Eliya (Louie) Boji is an amazing example of an immigrant who came to America and fulfilled his potential. After growing up in Iraq and graduating with a law degree from the University of Baghdad in 1968, Boji came to the U.S. in 1968 before becoming a citizen in 1974. After early partnerships and developments in the 1970s and 1980s, he then formed the Boji Group in 1998 to acquire the Michigan National Tower in Lansing. The Boji Group is now one of the most prominent companies in the state, as it and its affiliates are in charge of businesses ranging from hotels in Michigan to gas stations in North Carolina. Then on July 13, Boji was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to serve on the Michigan Education Trust Board of Directors. A father of three and a grandfather of eight, Boji is a former West Bloomfield resident who now resides in Orchard Lake with his wife of 46 years. Boji spoke with the Spinal Column Newsweekly about growing up in Iraq, his business ventures and his new role with the state. For more information, visit bojigroup.com.
SCN: Tell us about your company, The Boji Group, and your role as managing member. What were your goals for the company when you founded it and how, if at all, have they come to fruition?
LB: The Boji Group is an umbrella of our many other companies such as the Boji Tower, which is the tallest building in Lansing, the Capitol View Building in Lansing and other office buildings in Lansing. Also, we’ve diversified to cover our shopping center, food distribution and fuel stores in North Carolina. Our company was founded in 1998 when we bought the building of Michigan National Bank, so we put in the Boji Group to cover all of the businesses that we had before and to acquire later.
SCN: How has your company been dealing with business in a struggling economy?
LB: We’ve been really lucky — we have no issues with this economy. Yes, our customers are struggling, but we try to help them and give them a hand, extend more credit and talk with our tenants and if some them need help, we do help. We have to see this economy through, (and) hopefully people will come back and they’ll get on their feet. Everything that has happened with my company is what I hoped it would be.
SCN: You are originally from Iraq and you graduated from the University of Baghdad in 1965 with a law degree. Tell us what it was like for you to grow up and go to school in your homeland. Do you follow what is currently going on in Iraq and if so, what are your thoughts on the direction the country is heading in?
LB: It was very difficult. When I went to my kindergarten and through the intermediate school, which is ninth grade, we didn’t have any water at home or any electricity. I had to leave my village at 16 and go to the capital so I (could) finish my education, finish high school. Then I went to law school and finished in 1965. It was quite hard, not easy, but maybe that’s why we are successful — we try so hard.
I feel bad that the country is what it is. I have to say it’s the fault of the United States. They didn’t have a plan after taking over.
SCN: You have also recently been appointed to serve on the Michigan Education Trust Board of Directors. What does the board do specifically, and what did it mean to you to be appointed to this board by Gov. Rick Snyder? What goals do you have for your term of service?
LB: To me, it’s an honor and a privilege to serve the public. I hope with my background as a graduate and a businessman I can help that board. I don’t have much details yet. I’ll be meeting with the executive next week. Once I know more, I’ll have another session.
I want to use this trust fund money and use it to improve it, hoping we can invest it to get more income so when there is an increase in the tuition, that the fund can support those increases.
SCN: What do you think are the biggest challenges the trust board is facing today and what ideas do you plan to bring to the table to address those challenges? What kind of previous educational experience do you have and how do you deal with other directors who currently are involved in the field, whether they are teachers or university presidents?
LB: I can’t say that I have all the details yet, but to me, as a businessman, I’ll help to run that as it is my money, my business to invest in the right place and to get the maximum return. Really my experience is in business, running my companies and different partnerships that we have.
SCN: With families facing economic hardships, what advice would you have for them to save up for their children’s college tuition or other educational pursuits? Explain how much more difficult it is to afford educational pursuits for families these days compared to years past.
LB: Definitely as a businessman, I like to put a portion of my wealth and invest it in a way that will grow so when the kids are ready to go to college, that fund is there.
It is hard and I feel bad for the parents, whether it’s tuition or other expenses, and in my opinion, the way I see the education here in this country, we waste a lot of time. For example, a kid goes for four years (to college) and doesn’t even know what he wants. Back home (in Iraq), we finish high school, and where you wanted to go, that’s where you start.
If you want to be a doctor, from day No. 1, you are in medical school. If you want to be a lawyer, from day No. 1, you go to law school. If you want to be an engineer, you go to engineering school. I finished my law school in four years, and I studied nothing but law for four years.
SCN: With your extensive resume, what would you say has been your greatest professional accomplishment?
LB: Probably, I would say the multiple (business) partnerships that I’ve had, because not all my companies are run 100 percent by me. I bring in people that run the day-to-day operations and I give them small partnerships and that will motivate them to work harder and watch every penny that the company has.
SCN: What do you enjoy most about working in the U.S. and living in West Bloomfield?
LB: I love the water. I live on the water. I have a boat. But, the most important thing I enjoy is volunteering, whether it’s in my community, in my church, in my relationships with the people around me.
I’m on the board of directors of the ACC (Arab-American and Chaldean Council) as the treasurer. I was involved in the parish council of my church for 20-something years, head of the finance committee of my social country club.
My office is always open.