Founder and chairman of Minor Group William Heinecke attributes his success to his love for Thailand.
Ask William Heinecke anything about Minor Group and he can readily spit out specifics: what planes (and how many) are in his Mjets private-jet fleet; the name of the architect he employed for his Leyan Beach hotel property; exact number of restaurants currently operating in China; and how many more employees he must hire in the next five years (the answer was 60,000).
As the founder and chairman of one of the largest hospitality brand in Asia – with arms spreading across F&B, upscale hotels and residences as well as fashion and accessories chains – the 69-year-old remains hands-on in almost everything because, to him, his family of brands are his big-boy toys.
For instance, restaurants like Swensons, Burger King and Dairy Queen were brought into Thailand as early as the 1980s because they were “things I could only get when I was back home”, says Heinecke. And the reason behind his exotic hotel locations? “They’re places that I found myself very excited to go back for; they’re places I love. I wouldn’t build a hotel where there wasn’t something interesting for me.”
Having moved from the States to the Thai capital at the age of 14, the son of an American Foreign Service member and a journalist began his empire in his teens, when he convinced the editor of now-defunct Bangkok World to give him his own column in exchange for ad space. Soon, he was making more money than most full-time reporters, and at age 17, became the paper’s advertising manager. After graduation, he began a business selling office cleaning services and radio advertising – a business he funded via sponsorship money from racing his car from Singapore to Bangkok.
Three years later he sold out and started Minor, a nod to his youth, during which he took over a hotel in Pattaya and founded The Pizza Company – a chain that enticed middle-class Thai with specialties like tom yum goong flavoured pies. The eatery quickly came to dominate the country’s fast food market. On top of his professional success, his biggest leap of faith was when he and his wife Kathy gave up their American citizenships for Thai passports in 1991.
Today, Minor Group is a listed-company that operates 165 hotels and residences in Thailand, Cambodia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Portugal, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Australia and Brazil. Aside from being the man behind the curtain for hospitality giants like JW Marriot Phuket, Tivolis in Portgual, Four Seasons Chiang Mai and St. Regis Bangkok – where Heinecke is famously known for having an 8,600sqft penthouse – the chairman is especially proud of his two home-grown labels, Anatara and Avani.
You can find both spread out in almost all of where Minor Group has footprints and in addresses that’ll debunk any “been there, done that”. Anantara Golden Triangle, for instance, has one of the most reputable elephant street-rescue programmes, meaning guests can get close to the giants without putting them in jeopardy. Its Angkor Wat location, meanwhile, has options that take you away from the typical temples and into local villages, bustling markets and the French quarter via motorbikes, jeep rides, ultra-light, horses and even helicopters.
“I’ve always been in aviation, and having a fleet of our own lets us explore all of those unusual locations, flying across a lot of Thailand and other regions that other people couldn’t see,” said Heinecke. “We make sure our hotels are centered around experiences, so even though Anantara was born in Thailand, our hotels are very indigenous wherever it goes; we try to adapt to the location, which is something Marriotts and Four Seasons can’t do: when you go somewhere, they all tend to look pretty much the same.”
Heinecke admits that he’s never thought what was just his small investment would blow up into a global phenomenon, especially when cruxes like the 1997 financial crisis, the 9/11 terrorist attack, the 2002 SARS epidemic and the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 have brought the company to such a low point where the chairman had to sell almost all of his overseas
properties including a Jaguar E-type and a Chevrolet Corvette to keep Minor Group afloat.
“I call Thailand home – it’s the people, it’s the economy. And when something goes wrong with your home, you do everything you can to fix it. Back then, we only had joint ventures with overseas partners and didn’t control them; so that meant selling a lot of things to survive that period. I didn’t want to live anywhere else, so it just seemed logical.”
Celebrating his 70th birthday next year, Heinecke – a diver, aviation-enthusiast, and Ferrari-devotee – still enjoys his share of sun and beach and has no intention of slowing down.
“I still enjoy all of it. I am still learning things, especially when I travel. I always say if I stop learning, I’ll retire.”
每当问到William Heinecke关于美诺集团的任何事情，他都可以如数家珍一样介绍具体细节：他的Mjets私人飞机团队有什么型号的飞机和飞机的数量；他的Leyan Beach酒店物业雇用的建筑师名字；目前在中国运营的餐厅确实数量；以及他在未来五年内需要雇用多少员工（答案是60,000）。
作为一位美国外交人员和一名记者的儿子， Heinecke在14岁的时候从美国移居泰国首都，并在少年时期开始建立他的王国。当时他说服了现已停刊的《Bangkok World》编辑，让他开设一个自己的专栏，前提是他要负责搞定专栏周围的广告位。很快，他赚的钱比大部分全职记者还要多，并在17岁时成为报社的广告经理。毕业后，他通过参与从新加坡到曼谷的赛车比赛的赞助资金，创办了提供办公室清洁服务和广播广告业务的公司。
三年后，他将业务出售，并创办了美诺集团，以纪念其年青时代。当时 他接管了芭提雅的一家酒店，并创办了The Pizza Company。该连锁餐厅以冬阴功比萨等的特色菜，俘虏了泰国的中产人士，很快便成为泰国快餐市场的龙头。除了事业上的成就以外，他最大的冒险是跟妻子Kathy在1991年放弃美国国籍，改领泰国护照。