Shaper: Tony Matharu

Show aired on 17th October 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
James Tormé with Passing By, of course one of our fantastic presenters here on Jazz FM. Well it’s me now, Elliot Moss on a Saturday morning, thank you very much for joining me for Jazz Shapers; you know what it is but I am going to tell you anyway just in case you are a first time listener – Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a beer moth, a fantastic big shaper from the world of business and my fantastic big shaper from the world of business today is Tony Matharu. He is the founder and managing director of The Grange Hotels. There are almost twenty of them but he does a lot more besides that and you will be hearing all about it very shortly. You will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya, some words of advice for your business. And as well as all of that of course, a brilliant and sumptuous mix of music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, Buddy Rich is coming up, Amy Winehouse, Mario Biondi and this from Mr Bill Withers.

The unmistakable sound of Bill Withers Within The Name Of Love, actually one of the favourite artists today of my Business Shaper, Tony Matharu although not his official choice, he is going to have that later, we are spoiling him. So as I said, Tony is my Business Shaper today, he is the founder and managing director of The Grange Hotels, there are almost twenty of them and has built a bit of a business over the last twenty plus years. In fact my sources tell me, in fact it was Tony who told me, almost a billion pounds worth of assets now being built and Tony, thank you so much for joining me. When you started in this business that number, that value was zero?

Tony Matharu
Absolutely, absolutely zero. I had no idea, in fact I hadn’t even stayed in a hotel as far as I can recall when I first started so I had a vision, I wanted to get involved in a business, I wanted to get involved in the hotel business. I had no idea how I was going to do it but I was determined.

Elliott Moss
How did you do it? I mean this is, you know, people… I meet many people and they say, you know, they’ve got a hotel or they’ve run a restaurant or they’ve run a few restaurants or even a handful of hotels. To move from the man who had literally nothing to one of the most successful and recognised entrepreneurs and hotel owners in the country if not, internationally. How does that happen? You know, tenacity is one thing but where has it really come from Tony?

Tony Matharu
Well it probably came from my mother and the ambition and the vision and the drive that she was able to encourage in me. So I think that’s probably the seed and that germinated then further. In terms of practical things, borrowing some money and starting and being convinced that I could do it and having the confidence to go and prove to others that I could. You know, determined and motivated. The normal qualities that I think entrepreneurs perhaps demonstrate.

Elliot Moss
And going way back when to when you first borrowed your first pound as it were – how did you convince them that this person they had never heard of called Tony Matharu was intelligent enough, was tenacious enough, had the vision to actually go and do something. Do you remember those first days of actually trying to make the thing happen?

Tony Matharu
Very difficult. You know in the hotel business there are huge barriers to entry, it is a very capital intensive business. It is not easy but on the other hand there is security in the property, in the assets so if you can demonstrate that you’ve got the ability to turn a business round which is what happened in the first days and weeks and months. We could turn a business round and make it a success and that then convinced other people that they should perhaps take an interest in the business and it helped to secure finance in the future.

Elliot Moss
And that very first bit of finance so if I can just get your mind to go right back then, that painful moment when you were going from nought to something. What do you think convinced them? Was it the bank that you borrowed from or where was it?

Tony Matharu
Banks have got different views on where they place their risk and in this particular instance their risk I think was associated with the people behind it and I think that they realised that if you have got, as people say these days, skin in the game, you are determined to put everything that you can do to make the business successful then at least that can be a convincing and cogent argument for them. So I think they believed in me and they believed in my ability to try and drive a business forwards.

Elliot Moss
Find out more from my Business Shaper today, Tony Matharu, he is the founder and managing director of The Grange Hotels, from zero to lots, to almost a billion of assets – not bad. You are going to find out how he did it. Time for some music, this is Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett with Body and Soul.

The beautiful sound of Amy Winehouse with Tony Bennett and Body and Soul. Tony Matharu is my Business Shaper today and we have been talking about the very early moments Tony that was a long while ago. When you first secured your very first bit of investment, what did you do with it? What was the very first hotel that it got ploughed into, where was it?

Tony Matharu
Well it was the smallest hotel in part of a group and they were paying least attention to it, least investment in resources, human resources, in the capital and fixtures in the building and I guess their better business, their better people went elsewhere and leaving a vacuum that we thought we could change and I think if you are determined and you put all your effort into making one thing work very well, it can reflect itself in the success of the business. That’s where it started. So the hotel business is not that difficult. It does require…

Elliot Moss
Don’t tell anyone, don’t tell anyone.

