I wrote to businessman Adrian Ghilă on Instagram. I had heard of him from Haihuin2. In a few days he answered me, very polite, very humble. I was very surprised to receive an answer from the Romanian billionaire living in Los Angeles.
We decided to talk on a Wednesday morning. The conversation was easy, it came naturally. He is a cheerful, lively man who likes to talk about himself and his family.
He does not try to hide anything; he is happy to give business advice so that others too can get rich.
Adrian Ghilă is 36 years old. He was born and raised in Bucharest (in Drumul Taberei, more precisely) and he was a professional handball player. At the age of 23, he moved to California. He is married (to a Romanian woman) and has two little girls. He is a Republican, does a lot of charity and is passionate about cars and horses.
His main businesses are ecological car washes, luxury recreational vehicles (RVs), real estate, construction, applications (IT), and oil.
I must admit that for me, the four hours we spoke on the phone were a lesson in economics and also in humanity.
Adrian Ghilă in the meeting room in his office
Adi is a beautiful man. And I am convinced that you will hear a lot more about him because he will be more and more active in the economic life of Romania and the USA.
Enjoy your reading!
Why did you go to the United States? What motivated you?
When I decided to leave, I was already making very good money in Romania; I had already started to develop apartment blocks. I developed the first building in a field. I always had an understanding of economics and I knew that purchasing power in America is much higher. Here’s an example: I want to sell a T-shirt. In Romania, 5,000 people can buy it, 50 of them like it and 5 buy it. In America, 50 million can buy it, 5 million like it and 500,000 buy it. The effort and know-how to produce it is the same. I always knew that I would be successful when I grew up, but I was afraid I would only have mediocre success. Now you can do business from anywhere and you can sell anywhere. The situation is different. I left because I thought that America would allow me to find businesses and opportunities that in 2007, Romania did not have.
Adrian at a party
Do you still have family in Romania?
My parents and brother are in Romania. I tried to persuade my brother to move to America, but he didn’t want to.
How was your adaptation to America?
America has a lot to offer, especially when you’re a workaholic like me. But I missed having a social life very much. At first I came and I didn’t like it at all, I said I didn’t want to live here and I went to Romania. But after I decided to give up my professional handball career, I came back.
Favourite restaurant in LA? Favourite food? Favourite Romanian food? Do you eat Romanian at home?
I really like Yamashiro, a Japanese restaurant in Hollywood. This is higher class. I really like sushi. I also like the Crave Cafe (it also has food), I go there every Sunday with the kids, since they were in the stroller. Without a doubt my favourite food is mămăligă cu brânză (Romanian polenta with salty cheese). Unfortunately, my wife cooks Romanian cuisine very rarely.
What cars do you have?
I have a Ferrari 458 Spider 610 horsepower; it can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.9 seconds. I also have a Rolls Royce Wraith 620 horsepower. The car looks like a boat on the road and weighs two tons. It’s very fast but it doesn’t suit the car to drive it fast. Both are very sporty and are fully loaded with all the features and options. I’m not the type who keeps cars in the garage, I want to drive them until I grow tired of them. I firmly believe that self-driving cars will become the majority and the ones I have now will be history. So I want to enjoy them as much as I can.
Adrian and his Rolls Royce
How are the Americans? Have you become friends? And how did the Americans receive you? Have you integrated into American society?
I get along very well with the Americans. I’m not looking for friendship, we meet to smoke cigars and I talk to them, but not more than that. Here you have a conversation but you don’t necessarily have to continue the relationship; it’s a conversation of convenience, of business. You talk about a match, a movie, you make a joke. Then you go home and you may never see that person again in your life.
Would you leave California? If so, would you go to another state in America, would you return to Romania or would you like to live in another country?
I certainly wouldn’t move to another state. I’m thinking of taking up my second home in New York because I want to invest more in the stock market. I expect great opportunities in Romania and if they are good, maybe I will move back. If I can make a change, it’s worth the effort.
Adrian entering his Ferrari
Do you do charity? And if so, what exactly?
