Jul 3, 2024

Episode 134

Mark Eacott


Growing up in Kent in southeast London, Mark Eacott was always a curious kid—inspired by his artist grandfather, who taught him how to sketch and draw, and his dad, who was a builder with a strong do-it-yourself skillset. Those influences, coupled with Eacott’s creative mind, fostered his passion for design.

He majored in architecture at the University of Bath, where he studied abroad as part of the Erasmus exchange program at TU Delft, a specialized architecture school in Holland. That was a life-changing experience for Eacott, ultimately leading to an internship at OMA in Rotterdam where he worked alongside Rem Koolhaas. (Eacott went on to earn his master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London.)

His career took off from there, and he added a list of hospitality giants to his résumé including Soho House, Yoo, HBA, and SBE, before landing at Ennismore (the latter two companies were both acquired by Accor), where he’s been the global vice president of design since 2019. Eacott’s philosophy is centered around service and experience. He’s unafraid to retool brands that need a facelift or to call upon nostalgia for reboots of industry gamechangers, like the refresh of the Delano in Miami. 


SSR: Hi, I am here with Mark Eacott. Mark, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Mark Eacott: Hi, Stacy. Yeah, I’m great. Thank you. Yeah, pleasure to be on. Thanks for this invite.

SSR: Yeah, it’s going to be fun. All right, so we always start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

ME: Oh, good question. Yeah, I grew up in Southeast London. It’s a place called Kent, which was near the family home of William Morris, this amazing arts and crafts… Where arts and crafts movements started, really, in the UK. So those textures and wallpapers, those amazing things that people imagine. Yeah, maybe that’s what inspired me, but a lot of that, that’s where I grew up. Yeah, beautiful. It’s called the Garden of England, so those amazing orchards and beautiful places, yeah.

SSR: Were you creative as a kid?

ME: I was curious. I was always thinking A, B and plus C, and why can’t we do this, and very, very inquisitive and asking questions and problem-solving in that way. I see how that sort of takes me through to today’s world. Yeah, and then I had a lot of inspiration through family. My grandfather was an artist and I learned to sketch and draw through him. I was mesmerized by what he was doing in retirement through art, and a lot of that affinity came through him, probably. Very nice inspiration.

SSR: Were your parents creative as well?

ME: Yeah, less so, but they were very supportive of my passion and creative. So I was always doing overtime at school and design workshops and working with the teachers and then would take it home and finish in my garage and on the kitchen table. So I was at home at my parents’ house the other week, and we still have some of these amazing things we built. Yeah, so my dad was a great builder and great with DIY and building stuff, so it worked well together. So I had this design creative mind and he had this sort of production skill, which was super for homework and school projects and design, which is really where I excelled. School was about rugby and design, and design technology, it was called, and that fed through to architecture and stuff.

SSR: Do you still play rugby?

ME: I don’t, unfortunately. I like to watch it, yeah. I come across quite softer side, so not many people know I had this kind of aggressive kind rugby-tackling side to me. My mom always tells me when she would go and watch, that that was her son, didn’t realize when it’s the first time she watched it. But yeah, I loved it. And the English grass, wet, running cross country and all that. So good memories.

SSR: Yeah. So you ended up going to school for architecture. When did you know that was your passion, your calling?

ME: Yeah, I did this summer school or something to do with school, or interest of drawing and architecture, and I was selected. So it’s a great initiative. We did this sort of high school kid with an architecture foundation and that was really my calling, and I got picked to do this interview for Building Magazine in the UK and the title was, when I was 14, “Watch out, Sir Richard Rogers. There’s a teenager after your job,” and that was big, big shoes to feel. It was fantastic profile, I just loved it and the thought of it, and I was at that time super inspired by British architects, what they were doing. It was Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, and many, many others, Pompidou and Lloyd’s of London. It was this kind of era and standing under Lloyd’s or Pompidou and just being fascinated, and I think that really inspired me to get just what I needed, the kind of grades to get to university.

So I went to University of Bath, which was a fantastic architecture and engineering degree combined, and what an amazing place to study architecture in Bath, well, UNESCO City, and then did my masters back in London at the Royal College of Art, which is a finishing school. It’s hard to get into, did two years there, and it’s an amazing combination of Bath, which is more engineering, and Royal College, which is super arts. The art space has a really nice sort of mixture to spread that kind of diversity and foundation. So yeah, I loved the combination. And as part of that, we did the Erasmus Exchange in Delft. Delft TU it’s called, this very specialized architecture school in Holland, just not far from Rotterdam, and there I got super obsessed by the Dutch architect, the super modernism by Rem Koolhaas and Erick van Egeraat and UNStudio and all these super cool things they were doing there.

