THIERRY NAIDU, PHOENIX HOTELS – INTERVIEW

Imagine this : a Young lad of 10 from Mauritius, his mother was chef in a Relais & Châteaux.  There, he had first-hand experience of the hard work and also got the passion of  luxurious hotel life ! After a worldwide career, he now provides his passion and experience through his company “Phoenix hotels group”. In accordance with Thierry’s philosophy, his company proposes a unique tailor made services to luxury hotels from management, asset management, consulting, development, pre-opening services, sales and marketing & gastronomy consultancy. Thierry is an expert always excited by new challenges. He likes to federate team and bring them up where nobody will !

 

F.1.M. : You were born in Mauritius, yes?

T.N. : Exactly 50 years ago and I came to France at the age of 10. My mother was the head cook in the kitchen of a hotel in France, and I practically grew up in this ambiance partaking of my mother’s wisdom and experience. it was during the summer that I was able to give her a helping hand and odd jobs here and there.

F.1.M. : When exactly did it hit you that working in the hotel business was going to be your future?

T.N. : At first it was not a question of me going into the hotel business. After I experienced the work of my mother and the difficulties that this presented (working in the evenings, during the holidays, very long hours, etc…I didn’t want to get involved in that, I was thinking more of biological research. However, little by little while working with her, during which she received a Michelin Guide star, I understood better the role of creativity and the efforts in research of the many things one could do, and that’s the moment it hit me that the hotel industry could be my calling. But I wanted to acquaint myself with all facets of hotel operations: the kitchen, maintenance, reception, service, and technical operations in order to truly be able to quickly rise up the ladder to be a hotel manager.

F.1.M. : So glad to hear this, for it is similar to the road I took in publicity.

T.N. : Yes, I adored the restaurant angle; it was fascinating how this part could have an added value to the hotel structure. I fell in love with this small little jewel which could do something absolutely different in terms of  quality of hospitality, generosity and conviviality. We refer to our clients as guests and friends who come to visit us, making them a part of our universe where guests and staff discover; share life stories in true reciprocity, enhancing our hotel dynamic.

F.1.M. : This brings me to a personal question that I was itching to ask you. You have reached a certain success and are now top manager in an enterprise of one the world’s most prestigious industries. The connotation of power and success in a service business is interesting. Nowadays, you have directors that have become superstars themselves, celebrities in their own right…

T.N. : Today, when you recruit someone to deal with the task of human relations, that person has to have it in his DNA. This is something hard to acquire if you don’t have an innate propensity to share and give of yourself. Our profession is one that gives an experience, provides pleasure. The difference in non-successful managers and those who become well known is not only due to their know-how, but the contacts they have and the manner in which they sell and communicate what they have to their clients. As a matter of fact, the clients play the key role in boosting the reputation of a manager or house by the way one shares and communicates with them.

F.1.M. : That’s so true…

T.N. : I grew up with my mother who worked in the kitchen of a small Relais & Château in Avignon. That is where I got my experience, practically each summer I was in the ranks. I studied hotel management in Bordeaux; my desire was then to get into luxury hotel management as soon as possible. Unfortunately, my mother had a car accident and I was asked to replace her as Head chef in the kitchen for a year. My mother in the hospital, she still had to help me (by telephone) with the my many requests about recipes and establishing the menu. I had tons of responsibility.

After maintaining the Michelin star, I resigned. “No, I don’t want to cook no matter how fascinating it is; I only want to cook for me and my friends.” Afterwards, I joined a French group called Grandes Étapes Françaises that had several hotels on the French Riviera and I opened the Château de Gilly in Burgundy with the well-renowned director, Jean-Louis Bottigliero, and after 2 years, I really wanted to try my hand in a management position. The Chèvre d’Or owners headhunted me and I took the management seat at the age of twenty-four and a half, managing the hotel for 13 years (from 1991-2003).

F.1.M. : Yes, the restaurant at the Chèvre d’Or … there are no words!

T.N. : When I took over the Chèvre d’Or, there was a one-star restaurant and 11 rooms. My aim at that time was to enlarge the scope of the hotel, its reputation and reposition it. Eleven rooms was actually two small to be financially stable. We acquired the surrounding buildings of the original structure and changed them into rooms, and we passed from 11 rooms to 36-37 rooms. The transformation was a massive improvement of our position in the village, and finally we had a structure that could accommodate the service platform of a great hotel.

F.1.M. : Thus, the Michelin starred Chèvre d’Or is not the only restaurant?

T.N. : The hotel as a hospitality facility is the first element, consisting of  a 24-hour reception, a parking attendant, and all services inherent to making our guests welcomed.  We know that our restaurant – the Chèvre d’Or – is a famous drawing card, but it does not have the capacity to accommodate all our guests.

With the increase in rooms and non-hotel diners who found it the place to be, our challenge was how to accommodate more people who wanted a good dining experience. Therefore, we opened other dining spaces with a less gastronomic menu for numerous clients who wanted a simple meal.The other objective was to try for a second Michelin star.  When our historic chef retired, we  recruited Chef Jean-Marc Delacourt, and in the course of two years the Chèvre d’Or was crowned with a second star. Now with 2-starred restaurant with a capacity of only 45 places, there had to be a new development. We thus opened another restaurant downstairs, the Remparts, and thereafter other dining spaces; now we have a total of 4 restaurants in the Village.