Tony Matharu
…well it does require a lot of effort and as I said there are barriers to entry but there is nothing that can’t be learnt and there is nothing that can’t be taught so I learnt.

Elliot Moss
Now you did learn and you studied law I believe at University and then moved into the world of hotels. What drew you to it as well, what was the thing? I mean it sounds like obviously you are making it sound simpler than it was and you talk about tenacity and things, but the draw of the… was it the experience of being in a hotel? You said you hadn’t stayed in one before. I mean what was it that brought you there?

Tony Matharu
Naivety. I think I was convinced by what I perceived as the glamour of hotels. There is that but not when you are running your very first one. So I had this vision that it was a great thing to be associated with and I knew that as a business I was convinced that I could do it, you know so it’s maximising the capacity that you have and selling rooms is an art but it was what we learnt in the early stages.

Elliot Moss
Now then the next question of course is scale. So you go from one, it works well, you put heart and soul into it as you said, you can learn things, you can be taught things and so on and so forth. Then what? How did you move from this first baby to the bigger family? How did it start to grow?

Tony Matharu
I think it was because at a certain point in time there were changes in legislation, there was changes in the planning legislation and I think my legal background gave us an opportunity to, to understand that and to take the opportunity of exploiting it. So we were able to take hold of properties that had come to the end of their useful lives in one form or another and turn them into hotels and breathe new life into them and also I think perceiving where the centre of gravity for London was moving. It was moving away from certain areas, it was moving slightly eastwards. I recognised that fairly early on and we were able to find assets, convince others, bankers that it was a worthwhile investment and then demonstrate to them that they made the right judgement.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today and find out how belief matched with a very good structured, intelligent approach to the world around you can actually lead to fantastic success. Latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that, some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me every Saturday morning, 9.00am sharp, book your appointment so that you can hear some of the best and the biggest and the cleverest shapers of the world of business who join me here on Jazz FM. If you have missed any of the previous almost two hundred programmes, go into iTunes, you can find a smattering there; FT.com, Cityam.com and even British Airways Highlife are also places you can catch some of my fantastic guests. My fantastic guest today is Tony Matharu. He is the founder and managing director of The Grange Hotels and you’ve been hearing how he has gone from zero to lots more and how tenacity allied with some quite intelligent thought about what’s going to go on in the world around him has helped him build his business. Tony, we were talking about your focus on central London and how that has started to really… or did start many years ago to pay dividends. People often say to me, ‘oh yes I realised that this was happening and I adapted to it’ – how did you know? I mean I know you had a decent hold on the property market, you had a legal background as you said so you could structure deals but how did you know it was going to be such a boom time for the city?

Tony Matharu
Nobody knows it’s going to be a boom time. You convince yourself that you know better than the market and if you do, then you make the right decisions and so I think whether you are buying shares or whether you are buying property or whether you are investing in hotels, if you look at the patterns and you can see there are opportunities that perhaps other people have missed and take advantage of those. So I think that we saw some opportunities going west from… so going east from where we were and we knew that there were some unloved areas and unloved buildings that had come to the end of their useful lives and we were convinced that there was demand there. There were high concentrations of corporate businesses around there. We knew that a lot of the hotel bed stock was relatively stale, very unloved. They were built for a different time, a different period, a different type of client and we, I think as younger people entering the business, knew that there were other alternatives that we could provide to the market that people were prepared to pay for if we got it right.

Elliot Moss
Finding the space to have the thought to go ‘we knew’ and ‘these were unloved’ and ‘these were the buildings’ on top of running the day-to-day operation of a business, this is the thing that intrigues me about someone like you – where do you find that space? Is it an internal thought process that goes on? Are there people around you that enable you to go ‘that’s unloved, that’s the part of London we are going to go for’. How do you get to those conclusions?

Tony Matharu
I think all entrepreneurs, one of the secrets of entrepreneurship is having the vision and being able to recognise opportunities. Many people do get very straight and narrow minded. They are wearing blinkers, they do certain things in their lives, they think that they should go along particular paths which have been well trodden and I think it does take a broader vision to recognise opportunities when they come along. So the first thing is recognising opportunities. Beyond that its then exploiting them, sacrificing and making the best of the opportunities. Many people do recognise opportunities and then don’t want to take the risk. It could be a personal risk, it could be sacrifices in other parts of their lives. It could just be the risk of funds and investing your own money but recognising the opportunities is the first thing. You have to have the vision to start with that and I think that comes from my mother in the first instance.