And got an amazing internship with OMA in Rotterdam, and this was phenomenal. This was like… Well, definitely working a lot. People would just go home, nap and then come back to the office. It was a shift, right? They fed you, they washed your clothes, they just kept you there. It was an incubator, but what we did then was phenomenal. It wasn’t something I could do long-term, but when you’re young and you’ve got that much energy, to feel part of that and see Rem Koolhaas walk around, do these charrettes with a team and then walk off, and everyone grab out. It was all about foam building and less about 3D then. It was cutting the flow, making these maquettes. And competition. It was competition after competition. So that blood, sweat and tears of just getting down into it with the super modernists of Dutch architecture, I think, was fascinating, yeah.

The Sun & Moon bar at Mondrian Ibiza, designed by Cuarto Interior, nods to the area’s undulating landscape; photo courtesy of Ennismore

SSR: That’s so cool. You also did a stint at Soho House too. Was that an internship or was that one of your first jobs?

ME: Yeah, first job. I kind of broke up this love for architecture. I must tell you what put me off a little bit was that kind of I failed the… At that time, the accreditation came when you were… I remember running into Richard Rogers. We were too young and people didn’t take us too seriously. It wasn’t until you had gray hair that you got taken seriously as an architect back then, and so I made a switch into interiors with Softroom, who were phenomenal interior architects out of London and Soho at the time, and they would just won the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, the most money ever spent on a business class lounge at that time. Working for Virgin, a super inspirational brand, the experience and design, and when I look back, I think that was really, for me, that merge for me of love of brands, love of design experience, doing something really cutting-edge and groundbreaking, where they were asked to do money no object, kind of work for that.

And then from there it got an opportunity to work for Soho House, as you know, and I think we’ll talk about it later, but I think I have this thing that everything works out just the way it’s meant to, and you kind of pick… I mean, everyone has this thing, but when you look back now, you didn’t know they’re all meant to sew together, that led to this and this led to that opportunity, and it’s kind of led just where it’s why and where you’re meant to be today, and they’ve all had their influence. There was never a wasted three months or three days. Everything gave you snippets and exposure, experience and learning lessons, which you feed into almost everything you’re doing almost every day.

So yeah, working with Nick, and it wasn’t Soho House today with its global dominance and a big design house, it was round the table with a pattern and paper with Nick and the F&B guys, and it was really super hands-on, super small, and I think that was raw and I think it’s probably different now if you say you work for Soho House right now. Back then it was raw, it was sleeves up, it was onsite. I mean, Nick is… I think what I learned from that was many, many things, but a couple of things is if you truly create something unique and meaningful, people were prepared to pay for it.

But of course, the execution was… Well, getting there was painful, but the execution was fullest in more we delivered. And yeah, my biggest thing was working on Shoreditch House in London, and I think that bled back to Tom Dixon. So working with these visionaries, working with collaborators, we were… Soho House weren’t doing the design back in the day, they were doing all the programming ops and guiding the design, but for me, very much what I do today, working with Tom Dixon’s studio, working for Nick , and bringing those two together was wonderful. And yeah, there’s a lot of things that came out that project, a lot of scars, but also amazing things that came out, those experience and friends and collaborators that I have today in the position today.

So yeah, there’s a nice sort of story of how it all links together to Soho House and then working with YOO, so with John Hitchcox and Philippe Starck. So for people, YOO  was kind of branded residential with working with Philippe Starck, Kelly Hoppen, Marcel Wanders, and many more, Steve Leung, and for me, these five sort of creative heads with the in-house design studio, creating these phenomenal branded residential around the world, and I think working at YOO, what it gave me was the first exposure to work globally, really working in the Middle East for me, and then going to head up their business for them in China and Shanghai, Hong Kong, and all of that opened up my experience in Asia today.

So yeah, a lot of credit for both working with Soho House and working with YOO, and now what we’re doing with branded residential today is phenomenal, but I always think back to where it all started for me, working at YOO and obviously start really two of our brands, and it was more really with us, with SLS, with Sam and with Mama Shelter. So again, that whole thing of things have a nice full circle.

SSR: Yeah, totally. And it’s crazy to think that you were so far ahead of the time with branded residences back then, right? I mean, they’ve always been around, but now how they’ve evolved and become so much popular the last few years.

ME: Phenomenal, yeah, and expected to see them a little bit more, but we’re real trailblazers in that idea of John Hitchcox, the pioneering British developer, didn’t know anything about design, went to bang on Starck’s door and said, “Let’s bring these two together and sell branded residences.” And for me, again, what I do today, that balance between the brand and design is incredible, and then that hand to glove thing that has always been distilled into me and understood even from Virgin Clubhouse with YOO, et cetera, is great. But yeah, you’re right. And sold fast. These would set out within months or hours, and then doing project in Mumbai that sold instantly. So they were exciting, they were thrilling, and it’s a different game to hotels where you’re three years down the line for an opening. These are design them, get them to market six to nine months, and then they’re big relief’s up and then they’re selling and we can build them.

SSR: Awesome. And then you went on to HBA after that. Why did you decide to go in-house at a larger firm?

