“We can match that,” Robbie Antonio roars as his business development manager takes a seat on the side-line during the photoshoot after he is instructed not to leave his sight. Amidst looking fiercely into the camera while striking a relaxed pose, the duo are in an ardent discussion about closing a business deal here in Kuala Lumpur. A local developer has named its price – one that is much lower than the one proposed.
People on the scene can perceive there is a hint of impatience in the air, perhaps born out of frustration as the negotiations inch along.
“It has to be right and it has to be fast,” Antonio spells out efficiency as the value he places the most importance on. “People say be patient, I am the exact opposite. I want everything now. It is a sprint, not just a marathon. People say it is a long-term thing. Yes, it is a marathon but to me it is always a sprint.”
The morning started early. Antonio has taken up a transitory residence at The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur for his business trip to Kuala Lumpur. The photoshoot is held a few floors down after we remodelled a meeting room into a make-shift studio. A monolight was installed and tweaked just so we could get the exact lighting as envisioned on the mood board. His self-assurance is palpable. He may not be the most soft-spoken person you will ever meet nor will he be the most amenable muse to the maquilleuse.
“I only use one type of pomade,” Antonio replies with swag and conviction when the hairstylist offers his suggestion. Antonio’s assistant is dispatched to the suite to retrieve his pomade.
Minutes later, Antonio’s assistant returns with his trusted hair product. The hairstylist proceeds to work his magic, prepping him for the camera. Standing on the designated spot, Antonio flashes a million-dollar smile. “Come on Mr Photographer, I am ready,” he beams.
Antonio knows what he wants. It is therefore not a surprise that he became the youngest person to join the Forbes’ 50 Richest In the Philippines list. This 2018, he joins his father at number 25 with a collective net worth of US$400 million (RM1.6 billion). He is a dark knight riding a unicorn on a crusade to revolutionise real estate. His equine is Revolution Precrafted.
A few years ago, he saw that there was a disconnect in the real estate sector wherein he could exploit. For a building to come into fruition, it consumes a lot of time in design and onsite construction. What if the whole process from the beginning to the end is streamlined? A master developer only has to select from a digital catalogue and the order will be placed. Homes are constructed offsite and finally transported to the site before being assembled like flat pack furniture. Costs are saved because fewer builders are required and homeowners rejoice because they will be handed their keys in weeks instead of years.
“Would you say that you are the Elon Musk of real estate and that Revolution Precrafted is the Tesla of real estate?” I raise the question to him.
“Being compared and seeing the parallelism between Tesla and us and Musk and I is such an honour for us,” Antonio says with a grin before continuing, “interestingly, Musk and I were recently recognised by BuiltWorlds as one of the pioneering companies that help transform the built industry.”
“I wanted to prove to myself that I can be successful on my own, using my own abilities… I can be very artistic; I can be very playful; I can be very hard in the boardroom.”
Antonio was born into a family of developers. His father Jose Antonio is one of the founders and current chairman of Century Properties, a luxury property developer based in the Philippines. But Antonio chose to cut his teeth in the US. Upon graduating from Northwestern University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, he founded Antonio Development. He also has an MBA from Stanford University. The New York-based development company is responsible for Centurion – the first residential building in the Big Apple designed by Pritzker Prize winner I. M. Pei. Centurion proved to be one of the many luxury homes born out of collaborative efforts and Antonio’s conscious decisions to be exceptional at everything he does. The Midtown development is among the first projects he embarked on.
Back then he was young, in his 20s and fresh out of school, but it didn’t faze him. “On the contrary, I was very excited. I wanted to prove to myself that I can be successful on my own, using my own abilities, and creating my own connections to start up a business. I consider myself to be a very independent person and I also enjoy taking on challenges. Building something from scratch on your own and continuing to start new venture is particularly exciting and I am just glad that I was able to do it,” the 41-year-old enthuses.
Centurion also gave him the impetus to position buildings in a proper format. Piece by piece, he began to lay down the tiles for his dominoes. When he returned to his homeland, he approached recognisable brands for residences whose interiors were furnished by luxury brands such as Armani/Casa and Versace Home.
“They (Armani/Casa) don’t even want much art on the walls,” Antonio quips in a Forbes’ interview, elucidating the interiors of the plush apartments sited at Trump Tower Manila, which is set to open its doors soon. When the project was first announced to much fanfare, Antonio was gracing magazine covers and photographed alongside the leader of the free world.
That minimalist approach is a far cry from Antonio’s own obsession with the arts. He owns an extensive art collection by famous painters and by famous painters of himself. His home doubles as a depository for the oeuvre of self-portraits entitled (ditto) Obsession.
