December 10, 2018

A Russian billionaire, a young Israeli and the set of ‘Scarface’

For the cover of next month’s TRIBE magazine, in honor of Israel’s independence month, I profiled a young Israeli financier, Dovi Frances, who serves as primary financial adviser to the Russian billionaire Sergey Grishin. In a leap of faith, Frances recently ditched a comfy finance job with a major international bank to go to work for Grishin, who is trying to establish a stateside presence beyond his captain-of-industry portfolio in Russia.

One of the highlights of the interview was visiting the historic Santa Barbara property El Fureidis, which has a long and storied past—most famously it served as the setting of Al Pacino’s residence in the 1983 classic “Scarface” which makes it a bonafide Hollywood relic. 

The 10 sprawling acres it encompasses began a kind of horticultural revolution in Southern California because its landscaping was a dramatic departure from traditional approaches. Instead of a grassy lawn surrounded by trees or flowers, El Fureidis modeled the experience of a wild jungle. There are some 125 varieties of palm trees on the property and the original owner, J. Waldron Gillespie, from a wealthy New York banking family, took the architect Bertram Goodhue on a yearlong tour of Europe and parts of the Middle East to study Mediterranean architecture before building the home that sits at its center. El Fureidis – which, according to one online source is loosely translated as “pleasure gardens” – is considered the first Mediterranean Villa in the United States. Grishin, who purchased the property just over a year ago is currently renovating the property, probably in preparation to re-sell it.

According to the real estate Website,

Albert Einstein stopped by when he visited Santa Barbara. The estate includes terraced Persian water gardens and one of the rarest tree collections in North America. In fact, Walt Disney loved El Fureidis’ palm trees so much, he uprooted some and re-planted them at Disneyland. This Little Paradise has big-picture appeal—it served as Tony Montana’s (Al Pacino’s) estate in 1983’s “Scarface.”

Of course the other highlight was downing a few vodka shots in Grishin’s private jet. Not as exciting was when the small plane experienced turbulence that threatened to plunge four travelers into the sea. The experience was redeemed just before landing at LAX (where the billionaire and his two right-hand men would “drop me off” before heading to Las Vegas for business) when I was invited to sit in the cockpit and watch the landing. Surrounded by what felt like floor to ceiling windows and thousands of buttons I could never keep track of, I watched Los Angeles sparkle in the sunset as the plane descended upon the runway.

Read the full story:

At a quarter to 7 in the morning, 32-year-old Israeli financier Dovi Frances pulls up in his nightshade Mercedes Benz — a fitting color since it’s still dark outside — on his way to run a company meeting in Santa Barbara. When the passenger door opens, a blast of hip-hop music shatters the early-morning quiet, the driver buoyant with the beat pounding his luxury-vehicle-cum-mobile-nightclub.

“I’m not into Matisyahu,” Frances says with a dash of defiance. “For me it’s Eminem, Tupac, Dr. Dre — you know, hard-core stuff.”

Frances is in many ways quite like the music he likes: experimental, aggressive and forceful. He’s a young, hungry Wall Street type with sharply good looks and a measure of recklessness, whose outsize ambition justifies impulsive risk-taking.