ME: I think it was great. I was in Hong Kong, I’ve done my stint in Asia-Pacific with YOO, and they wanted to pull me back to London after six years, after we were struggling a little bit at growing it there, and I was like, “I’m loving Asia-Pacific right now. I’m just enthralled by everything that’s going on,” and wanted to stay a little bit longer, and then HBA came knocking, was headhunted to lead their design team in Singapore, which was phenomenal, but for our big projects in Dubai. So we were for three years doing big box hotels with Emaar, and things like that, who I see every day now passing by these buildings that we built back then, they’re finished and completed, and I live not far from them now. But what HBA was good at a couple of things and what I learned was I think for younger people there for big firms, like that and Gensler, and things like this, is a great foundation.

You learn technically, you learn how to set up projects well, you learn how to set up businesses well, set up office design studios well, and this was great. Their technical delivery, that was flawless and obviously the experience. I did kind of outgrow a little bit, and even again, coming back to brand and design, I set up their HBA DNA division. We did this in LA. We moved from Singapore to LA, and this was looking at phase zero stuff. It was helping operators, it was a division and they’re still going today. They’re working very well in Saudi right now. So HBA DNA was a division, it’s part of HBA, to help create brands, develop brands for operators, developers, owners, create new project briefs, things like this.

So it was my fascination of perhaps working bit before the project side on the early kind of formation in really setting up what makes the brand, and really that guest experience, I would really lead that, and so it’s great to see the vibe carried on and just went on to become a great business there. Yeah, I think that was a great experience and bringing me to the U.S.

SSR: Yeah, and what were some of the key projects, or what was one really interesting project that you remember from those years there?

ME: Yeah, I think two things. One, as I mentioned, was the Address Sky View project in Dubai, which is the big cantilever pool, which has the CÉ LA VI nightclub on top, which for me was great F&B we were doing at the time. We did a phenomenal lobby. And again, thinking back to this thing of always asking questions and being inquisitive, I actually got the project when it was already been going for concept, and I just started to ask questions, “Why is this? Why can’t we?” Unpicked it a lot, reset up a great sort of planning and structure and things that hadn’t been thought of before, and we set it and then we flew out all the concepts and drove that through.

But the second one I think was super exciting was a Chinese owner operator wanted to create three brands and they’d come to us to develop a lifestyle luxury mid-scale hospitality brand. So we created brands for them. So this is everything, the DNA guest experience, design, look and feel, the brand values, and I think this is where we really got what created the need, the business opportunity and the passion to create this HBA DNA division. So yeah, there’s two good highlights there that all had a reason and fall into life today.

SSR: Yeah. And so why did you decide to leave then, or what drew you to SBE? Because that was your next stop, right?

ME: Yeah. I mean, I have moved around, I think, six times. I don’t tend to leave, but I get asked for another opportunity here, why I might have left, but no, we got asked to… Look, it was a great falling of paths. So it as part of HBA DNA, we got asked by SBE to kind of look at some of their brands. So I was called into SBE office at that time with Sam and the team there to help create some… It was just when Accor had purchased a stake in SBE, this is 2018, and so I was in LA at the time and with my partner then, developed some of the SBE brands into guidelines. The core and development team needed to take these to Singapore, take these to London, take these around the world.

So it was gearing up SBE to go with expansion with a core at the time, and of course their relationship went really well, and in the end we got asked to join them, SBE, at the time leaving HBA, going to join SBE to go back to Singapore, go back to Asia-Pacific with my experience of Asia to open Mondrian, to become the design director there and the quarterback really, to funnel everything, be on the ground, be the SBE guy on the ground in Singapore to open and help be that conduit with that core and SBE and open the brands there. So we’re talking SLS, Mondrian, Hyde, Morgans, Delano, those SBE brands back in the day. And a year ago they all started to open, I said the three-year cycle. So they all started to open last year. Mondrian in Singapore, Mondrian in Hong Kong from way back we started in LA. So yeah, it was a great journey and it took me back to Singapore.

SSR: Did you want to get back? Did you like being in the States?

ME: Loved it, and look, we always want to go back and we bought a house there when we were there, so we definitely have a connection, affiliation, but I felt at the time this was just an opportunity I couldn’t turn down and it’s paid off because now where we are today. So it was just one of those things that I know I wasn’t ready to go back at the time. I did have the experience, I knew what I was in for and we were loving being in LA, but this was a once in a career opportunity, as they call it, I think, where these mergers happened. Look, and there’s been mergers like this before. When Kimpton went into IHG, they took the U.S. guys and put them back into London, but it was one of those. It was either going to work or in three months’ time, you’re going to come back with your tail between your legs and go, “Boy, there was a clash of cultures.”

And I think looking back at their career moves I’ve made, the one thing that’s been giving me a lot of ammunition to the strings to my bow is that I’ve worked in all the different major regions between America to Europe, Middle East and Asia, and I think it’s really about understanding all the cultural nuances, the business etiquette, the screaming project manager, there are 20 people turning up in the Middle East, their kind of very sensitive way of doing business in Asia-Pacific and China.