Yes, I do a lot of charity. I participate financially but also with time for causes I believe in. For example, I donate to schools, I believe a lot in education. The campaign is that we sell car wash services to teachers and parents at the school and all the funds go to that school. When I have such a campaign, I make sure that the school also makes an effort to improve things. I also donate a few luxury caravans and raise funds every year. If I don’t organize a campaign but just donate, I need to know exactly how many dollars are going to the cause. Of course I also go to charity events and galas where I have to dress elegantly; of course I like this lifestyle. Who does not like it? I also help with local campaigns, donate, and influence society as much as I can.
Adrian and his wife at a charity event
Will you guide your daughters towards business?
All the time, yes. From the age of 3, I ask them what the Profit and Loss Account means, I teach them to sell, to have budgets. People come to us and they try to sell different things.
They have their money, earned by them. Now they make a hotel in their room, they receive me at the spa and for Daddy the massage is $10.
I don’t want to pamper them, I want them to understand how money is made, how hard it is to understand that they have to work for it. I talk to them in financial terms. They do housework for the money they receive. I taught them that time means money and time is very valuable. This seems to me the most important lesson in life.
Adrian with his wife and daughters
What do you want from life, what other goals do you have? What ideas do you have for the future?
My wife jokes and says that even if I reached $20 billion, it still wouldn’t be enough. Because I want more all the time. And it’s not even so much about money as it is about power.
What do you do when you lose money in business?
I lost a lot of money last year when I invested in some businesses. I got over the loss quickly, but it hurts a little. It’s part of the business. It is important to know how to recover from the loss and learn from it. And then I want to buy even more. I am an opportunistic investor.
Adrian in front of one of his RVs
How did you start your business in America? Is it hard to make a company there?
Starting the company is easy. I didn’t know the American system, I was educated in business in Romania. I kept asking right and left and didn’t find out. One day I went to the town hall and told them that I had to open an LLC today. I started as a self-employed person, not with an LLC.
I started with a construction company, I was doing interior design. But I didn’t know anything about it. The first job was a big job and I couldn’t do it on time but I learned from it. And in the end I finished that project.
How did you grow your business?
In the 2008 recession, I started working at Bloomingdale’s, an American store that sells luxury goods as a clothing seller. In one week I received the highest commission (10%). And before the 2008 holidays, I became No. 1 in Beverly Hills. I beat sales all over America. And that’s because a gift from the company, 40 luxury perfumes, was at stake if I opened 20 accounts. I found out about this on the last day and I wanted to win. I made $30,000 that day. I won.
I started with online stores, ecological car wash, real estate, technology and applications, luxury RVs and at the moment I want to develop in tourism (but not only).
Is it easier to do business in America than in Romania?
Yes, it’s easier in America because they have a well-developed system. And the palette is bigger, the market is bigger. But in Romania there is more opportunity. The problem with Romania is that you do not have the help and support from the state.
It is said that Romania is a virgin area for business and a place to grow. Have you considered investing in your home country?
Yes, very soon, immediately after the medical crisis. As soon as I can talk about this business, I’ll let you know.
What business ideas would you give to Romanians? What’s missing at home?
The services leave much to be desired in Romania. Nowadays it is easy to have an online service. At first I would sell it abroad and then, after it was perfected, I would bring it home.
You can make money from an early age, from adolescence, with online services. Just a few days ago, a boy from another Eastern European nation called me. It was a call center and to be honest I was very disappointed that Romanians don’t do this business. Romanians can develop.
How do you choose the business you invest in? What areas would you like to invest in? Do you enjoy exploring new areas or do you prefer to invest in areas you already know?
I frequency like to try new things, I’m not so interested in money as much as I am interested in a challenge.
I’m only interested in businesses in big, high-profit industries. If a lot of people can do a certain business and I’m not unique, then I’m not very interested. I want to invest in businesses that require (me and the man behind the idea) some special skills.
I want to see a profit, not necessarily dividends, in the beginning.
