The Peak Magazine : Race to the Top
Source: The Peak Magazine / Francis Kan / 1 April 2014
TED FANG IS A MAN IN A HURRY. More to the point, he’s a businessman who is acutely aware that the time he has on this earth to achieve something of significance is finite.
This existential streak underpins almost everything the entrepreneur does, from his punishing work schedule to the improbably lofty goals he has set for the hotel business he and his two half brothers, Harry and David Tan, founded just over a decade ago.
It explains why their Beijing-based Frontier Group, which held the master franchise for the American hotel chain Days Inn for Greater China, was the fastest-growing mid-tier hospitality chain on the mainland. From just one Days Inn property in 2004, the chain has grown to around 150 today in 2014.
Yet, this number is far from the 1,000 hotels that Fang wanted to open over the next decade. It is not a target born of hubris but, rather, his belief in the power of the Chinese consumer and a hyper- accelerated timetable for success he has set for himself.
“I’ve always wanted to do exciting things, and you have only so much time in life. I could have picked anything to do in life, but I picked an area where I can grow as fast and as big as possible,” says the Beijing-based hotelier, 47, who oversaw the strategic direction of the group as its president and, soon, its executive chairman. He describes his role in the company as the guy who invests and finds the money. Not surprisingly, he is also the “more ambitious and pushy one” among his brothers, he admits.
Fang’s need for speed was apparent early on in his career, when the pace of his first job at an oil-trading operations company failed to feed his already-burgeoning ambition. It was the ’90s, and for anyone who wanted to grow an enterprise in double quick time, there was only one way to do it: Enter technology.
He left oil trading to start his own software company but soon found it too difficult to attract the talent needed to expand it significantly. “In 2000, I went to Silicon Valley and met many very smart people, and realised we were no match for them. They had talent, a huge market, forward-looking investors with an appetite for risk, and a stock market that can let companies list even without profit. You need talent who want to work with you to create something massive and interesting,” he explains.
Fortunately, a bigger opportunity soon came knocking, one that would tick all the right boxes. In 2002, his brother Harry, who had spent over 25 years in the hospitality business in China – including a decade-long stint with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts – asked if he would be interested in launching a three- to four-star chain of hotels on the mainland, a segment he felt was sorely underserved.
Together with a group of ex-Shangri-La employees, they launched Days Inn in China way before anyone was interested in the mid-tier segment, a move that allowed them to expand with little competition. But being ahead of your time can be a painful process and, for the first six years, Fang said the business “suffered like hell”.