So I think it’s really about reading people, understanding the people by people, really trying to just listen, engage how to react with owners a little bit about what they want to hear, how you’re going to almost get them to think it’s their idea, right? That’s fine, where, “Wow. That was a great idea,” but just kind of lead them there a little bit. So we are at the end of the day kind of trying to master and direct the people behind these projects to get the result we want in the way. Yeah, the pressure I think was there. Was I ready to go back? No, but this was a great opportunity.

The welcoming Citronelle Club at SO/Maldives, a collaboration between Stickman Tribe and eco.id; photo by Natelee Cocks

SSR: Yeah, totally. And what was it like to take on such iconic brands like Mondrian, like Delano, that had really changed the game when it came to hotels back in the day?

ME: Yeah, I think it was one of those things, like big shoes to fill. I think the good thing was there we weren’t let loose. There was a lot of mentors and definite late night, early morning calls back with the U.S. and the LA team to be guided by them, but it was kind of like an apprenticeship for me. Those first two years working under Joe Faust, who was incredible, who had crafted all those brands with Sam and created SLS and then with Shadi who worked for Morgan. So working with these hospitality titans who I now still work with every day, but back then I was definitely more of their apprentice learning and sapping up every word and scribbling things down and then trying to put it into practice and explain in my own ways. But the good thing I must say about Ennismore is that we’re constantly future-proofing, tweaking, updating the brands and rebooting them and making sure they stay relevant and fresh and constantly updated.

So we’ll go back and unpackage them, prepackage them again, and I think that’s really that competitive edge there of keeping the roots. As you know what we’re doing with Delano, and we can talk a little bit more about this, but like I said, it was great going back to the archives, what did people… Asking people in Miami, “What do you remember about Delano?” What did these people that grew up, in their 30s, going to Delano South Beach and what did they remember about it? Not even people from Miami, but global, great travelers and taking those, but also then adding to them, keeping that DNA, keeping it real, keeping it authentic, and then updating them and adding some Ennismore to it as well. So that kind of Delano 2.0, which we’re launching this September, October in Dubai and then next year in Miami, it’s great.

So we’re going to be seeing those coming back, but it’s going to be that design signatures everyone knows, and of course some updates and refreshers, because just to stay on Delano, everyone remembers Delano as the white luxury. It was this amazing white room. No one had done a pool scene like that back then. Of course everyone does it now, but it set a pool scene for 10 years, the next 10 years of hotel pool scenes. It was those curtains, the white room. And then now we’re going back and opening Delano, and everyone’s like, “Well, what makes it ownable, right? Because you have one hotel, you have addition. They’ve kind of taken the white space now so what are you going to do?” So it was really, really getting our heads down together with brand and design and development team, sitting in a room and just fleshing that out for a couple of months, and it’d be great to show everyone soon what we’ve come back with.

So yeah, I think that’s a good update. But back to answer your question of it was Gary taking on such legacy brands. These are 30-year-old brands, these are Ian Schrager, Philippe Starck, phenomenal brands that you don’t want to mess up and you don’t want to be that guy who takes it to Singapore and goes, “Oh, it’s just lost everything,” and I think… There was a lot of stress for a couple of years for me and sleepless nights and speaking to my wife and saying, “God, this opening, there was a lot of pressure. It’s either going to be me leaving, getting kicked out, or let’s get on with the next one,” and thankfully the first one, Mondrian Seoul, which we opened during the pandemic, was a success. It was 100% occupancy during the pandemic. I’ll just say that again because I said we opened Mondrian Seoul and it was a success. It was 100% occupancy.

It became a lifestyle destination in Seoul. It’s a one with locals, no one could travel, and it became a instant lifestyle destination, number one on TripAdvisor. So not voted by design, but voted by grassroots people that use it for their rooftop bar as well. Yeah, this was obviously a notch in my sort of CV of having done one and we went on then to do Mondrian in Singapore, Hong Kong and et cetera. Yeah, but it was scary working on those initial ones of, “Have you got it right? Have you understood it?” Or, “Don’t mess it up.”

SSR: Yeah. Yeah, well, it’s that fine line between trying to evolve it but then also trying to keep its soul, right? So it’s like how do you push into that 2.0? Going back to Delano for a second, was there anything surprising from people that you heard? 

ME: Yeah, I think there was things I didn’t even know, like the constant temperature. It was called the [inaudible 00:26:48]. The pool was always a constant temperature, one degree either way, which is phenomenal. This amazing really dark corridors to these blinding white rooms, which sounds really stimulating and modeling more of a Mondrian thing. That was really cool. I never knew it. You never really recognized these things. And just the amazing piano, the chair, these iconic pieces that people really picked up on it and knew it, and were, “Are you putting it back? Are you bringing it back?” So some, yes, some we are. Yeah. So I think back to the question is people really realize… It sticks in their mind more than I thought, a design, a really iconic design, and these people must have stayed in hundreds of thousands of hotels since, yet that one they stayed in 1995 has a recognition with them. So I hope some of their properties we are doing today have the same lasting effect on people’s memories, yeah.

