After his father Sholomo Potelyahov died in 1885, Potelyahov and his wife, Pnina, moved to Kokand to start a drapery business with a partner, Sholomo Musaev. After a few years Sholomo Musaev left for Jerusalem and gave Potelyahov his share of 3000 roubles. Potelyahov put that money in new trading business, which soon brought him a huge income. This merchant of 1st guild soon became one of the richest and respectful people of Turkestan and Bukharian Emirate.
Potelyahov had a network of shops in Turkestan, Bukharian Emirate, Moscow and Orenburg. He owned large number of cotton factories, two cotton oil factories, a soap factory, tea-packing and tobacco factories, lands with coal and petroleum deposits, and a railway from Margelan up to Shahrizana. He was one of the largest providers of cotton to Russian markets.
Despite being a businessman, Potelyahov also gave a lot of attention to the needs of Bukharian Jewish community. In 1905, he constructed and organized a Bukharian-Jewish school or homlo, which was financed by him and the Vadyaev brothers. Rafael Potelyahov also had invited teachers from Odessa and rabbis from Jerusalem. Hebrew and Russian were some of the subjects studied at the school.
In 1907, Potelyahov built a private residence in Kokand, which after the Russian revolution was used as a communication center. When Russian Finance Minister was visiting Turkestan region, Potelyahov had made a big impression on him as the highly cultured and clever person, and the Minister of Finance had awarded him with a medal. Next time Potelyahov was in St. Petersburg, the Russian tsar welcomed Rafael Potelyahov and gave him a title of prince.
After the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917, Potelyahov was appointed as a minister of a capitalist government in Kokand. Subsequently the Kokand government was defeated and Potelyahov was imprisoned on charges of financing a revolt. His son Zion Potelyahov successfully petitioned for a new trial. Potelyahov defended himself in court and proved his innocence. As a free man, Rafael Potelyahov went to Moscow to his brother Nathaniel, and from there together with his son and brother he went to Baku (Azerbaijan).
Rafael Potelyahov is remembered in Uzbekistan for his substantial contributions to the Bukharian Jewish community.
Sources: Bukharian Jews