Dad had time to really get into his passions of music and reading. He really was complex and interesting. During the day he was hard as nails at work focussed and in control, taking no shit and at home spending time in his study and library reading Talmud, Freud or Isaiah Berlin while listening to Beethoven piano or violin concertos. He loved the intellectual, the cultural and the test of life. Now with an ability to give back, Mum and Dad accelerated their philanthropic journey, supporting their passions of the Arts, Education and Israel. They got involved with the Art Gallery of NSW, the SSO, and Yad Vashem.  I do have an incredible memory that involved many of their passions, whereupon travelling to Israel and Egypt in 1998 with Mum and Dad, we examined the impossible engineering of the pyramids in Aswan then tracked down a 3000-year-old Han dynasty artifact for their collection in Cairo followed up by one of the greatest musical experiences of my life listening to the 50th anniversary of the Israeli Philharmonic in Tel Aviv with Dad’s favourites Zubin Mehta, Yitzhak Perlman and special guest YoYo ma.

The beginning of 2000 was when I joined the business. I was in New York and Dad came to see me after I finished my MBA and just as I was about to start in investment banking, he came to me and said “son enough with the bullshit you’re now ready for a real education”. How could you say no to that?

I’m glad I did. Time waits for no one. Not only did I join Dad but the day I returned home I connected with Taryn and we started our life together. We have since had our beautiful three girls Mia, Kayla and Ava who have always loved and cared for their papa.

When I joined the business, it was a good time. The team was strong, the business well capitalised and ready for more challenges. The core of that team is all still together. Dads big personality and authentic nature just engendered loyalty and camaraderie.  In particular; Andrew Stringer, Dennis Meyer, David Bennett and our trusted advisors Peter Miller and Mark Doyle. Larisa Goldguber just retired after 22 years! For all his gruffness Dad has been a wonderful teacher and inspiring leader. We have all been through a lot together. Good times and the very tough ones like the GFC. In the early 2000s, all of us did our stints in the US. In addition to the Seattle office, we expanded into San Francisco and San Diego. We have built amazing buildings of the highest quality. High-rise mixed-use towers, apartment buildings and shopping centres that will stand the test of time. We even had a foray into casinos which David Stern was instrumental in. We have made many lifelong friends there too, many who have sent their good wishes today. But let’s not forget with Dad’s take no prisoners approach we did, as he used to say “put a lot of lawyers’ kids through college”. In the early 2000s Dad was at his best and at the top of his game.

In 2003 he had a 60th birthday celebration at the Paddington town hall that was unforgettable for all who attended. It was an unusual bit of ostentation for him, he was a simple bread, cheese and diet coke man but life was good and worth a party. It was prescient that we did it given what was just around the corner. He had worked hard and battled for it. It was time to celebrate. There were dancers, circus acts, comedians and a vodka ice castle but most important of all at his insistence It included not only his lifelong friends most of who are here today, but all their kids, now grown up. Lots of my friends and our family friends’ kids, many of whom are here today have fond memories of Dad. His influence on our generation was tremendous. His vast intellect and experience, his openness and generosity allowed him to connect and help guide many of us. I’m sure we all reflect positively on his counsel. It was something he was passionate about. He loved giving opportunities to young people. It is why he was a great supporter of education particularly at universities; it is where his opportunities were born. That is why Mum and Dad have set up a number of scholarships for further education, particularly at his beloved alma mater UNSW. It is why he sat on the UNSW Foundation Board for many years. I’m so lucky he was my Dad. The momentum in my life comes from the inertia he and Mum have overcome in theirs.

Unfortunately, the last 10 to 15 years were very hard emotionally for our family. Dad’s relentless and extremely full life ultimately took their toll. His declining health has been hard to watch. His innate strength of character has kept him going and the incredible superhuman dedication of Mum. It has been a true lesson in commitment, Jewish values in motion and above all else a demonstration of true love. My mother did everything humanely possible to fill his life with comfort and dignity. She could not have done more. For that we thank you and so does he. Also, a special thank you must go to Raymond Kassel who has been an extraordinary companion, carer and best friend to Dad over the last 10 years. You treated Dad like a brother and for that you have our deepest gratitude. Also Dr Bryce Vissel who never gave up on Dad and your scientific contribution gave him both more quality and quantity of life. Over the final period, we also must thank Sarah, Teya, Rose and Diva. You are all special people doing God’s work. Also, Aileen and Hermann, thank you for your dedication and hard work over many years for our family we greatly appreciate you.

So, in closing I hope you have a fuller picture of my father. He was authentic. He was original. He thought deeply and took action. He loved deeply. He had passion. He was honest. He was a proud Jew. None of us is perfect and either was he. But he sure gave his life one hell of a go. He had a full life. He was a good man. And therefore, in my summation; his life is the one I will use to measure the success of my own.”

Alex Boyarsky.  

Born: April 16, 1943. Shanghai, China

Died: April 9, 2021, Sydney, Australia

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