SSR: So, you went to SBE before the Ennismore acquisition?

ME:  I went back. Before the Ennismore formation, it was called Accor Lifestyle, and basically it was very smart. Sébastien Bazin parked all of the lifestyle brands from Mama and Tribe at that time, SBE brands, into this Accor Lifestyle division. So it’s the lifestyle division of Accor, and we were kind of a specialist squad or team within that, just the three or four of us around the world to drive and oversee those, and I was looking after the whole of APAC then, and then after a couple of years, obviously all folded and was a really smart move to make Ennismore as part of that acquisition, of course, with the Hoxton.

SSR:  So now you have many more brands, but I think what’s cool about the brands is they’re all formed by makers, right? I mean, they all have people behind them. How did you keep that as kind of the ethos of the brands and kind of the basis of how to keep evolving them.

ME: And I think that this is really back to Sébastien Bazin’s real credit to him. It wasn’t about buying badges and brands, it was about buying the people too, and those people were only going to stay around if the culture came with it as well. So we kept some of the, in the early days, kept the offices and kept 25 Hours offices in the Mama Shelter. I think that was really important too. Some of these founders, they did well out these acquisitions, they financially didn’t need to stay around essentially, but they do because of the passion for it and because we managed to keep that culture, and although our brothers and sisters at our core, we still very much have different offices, we still have a different culture within it.

And I think the real kudos has been recognizing that we do things differently, recognizing that we need to be a little more agile, smaller and nimble to be able to react to change the market, change the business, to update our brands, not so much like the bigger giant of a core, and I think both have their place. So keeping it small and agile, keeping the culture, setting up different offices, different people, horses for courses in their way, and when the acquisition and merger came, it wasn’t just about buying these brands, keeping the people, keeping the culture behind it all, and I think it’s been phenomenal obviously with all the founders we work with, and then obviously my team, part of the global team, help look after the SBE brands as well.

SSR: So how is your team set up and what’s your process?

ME:  So of course it’s really inspiring working with all of the founders that still are part of Ennismore and the few brands that don’t have the founder anymore with the Mondrian, SLS, our team looks to drive and head up.

SSR: Yeah, and so you mentioned your team. How is your team set up and what’s your process? I know everyone does it differently.

ME: Two or three years ago we created this team that I co-lead with Charlie North, but the global design team sits outside of our DTS team. So we have our 30 people, DNTS, their design technical service teams in the field. These guys are specialists at product execution, delivery, working day-to-day with clients, they’re in the field, they’re our guys on the ground working on the project. I think the global team, there’s global GBD, we call it global brand design. It’s exactly that. We sit between the brand team and those DTS teams in the field, and we have a team of around six people now around the world that look after all the brands essentially, and try not to get too close to the bottom.

We’re at 10,000 feet just to help course correct, look at flagships, look at SOS projects, projects that are going wrong that need a bit of help, we come in. We’re really working to help bring some brand design direction kickoffs, brand immersions to guide and support some of the DTS teams. Really, we don’t want to get too involved in their actual every single project, of course, and of course all the flagships is key for us to be involved. So I think for us, what I enjoy most about it is obviously that phase one and two, that sort of setting up the project, getting the right consultants. I’m going to talk a little bit about consultants in a minute. Getting the programming, getting everything right in the right location, just teeing it up, and then again at the end we’ll be called in to really help open these projects. So really these key, quite thrilling stages and then key stages in between if it’s going smoothly.

So that’s really how we help, but what’s really unique which other management companies and operators don’t do so much is this hand to glove that we work with the brand teams every single day, really connection. So if there’s brand updates, we are feeding that back to the teams in the field, and vice versa, what’s working, what’s not working, which brands struggle, which owners are not quite getting the brand, or it’s true aspirational, making sure they’re being a little bit commercially-minded, putting ourselves in the mind of the owner to help us make these brands. The end of the day, Ennismore is brand-led. The brands are the heroes. We communicate through our brands, we even structure ourselves essentially through the brands, and what we always say is that brands are about how they make you feel. This is what we’re talking about here, design, F&B, amazing service.

At the end of the day we’re talking about this feeling, this experience, because maybe we have people checking into Mondrian Ibiza, which just opened there last month recently, and they were saying that, “I feel I can feel Mondrian in LA. I feel Mondrian in LA here, but we’re in Ibiza and there’s nothing like it on the island,” and for me that’s that kind of great relief of we’ve done something right. And it’s a secret sauce. There’s no guidelines, no standards that says this is how you take Mondrian LA and the Mondrian you’re making in Ibiza. It’s just guiding and keeping constantly involved and great collaboration. I think when we have those type of owners, we can do great things.

