|By Peter Bacque, Richmond Times-Dispatch,
Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 16, 2009 --Until P.C. Amin came to Richmond, he'd never stayed in a hotel.
Now the Indian-born entrepreneur and his family own 37 of them -- making Amin the largest hotelier in central Virginia and one of the largest independent owners in Virginia.
In the past year alone, Amin has invested $178 million to open 10 hotels in metro Richmond.
His Shamin Hotels Inc. has assets of $600 million in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, and employs 1,000 people.
"I love to build," Amin said in a recent interview in his Chester office. "I love to do bigger and better projects."
On Dec. 1, his family-owned Shamin Hotels will open its new flagship property, the $48 million, 254-room Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa near the Short Pump Town Center in western Henrico County.
The 246,000-square-foot hotel will offer more than 22,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom able to accommodate 1,300 people.
"That hotel will be a milestone for this company," the 64-year-old Amin said. "But I would not say that's it."
Amin envisions owning 100 hotels, and expanding along the East Coast into the Washington and Baltimore markets and, eventually, going international with hotels in London, Mumbai and Bangkok.
Even though the lodging industry has taken a beating during the recession, Shamin is still profitable, he said.
"We are going to be very, very successful, if not in the next six months, by 2011 we will be," he said.
Paradoxically, the hands-on hotelier said, "I don't like to travel. I don't like to have a hotel in a place where I don't have say-so."
Amin's success is grounded in having a good eye for locations, carefully controlling costs but spending for quality, and being willing to work single-mindedly toward his goals.
"He's . . . the American success story," said Jack Berry, president and CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Amin has done well because of his "great work ethic, customer service and delivering product where there's a huge need," Berry said. "He's put hotels where they weren't."
"Like any good developer in any market, he seems -- whether it's an inherent sense or he's just been paying attention -- to know that 'this area, even if it's sleepy now, will be vibrant,'" agreed Mike Horgan, regional director of franchise sales and development with InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, which owns seven hotel brands, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Candlewood Suites.
"He's been able to identify those well out front of everybody else," Horgan said.
"Every location I have has great accessibility, great visibility," Amin said. "And I go with the best brand. Then you've done everything right, and your job is easier."
The son of a farming family in a small Indian village, Amin came to the United States in 1970 out of economic desperation, he said.
He got a master's degree at the University of Utah and found an engineering job with the Virginia Department of Transportation. But he had become restless working for government when, in 1978, he visited a fellow countryman who owned a small hotel in Fredericksburg.
"I immediately came to the conclusion this is what I wanted to do," he said. "I didn't have money, but I had a dream."
While Amin had "absolutely no experience in any business of any kind," he and brother-in-law B.N. Shah found a bankrupt hotel in Lumberton, N.C. They bought it for $625,000, using their savings, credit cards and a credit-union loan to scrape up the down payment.
"We really got a sweet deal," Amin recalled. However, "we didn't know we needed more money for operating the hotel. . . . We learned the hard way."
But they learned well. Shamin later sold that hotel for $4 million.
For his first nine years in the lodging business, Amin, his wife, Punam, and their son, Neil, lived in Shamin's second hotel, at Interstate 95's Walthall exit in Chesterfield County. Everyone pitched in to make the business go.
"For the first eight hotels," Amin said, "we didn't have an accountant [or] an interior decorator."
His wife, an accountant by profession, handled the books for the eight hotels, as well as selecting the decor and furnishings, he said.
"And then we were raising our son," Neil, who lived in hotels for the first 13 years of his life. Their son helped with maintenance and handled the front desk.
"Honestly," said his son, now Shamin's CEO, "the hotel business was our life. We all worked very hard, seven days a week. My mother would make sandwiches for people when they came to check in," and if the hotel restaurant's dishes needed washing, his father would wash them.
"He never asks anybody to do something that he wouldn't do himself," Neil said of his father.
Shamin Hotels is still a family affair: Nephew Jay Shah and daughter-in-law Amishi Amin are company executives.
The business waxed profitable beyond P.C. Amin's happiest dreams.
As a result, "when I built my first hotel, I had a sizeable amount of cash" to do the project, Amin said, and he got into the habit of minimizing expenses by limiting borrowing.
Amin describes his business strategies as conservative: "I'll take risks. I will not gamble."
Dr. Sharadkumar Saraiya, an orthopedic surgeon in Colonial Heights, is Amin's friend and tennis partner. "If he wants to spend $5," Saraiya said, "you can bet that whatever he buys is worth $5."
Despite his enormous economic success, Amin is "a very humble individual," said Charles L. McCarthy, a vice president with W.M. Jordan Co. Inc., a general contracting firm that has built six hotels for Shamin. "You'd never know he has 30 hotels."
Amin led -- and underwrote -- the construction of the nonprofit Cultural Center of India in Chester.
Family, friends and the Indian community -- and tennis -- are his passions away from the business.
"If I'm not there or not calling," the orthopedic surgeon said, "he's calling, 'What's the matter? Are you mad at me?'"
An American citizen since 1975, Amin embodies what used to be thought of as old-fashioned American values.
"If he tells me W.M. Jordan is going to do the job," McCarthy said, "and here's the number we're going to do it for . . . his word is good enough for us." ------
Contact Peter Bacque at (804) 649-6813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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