How did an architect from California end up competing in The Hydra Executives, a reality TV show in Abu Dhabi?
It's truly a bizarre situation, isn't it? It came to me as an e-mail from the UCLA School of Architecture. I'm on the mailing list, and I caught a glimpse of this "real-estate audition" phrase. That year I had decided to try and do things differently from a marketing perspective, as things had started to turn sour with the economy. So I pulled it back out and read it, and it was advertising for a real estate-oriented [TV show] filming in the UAE. I checked with my family to see if I could take that kind of time away, and Saturday morning, I threw on a sports jacket, took a tiny business plan, and started auditioning. By Sunday I had signed the contract. Truly bizarre.
How exactly did you win it? Did you have any strategies going in?
Reality shows are very, very trying. You have to decide between yourself and others, and the challenge, really, is to be a team player and also [to] be selfish. It really comes down to knowing when to do these two separate things. People tend to follow me when I'm in group situations. I just have a natural leadership tendency, probably because I [am] older and I just have that skill.
Do you think your architectural background helped you in the competition?
Hugely. We had tasks to perform on a weekly or biweekly basis, and they were all real estate– or design-oriented in some way. Designing buildings, starting a business, landscape design, interior design—I'd done all these things in my past. Maybe that's why I was chosen in the end—I was probably better equipped than any of the other 15 contestants.
You've donated some of your winnings to charity. Do you have any other plans for the prize money?
I was introduced to the [United Nations'] Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition by Dr. [Sulaiman Al] Fahim, the host of The Hydra Executives. I feel their efforts on malnutrition across the globe will be impactful and that I could finally give something back to society besides good buildings. [Best donated $100,000 of his prize money to the group.] The rest of the money I will use to set up a firm, Eco Design, in the UAE. Dr. Fahim is my partner in that, and he has many contacts in the real estate world and with developers, so we fit together very well.
The Hydra Executives has been billed as the UAE's version of The Apprentice. Can you say "You're fired" in Arabic?
[Laughs] No, it was all filmed in English.
The Hydra Executives (hydraexecutives.com) aired on Infinity TV and Showtime Arabia between January 2009 and April 2009