I don’t want to invest in start-ups if they don’t have a well-thought-out business plan. To be honest, at some point it’s easy to do business, it’s like a game of Monopoly.
Are there businesses that could be exported from Romania to America? And vice versa?
I would import a business, a brewery. I would like to bring a Romanian beer brand to America. And I would like to produce RVs in Romania.
What is the “incubator” and when will it be ready?
Yes, the Incubator. It’s simple: people come up with business ideas. I provide them with a location, where they will sleep and learn, they will do training. They will also have a team of executives who will work full time on the project. Basically I make them a platform: managers, sales, marketing, technician. We will take start-up businesses and take them to level A. Or we take companies that we take from A to B.
Which part of the business do you like the most: management, marketing, sales?
I like the organizing part. But the hobby is sales.
From your portfolio, what is your favourite business, the business closest to your heart?
Nowadays it’s the travel part, the RVs. That’s my baby now, but that may change later.
How does your typical business day go?
I wake up very early, I write down my goals for the day and I’m in front of everyone in the office. That way I have time to prepare for my day. I have meetings until noon, it’s the time of day when I’m proactive. After noon I get hands-on, I react to problems. In the evening I look at other projects, at other investments, I gather my thoughts. I also look at the capital market. At home I write again my goals but also the things for which I am grateful. I do this with my family. And my little girls also do that. We do it in the evening to go to bed with positive thoughts.
Adrian and friends
Do you think you can learn to do business or do you have to be born with a certain talent?
Talent develops, grinds. But it is not learned, you must be born with it. I tried, being a mentor for some people. But experience tells me that you can’t learn.
What management method do you apply with your employees? Are you friends with them or do you keep your distance? How are you as a boss? How are Americans versus Romanians as employees?
I am very tough and very open. If they don’t perform, I don’t care about them, I fire them. If they perform, they have all the freedom in the world, they can do whatever they want. But the thing I care about a lot is to be at work 15 minutes earlier. If it’s only 5, they’re already late. I don’t really have a filter on what I’m saying, I’m very honest and direct. I don’t want to hurt but I don’t want to waste time either. As I said before, time is the most valuable commodity. I have a complicated and organized system that I explain to my employees. I think that helps them better understand what I expect from them.
Do you think that with the relaxation of the measures against COVID-19, the luxury caravan business will grow (being much safer than going to the hotel)?
Turnover has increased by 60% since the pandemic began. And I have an idea that I didn’t express before: I want to do a self-driving RV. Especially because of the pandemic, many people will choose not to fly but to drive. And why drive for 7 hours, to be tired, when you can order at your door an RV to pick you up and take you to your destination, during which time you rest in comfortable beds?
What are the values of your company? Does your team work for all your businesses?
I have people dedicated to various businesses. I’ve noticed that it works better that way. The company’s values are written everywhere in our office. I will tell you three of them: be logical, be responsible, be positive and happy in any circumstance.
I would like you to answer a question: why do you think that out of two neighbouring restaurants, with similar prices, one works and the other does not?
I think this is all about perception and marketing. A restaurant accessible to everyone will not work, but the one that is more elegant will work. The latter gives people a reason to go inside. It’s all about experience. Don’t open a restaurant based on your soul, you have to be pragmatic.
Do you prefer to invest in the stock market or in various businesses?
I prefer businesses, 70% because I am an active person, I like to have a say. I also like being on the board, I like challenges, I like being involved.
What business awards have you received?
Inc. 5000 Top 10 CEO in America in 2018.
At the Gallup test it came out to me that I have 5 out of 6 main qualities (generally there are 2 or 3 but not 5) for a businessman. The person who did the test told me I was a storyteller.
What do you think you have that others don’t? What secret do you have that helped you make this impressive fortune?
I have a lot of logic and common sense. If you don’t have these qualities, you have nothing to look for in the business world.
Thank you Adrian, I want you to fulfil all your plans, to show America that a Romanian wins in the most elegant way in the “land of all opportunities”.
You can find out more details about Adrian here.