A rendering of the penthouse at the yet-to-open Delano Dubai, featuring a design from La Bottega; rendering courtesy of Ennismore

SSR: Yeah, 100%. And you mentioned to me separately that you’d opened three flagships in the last three months, was Mondrian and one of them, and what were the other ones?

ME: Yeah, so we’ve just opened Hyde Bodrum. Nice things to talk about, because we are obviously in the all-inclusive space now with our inclusive resorts division. We’re taking some of our brands into all-inclusive and Hyde Bodrum was our first. It’s an adults-only all-inclusive from Sunset. So again, we’ve followed that journey with me and now we’re opening it in a new sector, and this was great… And all of our brands really stand apart, design DNA, different values, the way we open them are very different as well, and we did a three-day festival. Hyde brand is all about the freedom of a festival. It’s about boho, it’s chic. So the opening was a festival party, three-day music event and dressing down to dress up kind of feel. Was fantastic. So yeah, that was a great project, kind of renovation project in Bodrum, which was great. Obviously then the Ibiza property, Mondrian Ibiza, and again was a tough one, but great to have that feedback from, again, industry giants and journalists going around and saying that the feeling they got was what they felt was a real Mondrian, and so for me, that validation, which was great.

SSR:so you mentioned collaborators and consultants earlier. What do you look for in a good consultant or a good collaborator? What do you think really defines a successful collaboration?

ME: Yeah, I think we have our little black book, as I call it, of designers we with, and I think that was the thing at the early days at Accor, and I was like, “Oh, where’s your list of designers?” “We don’t work like that. We’re not going to be making lists and giving it out to everyone,” and then I see the next operator working with all these designers. I think it’s more of we are looking for the next gen of collaborators in a way and where we can find them. So obviously after working with Starck and Marcel and Tom Dixon, et cetera. We started to work with Robin Carter and Tristan Du Plessis. They were product designers. A lot of them, they weren’t interior designers, they come from product background, and I think when Morgans had started, they was always about breaking rules they never knew existed. They come from Studio 54, so they didn’t know the hotel well, and I think what’s interesting is taking designers who are not necessarily hospitality-trained or they’ve come from that furniture and product sensibility.

I think the next thing is about looking for designers who are great collaborators, who don’t think they have the answer already, but know that together we’re going to get there. It’s going to be a roll our sleeves up and we’re going to kind of push each other. I think we are here to sort of course correct direct and program and get our hotels to where we want. Working with Ennismore is quite different, but once designers know that we leave them to do the design, we want them to create their next Mondrian, we want them to get their kind of style into it, they kind of shoulders drop and they go, “Okay, so here’s a collaboration. We’re not going to be told what to do. We’re not going to be spoonfed the design guide.” I think it’s just getting that first connection, getting that first alignment. So I think to answer your question is that real alignment of creating something unique, but creating it together, and once we get that mindset of openness, then we really can dream together and create these amazing unique products.

SSR: Yeah, 100%. And do you think there’s something about in terms of letting them have their freedom that allows them to be more creative? Because I’m always curious, sometimes too much freedom can be too much and then have to dial it back, or where do you fall on that?

ME: I think it’s always interesting when… Well, we want that ideal scenario is someone who’s understood what we’re trying to get at commercially and with the brand, so they’ve addressed all those, but then create something, the A, B, and C, that we’ve not asked for. So we are hiring these very talented designers around the world to come with a solution that we haven’t thought of ourselves. So I think if this is really, I think, where the magic synergy and relationship is, where there’s enough freedom where they’ve taken on board all of the things we need to do, the brand things they need to connect with, even if it’s not their style. The worst is working with designer who just has their style and everything is the same, and whether it’s a Mondrian or Hyde, it all looks like their style. So some [inaudible 00:41:52] drop their ego and is able to understand our brand, and like I said, we’re not spoonfeeding. There’s going to be some just course correction towards something and then, like I said, pushing each other to create something we wouldn’t have created on our own, which is great.

Well, we’ve been very lucky, and I think when I look back at all the success projects we’ve had, it’s always where we’ve managed to work with a designer that we’ve door-lifted or put forward. Where we’ve had a designer forced on us by an owner sometimes commercially it’s quite difficult for our develop teams, they’ve been a struggle. We’ve had to really handhold it. No one’s enjoyed it. The designer has not enjoyed it, we’ve not enjoyed it, it’s been a struggle to get it over the line. We’ve had some okay wins with that, but it’s not been anywhere near it could have been. So yeah, I think it’s getting owners to really appreciate… And that’s why I said getting projects set up right at the start to make the next three years much easier for everyone. So it’s really worth me being involved really at the start and then again at the end of a little bit.

SSR: Yeah, 100%. And we talked a bit about branded residences, you mentioned all-inclusives. I mean, so much is changing and evolving in our industry over the last few years. What do you think people are really looking for and why do you think residences, all-inclusives, really interesting F&B are really defining today?

