China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

Hote­lier whose man­age­ment com­pany was ‘born in China’ has a pas­sion for New Zealand dairy farm­ing For China Daily

’m ac­tu­ally a coun­try boy,” said Gavin Faull when aske d about his for­ma­tive years, be­fore adding: “From a place called Taranaki in New Zealand.”

By his own ad­mis­sion, he has a very hum­ble back­ground.

“There were no Rolls-Royces where I was brought up,” said Faull.

“I grew up on a small farm­ing vil­lage of 200 to 300 peo­ple and my par­ents ran a gro­cery store there. That’s where I started my MBA in busi­ness, as a 10-year-old work­ing in a gro­cery store — how to make prof­its, how to re­late to peo­ple, even how to mar­ket.”

Fast-for­ward to the present and you see a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture.

Faull is now chair­man and pres­i­dent of Swiss-Bel­ho­tel In­ter­na­tional. He has led the Hong Kong-based prop­erty man­age­ment group for the past 27 years. Un­der his lead­er­ship, it now over­sees more than 145 ho­tels and re­sorts in 21 coun­tries in­clud­ing Viet­nam, In­done­sia, the Philip­pines, Malaysia, Cam­bo­dia, Saudi Ara­bia, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

“As a com­pany we’ve al­ways been ad­ven­tur­ous, we’ve al­ways been pi­o­neer­ing and that’s why we’re in so many places.”

He also owns and man­ages a 1,200-acre (485 hectare) dairy farm back in his home­town.

“I have Maori her­itage, so I’m a real New Zealan­der,” said Faull.

“On one side I’m fifth or sixth gen­er­a­tion, ar­riv­ing in the 1840s, and on the other side ar­riv­ing a few hun­dred years ear­lier by ca­noe.”

Faull is one of five brothers,

each of whom has carved out their own unique niche.

“My el­dest brother was a mas­ter at the largest gov­ern­ment school in Auck­land, an­other brother is a med­i­cal pro­fes­sor who was just knighted last year for his re­search into Parkin­son’s dis­ease and Alzheimer’s, an­other brother who’s an Angli­can archdeacon (and) an­other brother who runs re­tire­ment homes in Aus­tralia.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Welling­ton, New Zealand’s cap­i­tal, as an ac­count­ing ma­jor with a de­gree in com­merce, Faull had a short stint work­ing with pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm EY.

“I first went to Hong Kong in 1973, al­most as a kid, to work for KPMG. I then got snapped up by the Penin­sula Group (which runs Hong Kong’s iconic ho­tel) and the rest is his­tory.”

Faull re­counts how his com­pany’s ori­gin has a spe­cial bond with China.

“My com­pany was born in China,” he said. Their first client was the Jian­guo Ho­tel, Bei­jing — the first real in­ter­na­tional ho­tel in the Chi­nese main­land — which opened in 1983, said Faull.

“It was full from day one. In 1987, my boss from the Penin­sula Group, Peter Gauci, left and set up Swiss-Bel­ho­tel and took over the man­age­ment of the Jian­guo Ho­tel. So that was our first ho­tel. We man­aged it for 10 years.

“We grew up in China mainly as a man­age­ment con­sul­tant com­pany. We set up ho­tels and got them go­ing in places like Shekou and Guangzhou, and that was the phi­los­o­phy of Swiss-Bel­ho­tel In­ter­na­tional. So we would set up all the sys­tems and then pass them over to the own­ers.”

Faull re­turned to Aus­trala­sia in 1983, where he took up the po­si­tion of CEO at prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany

Kingsgate In­ter­na­tional.

He came back to Hong Kong in 1990 for an­other bite of the cherry — and what sweet cher­ries they proved to be, with Swiss-Bel­ho­tel go­ing from strength to strength.

When Faull bought the com­pany in 2000 from his part­ner (Gauci) in Hong Kong, even though there were only three ho­tels on the books at that stage, he un­der­stood the im­por­tance of be­ing a branded ho­tel com­pany.

“I re­al­ized that brand­ing is key, was key and still is key for the busi­ness.”

Faull be­lieves that the se­cret to do­ing busi­ness in China is to un­der­stand and re­spect the cul­ture.

