Horwath's Ron de Witt (left) leads a discussion with Minor Hotels' Dillip Rajakarier and (right) Ovolo Hotels' Dave Baswal Ovolo, Minor CEOs discuss what it takes to winBy Jeffrey Weinstein | September 13, 2023Share Two leaders with similar mindsets talk at HICAP ANZ about their commitment to the business and plans for growth. SYDNEY – Dave Baswal, CEO of Hong Kong-based Ovolo Hotels, and Dillip Rajakarier, CEO, Minor Hotels in Bangkok share similar mindsets about their jobs. Baswal lives by the motto, “love what you do; do what you love,” while Rajakarier first references his passion for the business and a drive led by a credo that states “winning is not an option – it’s a habit.”The two leaders shared the stage with Horwath HTL Managing Director Ron de Wit during the second day of HICAP Australia and New Zealand (HICAP ANZ) in Sydney last week to talk about their roles, as well as the growth opportunities and challenges of the moment as they try to grow their portfolios both within Asia Pacific and across the globe.Rajakarier, who joined Minor in 2007 when the group had about 10 hotels (today it has more than 530), talked about putting in the hours that usually includes about only three hours of sleep. “It’s hard work,” he said. “It’s also about driving performance, especially as a publicly listed company – you’re only as good as your latest results. You cannot hang your hat on the previous quarter.”He also said he is not afraid to employ people better or smarter than himself. “You don’t have to be scared of your job if you’re really good at it,” he said, later adding rather bluntly, “the hospitality industry is not an easy industry – it’s a 24/7 business. And if you’re not up to it, then don’t do it.”Baswal half-kiddingly responded that six hours of sleep is usually required for him to function most effectively but believes his leadership principles overlap with Rajakarier’s. “I try to work the same way within our team, and if a strategy is not working, try to change course,” he said. “It’s a very simple formula to keep going. Results always follow.”Baswal, whose company only has 13 hotels today, added that good colleagues will always join if they are enjoying themselves and everyone is having fun. “It’s very important to keep that balance and follow what comes from the heart,” he added. “In our industry, it’s very important that you’re passionate about what you do.”Over the course of an hour, de Wit probed the two leaders about not only their journeys but what is ahead. Here are some of the highlights.Ron de Wit: Dillip, Minor likes to chase deals.Dillip Rajakarier: I don’t like to chase deals; I like to close deals. I always say to our development guys, there are deal chasers and deal closers. We don’t like people who chase deals; we like people who close deals, which is really important because you can chase hundreds of deals, but it’s the ability to close deals. And also, it’s the ability to be really fast and think different in terms of closing deals…When we acquired NH hotels in Spain, which made us a truly global company, it was really important that Minor and NH never overlapped – even in one country. So, we are now in 57 countries.Even during COVID, we were closing deals, and people said we were crazy as everyone was saving money. I said, ‘no, this company needs to grow, and we need to grow in a sustainable way. And every crisis creates an opportunity.’ For example, we bought Boscolo hotels in Europe, eight hotels with five converted to Anantara and the others to NH Hotels. Sometimes you just need to have that guts and have that tenacity and courage to do it. Take ownership and ask, ‘if this was my money, would I really go and invest and do this deal or not?’ Thankfully, the market has rewarded us for every single deal we’ve done.De Witt: Dave, what did Girish Jhunjhnuwala (Ovolo founder see in you that made you match?Dave Baswal: He takes a high level of risk and bringing something really disruptive to market and making business sense around it requires someone like me to buddy up. We work really well together. I manage the risks and the profitability for the business. I work with teams and bring them together, and then the ability to put that into some kind of shape and form where it makes business sense is how we team up. When we started eight years ago, it was much harder. Now it’s much easier. I get what he is after and how he wants to grow. I do have a lot of say within the business, which is what I like and what I love. But it’s crucial. He keeps throwing us out of our comfort zone, and we love that path…I had a lot of opportunity to speak my mind, say what I needed to influence the business and take in certain directions. Now it’s more responsibility and authority at the same time, whereas previously it was more responsibility and less authority…The investor group has given us a lot of freedom of expression and that’s been the big key to the success of us being the way we are. We differentiate ourselves and stay nimble and small to some extent. Small is not about the size of the organization; it’s about keeping an independent asset unique and keeping that experience linked and focused within that small region…We are an independent lifestyle brand and plan to remain that way for a short period of time. But there will be an opportunity at some point for us to get some investment interests and the ability to grow at a much faster pace.I think we find the right partner with the right growth strategies to go to market and we have an ability to open 10 hotels a year. We’ll definitely give that a crack; we’re not afraid of that challenge and opportunity…We’ve been in the Australia market for seven years. Many of our assets are mature and we currently own and operate all of them. We do need to diversify and find alternate ways to grow. So, we just started looking into management opportunities. We are talking to few developers, builders, partners who have an opportunity to have either building or the ones who have an asset, which is currently midscale property which requires refurbishment.We’ve done really well adding value, bringing refurbishment and repositioning expertise, which pushes the midscale hotel into upscale territory. We are definitely keen to start working with the right investor partners and owners… We’re also happy to have some equity in the mix where it makes sense – not too much for the new developments at this point, but definitely an existing asset in the 80- to 200-room size…We just sold our very first asset and have a couple of other assets for sale. Then we’re looking to recycle the capital to redeploy and buy more and acquire more in new markets as well as in Australia. We will also move toward joint ventures with the right partners to keep owning certain interests. We definitely want to keep the brand independent and have the freedom of expression to control the destiny of the assets.De Witt: Why doesn’t the industry do…?Rajakarier: Why doesn’t the industry do enough in terms of attracting good talent? We need diversified talent and equality is key, as well… It’s hospitality, which is a great industry to work in. It’s fun, you work with people, and if you love what you do, it’s the best.Baswal: We attract a lot of people; we just don’t retain the talent. That’s our biggest issue. We need to find hooks and the ways within the businesses and industry to see that skill development is happening so people stay, gain value and keep growing.