Entrepreneur of the Year: Boji GroupBoji Group’s success started when Ron Boji and his father, Louie, purchased Lansing’s landmark building, Michigan National Tower, later renamed Boji Tower, in 1998. As a young man in his twenties, Boji served as property manager for the Tower with an office in the basement. Little did he know that 17 years later he would end up with an office on the 21st floor.
Boji Group is a real estate development, property and construction management firm, providing services for more than two million square feet of state-of-the-art commercial, retail, wholesale and lodging space. He and his father have principal interest in nearly 50 companies, collectively employs 400 people and generates growth in revenues at a pace of 10 to 12 percent in real estate, and three to four percent globally across all of its companies each year.
Because of Boji Group’s phenomenal growth and ingenuity, the Greater Lansing Business Monthly named Boji Group the 2015 recipient of the Entrepreneur of the Year. The winner of this award truly sets the bar for other entrepreneurs in the community.
“I don’t look at the entrepreneurial award as an award that I got, I look at it as an award for the Boji Group,” said Boji. “I felt very proud not being in a relationship with any of the judges, and them not even knowing me, they took it on the merits of my company. It made me and my company even prouder to win the award.”
All in the FamilyBoji first remembers wanting to be an entrepreneur when he started selling bags of popcorn with his special seasoning to his classmates for Thursday movie day in the 3rd grade. He had the opportunity to work alongside his father Louie, who is a successful entrepreneur himself. It all started with the opening of their first store inside of a shopping center they built from the ground up 30 years ago. Louie also bought and sold more than 25 grocery stores.
Boji attributes his success to his father and his grandfather, Joseph, the patriarch of his Chaldean family. His grandfather came on a boat from Iraq to Detroit in 1929 during the Great Depression in hopes of being able to work, be prosperous and eventually bring his family to the United States. Working at the Wonder Bread factory, he sent two-thirds of his check back to his family in Iraq. A couple years later, he traveled to Iraq never thinking he’d return, but his son, Louie, had other plans. In 1968, Louie brought his family to San Diego, Calif., and moved to Michigan when Ron was seven years old. His grandfather would join them 14 years later.
“His stories that he would tell me, his fundamental foundation of life is the roots of my dad’s and my upbringing,” said Boji.
Game Changing MomentsPurchasing the Boji Tower was a game changing decision for Boji and his father to move their business forward. Yet this defining moment may not have happened if it weren’t for several significant breaks in the years leading up to the Tower.
In 1993, Boji graduated with a B.S. in Construction Management and Finance from Michigan State University. He knew he didn’t want to go work for someone else, nor did he want to stay in the grocery store business, so he went to Sacramento, Calif. to train for a year in the computer business.
“At that time it was more about being an entrepreneur than about which field I was getting into. Then when I became an entrepreneur and created wealth that allowed me to go back into the real estate market which is what my true passion is,” said Boji.
He came to Lansing, Mich. in July 1994 and started a Computer Warehouse franchise, eventually had two stores and built the business to $10 million. Meanwhile, Boji and his father were given an opportunity to sell a small portion of land to Rite Aid. They took that money and did a 1031 exchange, then added in their own personal wealth and put a bid on the building that would become Boji Tower.
Looking to the FutureBoji took over leadership of the day-to-day business operations from his father about 10 years ago.
As he looks toward the future, Boji expects the business to continue growing at the same pace annually. He attributes much of his success to his ability to secure long-standing relationships and a focus on strategic public-private partnerships with state and local government, resulting in more than 700,000 square feet of leased space.
“No man is ever strong without a wonderful woman next to him,” said Boji. “I would never be anywhere without my wife Heather standing next to me and my four daughters, being the rock that allows me to build the way I do.”