Room for growth

Room for growth
Park Hotel Group's senior vice president Mohd Rafin.

After he finished his pre-university studies at Swiss Cottage school, Mr Mohd Rafin wanted to do a degree in business. Instead, he was offered a course in social sciences. Turning it down, he joined Boon Lay Primary as a teacher. After a year, he left to try his hand in the carpet business but his real calling lay in the hotel industry, something he realised after joining the Hilton group.

Being a people person, he fitted in well and was soon travelling the world, marketing the hotel.

The journey with Hilton lasted 22 years. He then joined Far East's hospitality arm where he worked for eight years before taking a gamble in joining the Park Hotel Group in 2005.

The Park Hotel Group was then a new brand in Singapore. Two years earlier it had acquired a hotel in Hong Kong and was making its foray into Singapore. Mr Rafin was one of the first people it hired after taking over the former Crown Prince hotel and turning it into the Grand Park Orchard.

In Mr Rafin's words, he decided to join the group because it "had a vision to start a new brand and I too had a gut feel of it doing well". The group has since acquired six hotels and built one.

"We have done quite a bit and we are always on the go," says Mr Rafin, 59.

Today, the Park Hotel Group's portfolio of hotels includes three hotels in Singapore (the Grand Park Orchard, Grand Park City Hall and the Park Hotel Clarke Quay), three in China and one each in Japan and Hong Kong.

From acquiring hotels, the group is moving into managing hotels and it signed the first such deal on Aug 15 with Chip Eng Seng Corporation for a 450-room hotel coming up in the Alexandra region.

"We were the dark horses for the deal as there were many international brands in the fray. Even their chairman admitted that, at first, they did not even look at us. But, eventually, when we made our proposal and they found how passionate we were and how differently we looked at things, they felt we were a good fit for them," says Mr Rafin on how the Park Hotel Group pulled off the deal with Chip Eng Seng.

The group's primary focus will be in the Asia-Pacific region even as it remains an international brand. It is also eyeing India, where it will soon open a regional office.

"India has always been on our radar. It is an exciting growth place but so far we have not been lucky to find a good owner and a site. We are now looking at managing hotels there and we will soon set up a regional office either in Mumbai or Delhi to partly tap the booming traffic coming from there," says Mr Rafin, whose family moved to this part of the world from the Punjab region in the 1930s.

That does not mean that the group will shy away if an opportunity arises to have a hotel in one of the big cities in the West. This, he says, will help it connect internationally.

And as the push continues for growth, so is the thrust on talent. The group has around 3,500 employees on its rolls and even has an academy here to train them.

Mr Rafin says it is tough to get locals to join the service industry and so Park Hotel Group is trying to change their mindset with the necessary training and skills. Those who can manage three skills like front office, housekeeping and food and beverages are paid more.

He says he is grateful for all that he has learnt over the years in the industry and now wants to give back by way of coaching youngsters who join the group.

"I look at myself as a coach. I do my best to guide and coach people and that is something I strongly believe in. I used to be a very tough task master but I have mellowed," says the former teacher who admits that he can communicate with different types of people with ease.

The hotel business, however, has been his passion and that meant personal issues were left on the backburner for a long time. In fact, marriage came about only when Mr Rafin turned 50 - to his long-time friend Karen Tan. She also works in the hotel industry but with a different group.

Despite the pressure of time, as both have to be on the road for a considerable number of days in a month, Mr Rafin says they manage to spend some quality time together. He also manages to spend time with friends.

"I go for dinner with my friends or watch football with them, whether it is the EPL or the Spanish league. I used to play a lot of golf during weekends but now due to my travel commitments I support golf in the charity side of things and for our branding."

To keep himself fit, he does brisk walking about three times a week and yoga, which he picked up a few years ago.

"It kind of balances my personality and myself. The kind of pace we have at work, the lifestyle, the entertainment we do, the late nights... you need this," he says, before heading for another meeting.

"I look at myself as a coach. I do my best to guide and coach people and that is something I strongly believe in. I used to be a very tough task master but I have mellowed."

- Mr Rafin

patrickj@sph.com.sg

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