ME: I think it comes down to a trust, the trust in brands. People are trusting in the brands, in our brands, they’re guaranteed that service that, but at the end of the day, once you get there, it’s got you to the property, or the other way around, the design’s getting you there, the brand really takes over. When people book, they’re booking not in the architecture, they’re looking at the room, they’re looking at the restaurant online, looking at the lobby. So really that design element is so key to getting you to property, but once that, it’s really the brand takes over and that amazing service, our amazing F&B is what delivers on it, and I think it’s the whole idea of you book once through perhaps the design and the brand trust, you book twice, you come back through what the brand delivered, that service.

So it’s really that magic sauce of all of it coming together to enforce that, but look, what happened during pandemic as well, just go back to that, is branded resi increase because people wanted that security that should it ever happen again, and I was locked down, I wanted all of these amazing servicing facilities on-site. I wanted to have my amazing residence lounge and clubhouse downstairs where I can take guests and just the extension of my home. When we create… I was in Madrid last week and we’ve got some amazing branded residential coming up there, but I think we are… It’s not like you’re in a hotel. Some spaces are very branded and some of the residences spaces are maybe pulled back from the brand, they’re fitted, they’re not furnished. Like I said, it’s a different set of rules than hotel design. And the same with the all-inclusive. It’s a phenomenal offer, it’s a good product for owners for financially as well, and again… But back to the question, think it’s this 100% trust in brands.

SSR:  There’s all this talk that this next generation coming up aren’t attached to brands or they don’t have as much loyalty, but do you see that or do you think you all are kind of combating that with these really kind of true authentic experiences depending on which one they go to?

ME: I think there’s a whole experience economy where people want something, these money-can’t-buy experiences that we can offer. I think with next gen travel they’re perhaps staying longer, so I think we’ve responded there a little bit more. So we are looking at different types of rooms where people can have some sort of kitchen element to it. So they’re going away, but staying for longer and working from abroad and doing these kind of experiences, yeah.

SSR: And because of the travelers are staying longer and they’re also multi-generational travel is on the rise, are you thinking about rooms differently or does that depend brand-by-brand?

ME: I think it depends a little bit brand-by-brand, but for sure next gen travelers are staying longer, and I think we’re changing room design to reflect that. So we’re putting in some of them the opportunity to stay there two nights and have a normal hotel room, stay there two weeks and have a sort of kitchenette experience and be able to use it more of a serious apartment. So giving GMs, giving them that product which can flex to two days to two weeks, is really important for us, and also I think just making… That extends throughout properties, making assets work harder. I think one thing that I’ve picked up through my career is being a little bit more commercially-minded. We’re an asset-light industry at the end of the day. The owner’s paying for this amazing development, and so how can we make that GFA, that kind of built-up area, make it work harder for them and every square meter is generating revenue? And I think this was something that I learned really early on, really making these public areas work hard as social spaces, but revenue-generating.

But even back to rooms and urban city, amazing urban locations, like we were in Singapore, we didn’t have any my space meeting spaces, so we created these rooms that could convert very easily into 45 square meter room. It could convert into meeting spaces, or classrooms, small meetings, presentations, product launches, very easy by literally lifting a bed and moving some furniture around. Now, again, I think that’s really working with a real great beautiful relationship with the right type of collaborator or designer who, again, we’re sending them the brief and the challenge, and we love challenges, and they’re responding to that, and again, pushing each other, and it’s a fantastic room that they’d never done before, we’ve never done before. So creating something really unique. We’re starting every project like a unique project and delivering something we’ve never done before.

SSR: That must be really fun though.

ME: Yeah, and challenging, but I think once you get it right, and that’s the key thing is that it’s a real dream. But look, I think one thing at Ennismore is what we always do, especially with our in-house studio, is just because we open the doors, we never stop designing. We are constantly… And it’s not because we make a lot of mistakes, it’s just because we want to improve and react to the guests and react to the GM, and see how the property is working and how can we constantly make the best of the property. So we’ll constantly be going back, refining, tweaking, like we did in Dubai. We made one restaurant, made it smaller, made it more intimate, and now it’s making as much money as when it was twice the size. So just constantly reacting and being mindful of asset and budget to make sure nothing gets stale.

SSR: Yeah, 100%. I know you mentioned a couple that just opened, but is there one project you’re really looking forward to opening?

ME: I think for sure the Delano in Dubai, which obviously is in the public realm and in the press, which is opening in three or four months right now, just because it was such a short period. It’s obviously takeover from the Caesars Palace in Bluewaters in Dubai. For those that don’t know, it’s a complete water-lined property on its own island south of Dubai with a phenomenal ultrluxe and luxury resort grants, and already a very good structure. It’s only a four or five years old building and bone strip, but how could we bring in the Banyan Tree and the Delano, the brand there. And the success of opening the first one, the Banyan Tree on time, on the budget was great, and without even closing the property, I don’t ever want to do it again, because again, it was such hard work. But with Delano opening in a couple of months, again, I think there’s so much weight on our shoulders, but also so much anticipation of what’s Ennismore with Delano, how’s it coming back? And it’s opening the doors to obviously Miami as well opening, so yeah.

