Joseph Safra was born in Beirut in 1938 to a Jewish family with Lebanese-Syrian origins. He grew up listening to stories of his family's history in banking, which originated with caravan trade between Beirut, Aleppo, Alexandria, and Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire.
The Safra family reportedly migrated to Brazil in 1952. In 1955, Joseph's 23-year-old brother, Edmond Safra, and his father, Jacob Safra, began working in Brazil by financing assets in São Paulo.
Soon after, Edmond Safra separated from his brothers Joseph and Moise and headed to New York where he founded the Republic National Bank of New York, a bank he would eventually sell to HSBC in 1999 and donate the majority of the proceeds to the Edmond Safra Foundation of his family.
Joseph Safra founded Banco Safra in 1955. Today, it is reportedly the sixth-largest private bank in Brazil and is not looking to move from this position any time soon. At age 81, Joseph remains the Chairman of the Safra Group, offering banking services throughout Europe, and both North and South America.
The billionaire banker runs the Brazilian banking and investment empire, Safra Group, an international network of companies controlled by the Safra family. It comprises banking and financial institutions, industrial operations, real estate, and agri-businesses, and is present in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean.
Joseph Safra is the Chairman of all Safra companies, which include Safra National Bank of New York, and Banco Safra headquartered in São Paulo, Brazil. As of June 2019, Safra reportedly has a net worth of $24.7 billion.
Joseph went on to eventually acquire the remaining shares of Safra Group companies from his brother Moise Safra. The two brothers maintain a shareholding in Fibria Cellulose, a Brazilian pulp and paper company with a production capacity that exceeds six million tons of pulp and paper produced across seven factories and distributed throughout five Brazilian states.
Joseph Safra is the father of four children: Jacob J. Safra, Esther Safra, Alberto J. Safra, and David J. Safra. His eldest son, Jacob Safra, is responsible for all international operations outside of Brazil, while David and Alberto manage Banco Safra in Brazil.
It is reported that in the year 2013, Joseph Safra and his family acquired more than a dozen properties in the U.S., primarily in New York City. They also own a portfolio of commercial real estate in Brazil.
In 2014, Safra paid more than £700 million to buy The Gherkin, a commercial skyscraper in London's primary financial district, the City of London. The building has become a recognizable landmark of London, and it is one of the city's most widely recognised examples of contemporary architecture.