|By Cheryl Lim, The Straits Times,
Singapore / Asia News NetworkMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 25, 2011--SINGAPORE -- It is another hotel project in a conservation building, but turning the old Ogilvy Centre into the Sofitel So represents much more to the Hiranandani family.
The Robinson Road project is being led by Mr Bobby Hiranandani, son of property tycoon Asok Kumar Hiranandani, co-founder of the Royal Brothers group.
At just 25, the younger man has big shoes to fill, coming from a family that owns a string of commercial and hotel properties here and across the region.
He is taking on what is perhaps the group's most ambitious hotel project.
It involves transforming the landmark near Lau Pa Sat, which some may remember as the TAS Building, into a hotel of 135 suites under the Sofitel So label from the Accor group. The hotel is slated to open in early 2013.
He has worked on other projects but they have involved collaborating with team members. This time he is going solo, leading the S$130 million (US$100 million) job himself.
He is intimately involved in all aspects of the job, from identifying and pursuing the site as a potential investment, to wooing the hotel partners -- Sofitel Luxury Hotels and its parent, the Accor group -- to overseeing the design of the interiors.
"Initially I was worried that my age would be a problem and that the business partners would not believe that I had the power to make decisions," he told The Straits Times.
"But I was reassured when they treated me like a business equal and we could discuss all sorts of business issues freely."
He quickly points out that he is no greenhorn in property development. Despite officially joining Royal Group Holdings only two years ago, right after completing full-time national service, he has been involved in the business since he was a teenager.
His father, Mr Asok Kumar, noted: "He used to spend time with me in the office, observing how we managed the business or have conversations with me at the dinner table.
"More recently, he has been a part of various projects of the Royal Group under my guidance."
These included developing two properties in Chinatown and the Park Regis Hotel.
Mr Bobby said the Park Regis development saw him working in areas such as the construction process and the opening of the hotel.
"Although I was part of a team, my dad really threw me in the deep end. He told me not to depend on him for help too much, but at the same time if I had a problem, I could always turn to him for advice," he said.
"But I took it on as a way to build up my confidence and pushed myself hard on this project because I knew I wanted to prove myself."
Mr Asok Kumar said his son's interest in the Sofitel So development, coupled with the success of his previous projects, convinced him he was ready for a bigger challenge.
The younger man said he and his father both place great importance on making sure any project they take on is a commercially sound choice.
But he admitted they have distinct differences in the way they approach business: "My dad is from an era where he had to build up the business, whereas I am in a situation where I have to take over and bring the business to the next level."
While his father is more used to the traditional idea of a hotel having marble floors and a reception lobby, Mr Bobby has planned a vibrant interior design for the conservation building, which he promises will "make most modern hotels in the world look old".
The new hotel will be the third under the Sofitel So brand. The other two are in Mauritius and Bangkok, with a fourth slated to open in Mumbai.
(c)2011 the Asia News Network (Hamburg, Germany)
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