Elliot Moss
You are going to hear more from Tony Matharu, my Business Shaper very shortly. Time for some music and it is the upbeat and lovely Buddy Rich, featuring his daughter Cathy with The Beat Goes On.

The Beat Goes On from Buddy Rich as I said, featuring his daughter Cathy. Tony we were talking about risk and you know, I look at you and I don’t see a crazy risky guy, I see someone who is very calm, who is very in control of his brief as they would say if you were a politician, God forbid. How do you manage? You obviously are, you are very steely, I sense a very steely person obviously, very clear on what you want to do. How risk open are you to risk? It must be relatively large and if so, how do you manage that with this calm exterior that one sees?

Tony Matharu
I am not sure that people would see me as, as… being taking risks. I think our approach has always been a measured, considered approach and so that might go with my calm exterior and interior. I think if you carefully consider the options that you recognise and are presented to you and I don’t think that one can be just impulsive when you are dealing with the kind of sums of money that are necessary to build and design hotels. So a considered measured approach based on demonstrated past and a vision for the future. I think those are probably one of our secrets. Hard work, passion and I think encouraging other people around you, your team to follow your vision, to motivate, support, direct them to think your way and to tread the path that you have taken them in and build a team around you. They are all things that have helped us. We couldn’t do it without them good people.

Elliot Moss
And was there a tipping point? Or has there been in the last ten or fifteen years when you’ve gone ‘this has been a big and successful business’ to ‘this has now gone to another level’? And if so, did you know it was happening? You talk about being calm and deliberate and considered. Did you know it was moving from phase 2 as you were to phase 3?

Tony Matharu
Yes, that sounds a bit glib but at different points in time you know that you need to build a team who’ve got expertise that you don’t have. You may know that there are technologies that you are not so familiar with that you need to bring on board. So I think you don’t necessarily need to be a technician, you don’t need to be a builder and a designer but you need to know that in order to move forward you need the support of those people around you and so we, quite unusually, we do have on board within our group, people who do that so in fact right from design and build to technology and other solutions. We have tried to develop those within our brief and so they are within our team and that means that we can control and time the expense the completion of what we need as a hotel group in particular.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Tony plus be playing a track from Mario Biondi, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

The diminutive not Mario Biondi with a Handful of Soul. Tony Matharu is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. Tony, in the building of the business over the last twenty five or so years, you must have encountered big obstacles, things that just you thought ‘I don’t know how I am going to get round this’. When that happened, how did you get round them because you are still here, the business is still growing, you are still calm on the outside and on the inside and you are smiling – how have you managed that?

Tony Matharu
I think looking forward. There are problems every single day in all kinds of walks of life, personal they can be or they can be professional, they can be in your work, you are meeting expectations of you know, many thousands of people all the time and if you just try and resolve those issues and move on. So you have got to look forward. I think looking back is not helpful and you know, there are ways in which you can skirt round issues but if you confront them face on and my way of dealing with problems is not to bang my fist or to jump up and down or to shout but to take a considered approach to them and find a solution. So wherever the problem is, find a solution, move on, look forward.

Elliot Moss
You mentioned, you know, things can… difficult things can happen in personal life and so on and so forth. You are very well-known for your amazing philanthropic work, not just money you might give as a business or as an individual but your time because your time is what really is I think, sometimes it matters more in a way than the money, although the money is very important too. Why do you do what you do across a number of fronts? I mean I am not going to go through the list of probably ten or fifteen different boards you are on of different charities but what motivates you?

Tony Matharu
It’s the most fulfilling part of my life. In the Sikh religion and I am not particularly religious but there is one particular tenant of it and it’s called Seva which I interpret as ‘try to do a little bit of good for everyone and if not everybody, somebody, every day without any personal benefit’ and that becomes part of you. It becomes ingrained in you. If you can, you try and do some good for somebody else and as you become more successful depending on how you measure it, you are more able to do more for more people so if it’s time, that’s okay, they need it more than you and that is the most fulfilling part of my life.