“Art allows me to inject creativity. It is not just because it is a pure investment. I love working with artists, architects, designers. I like fashion people because they are very creative,” Antonio explains. He appeared on Vanity Fair and Wallpaper because art critics were enthralled by his ardour. While he is still very much engrossed with art, Obsession has taken a backseat to Revolution Precrafted.
Launched in December 2015, Revolution Precrafted has been on a meteoric rise. “To date, we are present and have projects in 25 countries with total consolidated project revenues of US$8.5 billion with our partners in the next three to four years. We are expected to deliver 35,000 units from our projects. This is no small feat, especially for a company that is less than three years old,” Antonio stresses.
Since then, Revolution Precrafted has grown from five people, including himself, during its inception to 1,200 people presently. I ask him is Revolution Precrafted currently operationally profitable. His answer is a resounding “definitely”. “We are financially ready to support our current orders,” he adds.
In the same period, Revolution Precrafted went through a couple of rounds of financing. The latest series B funding was concluded in October 2017, propelling its valuation to over US$1 billion, hence the much-coveted unicorn – a term coined for a privately-held start-up valued at over US$1 billion. “Yes, we are not discounting the possibility of raising external funding, only to support our planned global expansion. We want to be present in 55 countries by 2019 and in 85 countries by the end of 2020. Naturally, we will need to beef up our resources and manpower in order to make this possible. As to the manner of fund raising, we are looking into doing a series C in 2019 and/or a possible initial coin offering (ICO) for one of our initiatives,” Antonio lets me in on his future plans.
He upholds Revolution Precrafted adds value to any developers. Reason being the designers he chooses to collaborate with for his prefabs. “Obviously, they need to be recognised for their work. It is the reputation that I look for. They need to add value,” Antonio sets forth the condition.
To further drive home the point, he cites Lenny Kravitz, the American rock star famous for his hits American Woman and Are You Gonna Go My Way. A product of Kravitz’s eponymous interior design firm is purveyed on Revolution Precrafted’s website. The curiously-named Instrumental Home is a free-standing enclosure that includes a living area, kitchen, one bedroom and one bathroom. Every part is prefabricated, from its durable exterior materials to modular furniture.
“A lot of people I work with started with business first and then they became friends. Some are friends first, then it (the relationship) became business. It is a natural thing. I don’t work too hard to try to get people. It just has to be natural for both to trust each other. I will try to do my best for their products. At the end of the day, it is consumer choice,” Antonio says in general referring to the dynamics between friendship and business while encompassing his relation with Kravitz.
“Nonetheless, we can say that there is great demand for our products. There is also substantial interest in our mid-entry homes because they have more accessible price points. In terms of geographical reach, we now have significant presence in Asia, South America, Central America, Europe, North America and Africa.”
It was in the Middle East that Revolution Precrafted scored its most lucrative deal to date. The mammoth deal is worth US$3.2 billion and entails the manufacturing of luxury apartments and hotel villas in Dubai’s The World Islands, composed of 300 artificial islands. Antonio says these two- to three-bedroom luxury condominiums will be pre-manufactured, shipped and then assembled onsite.
To keep up with demand, Revolution Precrafted has fabricators in Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa. But at the same time, Antonio is also aggressively looking for further expansion of their fabrication capabilities. “The quality should be top notch in order to maintain the level of quality of our homes and products,” he asserts.
Still brimming with bountiful energy whipped up by multiple changes of clothing, hairstyles and poses, he nudges me to ask him more questions while a hairdryer hovers above his head. So what is your plan for the rest of the day?
“I had all my business meetings yesterday. I am going to complete them and head to Manila in a bit, Dubai on Saturday, India on (coming) Monday. I will spend the weekend (at home). Then all the way to seven different South American countries. We want to be prevalent and ubiquitous, in six continents, which we already are. There is no play.
“But this is play. When I am having a photographer and (creative) director like this, I am having fun,” Antonio gleams referring to the photoshoot.
In between exhibiting at Design Miami, immersing in meeting after meeting, Antonio starts his day early. He leaves the bed at 4am every day, hits the gym and arrives in the office before normal business hours. “I was in Singapore for the Forbes Next Tycoons conference. It was a good time to network with them (attendees who are business titans and heirs from mostly around Asia). I really try to balance between different facets of business and of myself as an individual. When I have a bit of time when I travel, I get to see a bit of the (local) culture like art and design,” Antonio opens up on his personality as the photoshoot draws to a close. “I can be very artistic; I can be very playful; I can be very hard in the boardroom.”
Photography by Kim Mun / Hopscotch Studio
Videography by Andrew Loh
Styling by Ibnu Aswan
Assistance by Joyce Lim + Andrew Loh
Make-up by Joyce Yap
Grooming by Derren Fong / Shawn Cutler
Location by St Regis Kuala Lumpur