F.1.M. : That’s for the Chèvre d’Or, but it is also part of a group…

T.N. : Exactly. I am the General Manager of the Chèvre d’Or, but in 2003,  parties proposed to me other hotels to manage. I didn’t want to leave, it’s visceral. The Chèvre d’Or was like my baby, my passion, my growth, my entrails are in this place, including  the style of service that I had breathed into our team –  generosity and conviviality. There is no denial that the beauty of the natural environment stands for a lot, but our generosity and attentiveness plays a pivotal role in the difference of our establishment and others.

When I left in 2003, I really wanted to give another dimension to my career after 12 years as General Manager. I therefore joined a group called Stein Hotels and Mr. Stein’s ambition was to create a management group for small luxury hotels.  This coincided with exactly what I wanted to do. I became Operations Manager of the group and we opened the first hotel, the Gran Hotel la Florida, which is one of the top hotels of the world. The expansion was extremely rapid: from 3 hotels to now 24 hotels in every continent of the world. After three years. The Château d’Eza (which is a rival and neighbor of the Chèvre d’Or) and the Cap Estel being part of the group, and without doing it on purpose, I had returned to the my favorite region in France with the management of these two hotels, quite near the Château de la Chèvre d’Or.

F.1.M. : The saga is quite exciting…

T.N. : Indeed. The Stein Group really wanted to expand on an international basis. However came the famous 2008 global financial downturn. Our financiers were from Dubai who accordingly closed down activities with groups outside their central matrix. From one day to the next, the group was dissolved. Since I had garnered experience in managing hotels from afar, I took the decision to create Phoenix Hotels with the aim of managing hotels on behalf of their owners, providing a range of services tailored to the size of the hotel; special selling and marketing strategies, offering hotels that are unique in character and services.

F.1.M. : Evidently this has demonstrated special creativity and competences, and the opening of various new hotels have proved your expertise, for example in Marrakech, etc.

T.N. : Yes, we recreated an entire medina with a hotel possessing 53 riads, only underground accesses, rooms spread over the riads with exceptional luxury and furbishing. A project that took 5 years, totally fantastic. The goal is to live a Moroccan experience; rediscover Morocco through the eyes of a European, i.e. refine the essence of Morocco to a European’s taste, all the while maintaining the Moroccan DNA. Today, the hotel is a magnificent property of extreme uniqueness. For me, it surpasses being a hotel, it is a palace, considered as one of the most beautiful hotels in the world.

F.1.M. : You have spoken of Singapore, Morocco, and Asia. How do you maintain the same signature of excellence in all these hotels as well as the staff in countries that represent different cultures, territories?

T.N. : The Phoenix Management group has its philosophy. We try to transmit to all our teams, our stamp of identity and standard, outlining the level of hospitality that we like to offer to our guests. We are very attached to the local hospitality. For instance in Morocco, the tradition is to call everyone by their first name. Thus I am Mr. Thierry, and I prefer to stick to this because it is so unique and traditional to the ways and manners of Morocco. We therefore take the best of the local culture and try to marry it with our European work ethic. When you arrive in Morocco, it is important to feel that you are in Morocco and not in Eze or in Portugal.

F.1.M. : What do the next 25 years present on the horizon?

T.N. : Wow! Today we  have six establishments under total management: La Chèvre d’Or in Eze; the Vague St. Paul (St. Paul de Vence); the Bela Vista Portimao in Portugal, Villa Riad Blanche in Morocco, Grand hotel Poltu Quatu in Sardinia; and the Villa Infinity Residences & Resort (Thailand). We also do consulting and asset management, for example for a great establishment near Dinard, a huge thalassotherapy under the aegis of the Accord Group, but we do the asset management for the hotel, and also the Port Palace in Monaco. We intend to keep the six establishments we have today, but pursue our activities in asset management which represents a significant role in adding value for owners in contrast with other means. We have thoroughly mastered the ABC’s in this field from operations to profitability. A manager of teams does not have that external vision of details that are so important to the owner. In terms of hotels, my interest is in finding hotels that are various countries that could boost our image on the international front. Continue to develop interest in Asia, the Middle East also, searching for hotels of 30-40 rooms with culinary standards at the gastronomic level.

Each of our establishments develops its own marketing strategy each year in order to recreate a new impetus. Just to whet your appetite, this year at the Chèvre d’Or we will celebrate the Chinese New Year of the goat. This will give us the chance to attract Asian guests, but at the same time, create activities around the theme of the Year of the Goat. Innovative events for our guests will include a cruise picnic to a winery near St. Tropez, with wine tasting, etc. and return to Eze. These initiatives have been created especially for us and many other surprises await our guests in 2015.

F.1.M. : Your menu of projected events is very attractive, and Force One is proud to announce to our readers that they will have an exciting year 2015 at the Chèvre d’Or.

About the author: Luca Marotta

Luca Marotta