Elliot Moss
And how do you manage it because you are split in literally fifty seven different ways – I am sure you need about ten phones and fourteen personal assistants. How do you actually manage it and enable yourself to remain calm and actually give good advice and help?

Tony Matharu
Well mentoring and giving advice is one way in which you can do it because then you can do far more than you could do individually and personally. But life is a balance and getting the balance right is an impossibility. You can’t always get the right balance. When you are dealing with people who are severely disadvantaged, it may be you know, following an earthquake, a natural disaster, it could be post-war, it could be something that’s disease, it could be people with disability, you realise that those beneficiaries need assistance far more than perhaps answering that call or looking at those emails. So for me, in my sense of balance and priority, I try and deal with that in a way that doesn’t detract from my business and I think people around me understand that having a good corporate social responsibility head does well for the business, it is recognised but it’s not because of the recognition, it’s because I want to do it.

Elliot Moss
Now look you are twenty five years in or whatever it is in to the business, you are still young, what’s the next five years going to hold for you? The next ten years? Are you going to stop? You don’t strike me as someone who is ever really going to stop because your brain will carry on going and as you talked about then, your values will carry on living. What are you thinking about as you look forward now?

Tony Matharu
It’s just looking at the right balance. There’s management and control and then there’s the contribution to others. My view is that what I would like to do is to spend more time contributing to others.

Elliot Moss
Wow we should all be doing a lot more of that. Listen, thank you so much for being my Business Shaper today, you have been brilliant. I can’t let you go without asking you what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Tony Matharu
I love Nina Simone and I am an optimist, I like Feeling Good, it’s an uplifting tune and she has got a great voice.

Elliot Moss
And here she is just for you.

That was Feeling Good from Nina Simone, the song choice of my phenomenal Business Shaper, Tony Matharu. A humble man, someone whose been so successful and yet retains that sense of perspective. Someone who believes that contributing to others is central to his own philosophy, his own way of being and an absolute visionary. He has built a business over twenty five years by seeing things before other people did and acting on that vision. Fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM. But stay with us right now because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Tony is founder and Managing Director of Grange Hotels – ‘London’s Leading Independent Hotel Group’ and former winner of the “Best Small Hotel Company”. (Business Travel Awards)

He is responsible for designing, building and managing 18 luxury 4 star and 5 star central London hotels. Tony combines his passion for hospitality with philanthropy, sport and community engagement; acting as founder and Chairman of IODR UK – a children’s emergency relief and development charity with projects mostly in the Indian Ocean Region; as London Chairman of the Lord’s Taverner’s – “giving young people a sporting chance”; as Vice President of the Oracle Head & Neck Cancer Research Trust; as Deputy Chairman of the Corporation of London’s ‘City Together’; as Chairman of the City of London’s ‘Vibrant & Culturally Rich City Group’; and as a Director  of the London Business Improvement District (BID) – “In Mid Town”. Tony also holds a number of Board and other positions in the Arts, charitable sector, and sport – particularly cricket and hockey, and he continues to play at representative and international levels.

Tony has founded many successful start-up organizations and companies. He was awarded ‘Hotelier of the Year’ in 2013; received a ‘Special Recognition Award’  for his Contribution to London’s Success and a Technology and Innovation Award in 2014. He founded and sold a successful specialist sports brand, Ayrtek®, now co-branded with Adidas. He founded a global hospitality consultancy which has created a number of innovative and award winning technology solutions, together with two award winning spa and guest amenity brands: Ajala Spa and Redwood & Feller. Tony currently has two more landmark hotels under construction.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“I hadn’t even stayed in a hotel, as far as I can recall, when I first started.”

“I think if you are determined and you put all your effort into making one thing work very well, it can reflect itself in the success of the business.”

“I think our approach has always been a measured, considered approach and so that might go with my calm exterior and interior.”

“We were able to take hold of properties that had come to the end of their useful lives in one form or another and turn them into hotels and breathe new life into them.”

“You convince yourself that you know better than the market – and if you do, then you make the right decisions.”

“Having a good corporate social responsibility head does well for the business. It is recognised, but I don’t do it for the recognition – it’s because I want to do it.”

“I don’t think that one can be just impulsive when you are dealing with the kind of sums of money that are necessary to build and design hotels.”

“Wherever the problem is, find a solution, move on, look forward.”

“When you are dealing with people who are severely disadvantaged….you realise that those beneficiaries need assistance far more than perhaps answering that call or looking at those emails.”