SSR: So how would you describe yourself as a leader?

ME: I think quite motivating, empowering. I think it’s good to train up the next gen and also give people that leadership by example, but then also stepping back and just watching. I think there’s nothing more rewarding than watching the team and the younger team members deliver open projects and just there in the support, but really doing those things for the first time is great. I think decisive. I think as a leader, you need to be decisive in that way and show by example. But yeah, decisive, empowering them, but also I hope to be motivating as well and showing that passion, because that has to come through to our owners and come through to every level.

SSR: Yeah, 100%. Besides the rugby stint, is there any one thing people might not know about you?

ME: I used to sail a lot. I used to do a lot of these tall ships races when I was younger, and thrilling, I loved that. So I did a lot transatlantic, or racing on these big tall ships. A lot of that was teamwork, so you’re working shifts, you’re working on hour shifts, you’re working in big teams, and again, lot of leadership and hierarchy in this. But yeah, that’s my… Not many people know, but yeah, I did that. Used to do a lot of that.

SSR: Cool. And what’s your style at home? Is home now Singapore?

ME: Home is Dubai, which I love because of time zone. Working globally, it’s important to be able to speak to Asia-Pacific really in the morning and then Middle East, Europe teams, and you can even capture New York and LA in the evening, so it’s a blessing in terms of keeping up with everyone, and getting around. Yeah. Style of home, I think… Do you mean style of home, or what, my style… What do you mean?

Helmed by Studio Aisslinger, the forthcoming 25hours Heimat Dubai branded residences is inspired by the concept of home; rendering courtesy of Ennismore

SSR: Did you design your own home and what is it like?

ME: Oh, okay. I think, look, we have a lot of art and I think because obviously especially with Mondrian, we’re always working with fantastic… There’s more artists than art galleries, so we’re always creating these amazing platforms for art and encouraging new artists. So we’ve bought some pieces along the way and rotating pieces, so that’s a nice extension, but it is generally a lot calmer and cleaner and quite white, I must admit. Maybe because everything is so stimulating in the field and in the profession, it’s just something nice to come back, something neutral and calm.

SSR: Yeah, 100%. And what do you think has been your secret to success throughout your amazing career? 

ME: When you look back at your CV that you realize, like I said, everything works out just the way it’s meant to and everything has a reason, and I think there was some key learnings along the way. But just where we are today and moving around, it’s been so inspiring. I remember talking to some of our great designers during the pandemic and saying it was really hard to design during the pandemic, because travel was that source of inspiration and even just constantly snapping… And of course, it means you’re constantly working, because you’re like, “Wow. This retail store I just went to, or this amazing part of a city, or something, that is a great reference for this,” and feeding it back to the team. So I think that idea of travel as a source of inspiration generally for every designer is super key.

I think for the team, I always say, you’re only as good as your last opening, and what I mean is we get caught… I’ve got an amazing render of a project opening in three years and this and that, and it’s that you become paper architects or paper designers. You’ve really got to get it open and people have got to be in it and you’ve got to feel it to have that success. That’s that hard part, we can design great projects, but getting them open is really the proof of the pudding. So it’s you’re only as good as your last opening. And I think pick your battles. We’re at lots of meetings with owners and they can afford this, they can’t afford this. Where do we really want that ROI? I call it ROE, that return on the experience. Where do we want the guests to really experience the brand, which would save some money here and push it here.

And I think for me, that was always the great thing with working in the U.S. with the Mondrians and the SLS and the Ian Schrager legacy brand, which is always that public areas-first mentality, getting people out of their rooms, getting people into a public areas, socializing and really picking your own battles. Just lastly, I think is a takeaway is about not drinking your own Kool-Aid too much, right? I think it’s we’ve got to stay a little bit commercially-minded. These are assets, and become [inaudible 00:56:57]. Is it smart to take down this ceiling where there’s nothing wrong with it, we can… So it’s really about staying, I think, balanced and really what’s going to be work for the brand, for the owner. If they bought the building for this many millions, is it really worth staying this much on this and that? So I think it’s just staying that balance, keeping that commercially-minded aspect to it, but not wavering on our brands and what our guests are looking for.

SSR: So we always end the podcast with the question that is the title of the podcast. So what has been your greatest lesson learned along the way?

ME: I think that would be that if you create something truly unique and meaningful, people are prepared to pay for it, and I think that’s in all the places I’ve worked and all the things I’ve… The secret of their success is really creating something unique and meaningful. Yeah, probably the biggest learning lesson and what I keep and think of every day, making sure we’re doing that, creating brands that are unique and meaningful, sticking true to that and really about how these brands make you feel.

SSR: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been such a pleasure to catch up for the last little bit.