“The (Chi­nese) econ­omy is warm­ing up — it hasn’t even got into full swing yet. I see a tremen­dous fu­ture. I am at the mo­ment dis­cussing with two or three groups a jointven­ture ap­proach to China, be­cause ev­ery­thing must be a JV,” he said.

“Most peo­ple look at a JV from an in­vest­ment point of view. I’m look­ing at it from a man­age­ment point of view. I’m con­clud­ing a deal by mid2018 and then I will start an ag­gres­sive ex­pan­sion in China.”

he lo­ca­tion and type of ho­tel for the ex­pan­sion will de­pend on the par­tic­u­lar part­ner.

“The more you learn about China, the less you know,” said Faull.

“What I have found in China is that there are three time pe­ri­ods (rep­re­sen­ta­tive) of China’s devel­op­ment.”

One is the older age group, which came through the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion (1966-76)”, he said. The next group, as Faull sees it, are peo­ple in the 45-60 age group.

“And now we have the new era — I don’t like us­ing words like mil­len­nial — the 20- to 45-year-olds who have an in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion. There is a huge num­ber study­ing over­seas, but you don’t need to be study­ing over­seas to be­come a global per­son,” he said.

“Due to the in­ter­net, they have huge ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. They are no longer talk­ing in terms of bring­ing in ex­per­tise, be­cause now they’re us­ing ex­per­tise.”

Faull ob­served that the new gen­er­a­tion is not nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for six-star ac­com­mo­da­tion like some of the older gen­er­a­tions. It is look­ing for what he calls “fast ac­com­mo­da­tion”.

“Fast value, fast ideas, con­ve­nience. You don’t go to a ho­tel for spe­cial cui­sine; you go to all the new restau­rants around the city. The same thing has hap­pened in the West — but what took the West 100 years has taken China 10 years.”

De­spite work­ing in what Faull called “one of the old­est pro­fes­sions”, he sees the busi­ness of hos­pi­tal­ity un­der­go­ing sig­nif­i­cant change.

“Dis­tri­bu­tion, mar­ket­ing and the whole ac­cess to hos­pi­tal­ity has changed. A hu­mon­gous change — with IT, with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, with how we’re get­ting to our ho­tels,” Faull said.

“I know ro­bots are com­ing, but I don’t think we want to be served our break­fast by ro­bots, oth­er­wise we’ll end up feel­ing like bat­tery chick­ens. But things will be faster. Kitchens will be run by ro­bots and the back of the ho­tel will be run by ro­bots.”

Faull also ac­knowl­edged the on­line book­ing of ho­tels is hav­ing a marked ef­fect, liken­ing its im­pact to In­ter­net be­he­moths Airbnb, Uber and Ama­zon.

“This is the hu­mon­gous change — not just of the (hos­pi­tal­ity) in­dus­try, of the world.”

Not one to rest on his lau­rels, Faull is al­ways on the look­out for new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. His lat­est ven­ture — Zest — has iden­ti­fied a niche for the cost-con­scious trav­eler.

As well as his hos­pi­tal­ity in­ter­ests, Faull also finds time to main­tain a thriv­ing dairy farm back in Taranaki in New Zealand’s North Is­land.

“I’m into dairy farm­ing in a big way. I con­tinue to de­velop that. Agri­cul­ture is my pas­sion — han­dling ef­flu­ent in an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way.”

Faull’s fa­ther and brothers orig­i­nally ran it as a 100-acre farm but he has grad­u­ally ex­panded it over time.

“I’ve now de­vel­oped it up to 1,100 to 1,200 acres and now have 1,300 cows. I have com­put­er­ized milk­ing sheds. Ev­ery­thing’s tagged — it’s run like a ho­tel. I fol­low the cow like I fol­low the guest,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky over the past five years with my three sons all com­ing home to work for me. I can share my knowl­edge and my pas­sion. So it’s a fam­ily af­fair.”

And hav­ing just turned 70, the bona fide New Zealand rich-lis­ter — who flies 80 hours a month — has no in­ten­tion of tak­ing it easy.

“No one can keep up with me. And if Mur­doch can keep go­ing and Trump can be­come pres­i­dent in his 70s, I can keep go­ing for many decades,” he said, re­fer­ring to me­dia mag­nate Ru­pert Mur­doch and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.


Gavin Faull says his com­pany’s ori­gin has a spe­cial bond with China.

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