At the age of 18, Cypriot expat John Christodoulou, at that time unemployed, convinced the landlord who owned a small shop in Hatton Garden — a London suburb dedicated to the jewellery trade – to rent him a workshop, and to take part of the rent in exchange for jewellery repairs at a discount.
It was the first clever deal Christodoulou ever made. It started him on a career that led to creating a property empire worth billions. As of April 2020, his net worth was £1.8 billion ($2.2 billion), according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2020.
“I have learned by experience: I left school at 16 and made my own way,” Christodoulou told the Cyprus Mail in an interview.
The 55-year-old Christodoulou owns 100 per cent of the Yianis Group, which owns the London hotels Marriott West India Quay and the Canary Riverside Plaza He also owns Wool House in London. His career as a builder and investor has combined with that of a philanthropist who has given back substantially both to Cyprus and to the UK.
Christodoulou says his Cyprus experience was an important influence. “I was born in Kaimakli, and I grew up there until the war in 1974. We had to go south, looking for safe haven, and then we couldn’t go back as it was a war zone. I also spent a lot of my childhood in Sisklipos, near Kyrenia at my Grandparents house and now it’s all gone.”
At the age of eight, he arrived in the UK with his family, and he learned English on the school playground.
“But I went to a Greek school toο to maintain the language. I still feel Cypriot in my behaviour and thinking, I still count in Greek in my Head! Although I try to advance it thinking internationally. I’ve learned to appreciate British decorum and organisation– it’s a solid country,” he notes.
“I like my Zivania, enjoy Cypriot food, and do a bit of dancing and plate- breaking from time to time,” he adds.
Christodoulou does take a critical view of Cyprus. “Look I think Cyprus has great potential, but there is a lot that has to change. Just compare Cyprus with Israel; even if we take population size into account we are very far behind in development compared with them, Israel’s GDP is around USD 380bn whilst Cyprus’ is around USD24bn, we should be doing double that in Cyprus.
Surely Christodoulou has a right to criticise, as he’s made his own career by working his way up, step by step. He started out by taking jobs on construction sites, putting up buildings. From there he went on to managing his own construction and developing his own buildings – he’s done 10 million square feet of them so far. When he found that bankers would lend him more as his assets increased, he borrowed more and began buying properties.
As a philanthropist, Christodoulou has been effective both in his UK community and in Cyprus. “You get to be 50 years old, you start wanting to give something back,” he insists.
He has given generously, reportedly more than a million pounds to his Yianis Christodoulou Foundation. He has rebuilt a family center in Bolton, and provided dogs for deaf children in the UK.
In Cyprus, the Yianis Christodoulou Foundation has fully funded the renovation of a multi-purpose and multi-media classroom in a primary school in Nicosia situated in a deprived area. The Foundation has also fully equipped the classroom with new furniture, PCs, laptops, resources for teaching English and a high level interactive board. Among its school projects the Foundation upgraded the outdoor basket-ball courts of primary schools with the installation of multi-sport flooring for safety purposes. It has also organised three Pancyprian competition among public schools (primary, secondary-VET and special needs schools) with a total amount given for prizes of €61.000 which is spent on the purchase of teaching and learning equipment.
The Foundation has fully funded the renovation of the ground floor of a Children’s House in Nicosia which hosts young children under the care of the Social Services. The renovation of the ground floor and the dining area, included also the creation of two study rooms, a library / IT room and a TV room. The Foundations has also full equipped the Children’s House with new furniture (dining table, desks, chairs etc.), laptops, printer and a TV. Similarly, the Foundation equipped the new Children’s House in Larnaca. The aim of both projects was to improve the living conditions for the children and to create a modern, friendly and warm family-atmosphere for all.
Although the focus on the Yianis Christodoulou Foundation is on children and young people in need, the Foundation was active during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has taken several initiatives, both in Cyprus and the UK, as well as in Thailand to support vulnerable groups of people; the elderly, single mothers, disabled people etc. Among the initiatives are the provision and delivery of food packages to support the Greek-Cypriot community in the UK, the food aid in Banglamung Chonburi Thailand, food parcels in various hospitals, schools and shelters in the UK for homeless people, as well as the thank you boxes for the 6,107 health workers in all public hospitals in Cyprus, and various hospitals in the UK.
And he continues to do much. Hoping that Cyprus too, will someday do much more: “Israel is surrounded by enemies. Cyprus really has only one enemy. We need to improve manufacturing, commerce…there is so much to do, and if everyone worked together, that might happen.”