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Zeman's zecrets: Business tycoon shares his wisdom with Phuket

Zeman's zecrets: Business tycoon shares his wisdom with Phuket

BUSINESS: Hong Kong-based tycoon Allan Zeman, renowned for his Midas touch and, locally, for completing Andara and the Plaza Surin, on Friday (September 16) gave the Phuket business community liberal access to his business secrets.

Friday 23 September 2011, 04:25PM

After his presentation, Allan Zeman (centre) poses for pictures with admirers.

After his presentation, Allan Zeman (centre) poses for pictures with admirers.

At a packed meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce at Andara, he recalled how his business life began at the age of 10 when he had a paper round in Canada. By the time he was 16 he had made enough money from that and working in a steakhouse to buy his first car.

At the age of 19, after working in sales for a lingerie company for two years, he had made his first C$1 million, and started his own company importing clothing. He moved to Hong Kong in 1975 to get away from high corporate taxes in Canada.

The company, Colby International, was sold in 2000, by which time it had operations in 40 countries.

He is now in nightclubs and restaurants, through Lan Kwai Fong Holdings in Hong Kong, which is about to expand into China, starting with Chengdu; movies, through his LA-based production company Sweetpea Entertainment; fashion, through the Algo Group; and property development in Phuket.

Everyone at the Amcham meeting was there to hear how he had achieved all of this.

Dr Zeman’s one-hour talk riveted the audience, and could probably form the basis of a new career for him – as writer of business how-to books – if he has the time and inclination. Gems that fell from the tycoon’s lips during his talk:

  • While selling lingerie I learned that if I’m honest with customers and sell them the right product, they’ll come back. Follow-up is very important to sales.

  • The first thing I do when doing business in a foreign country is to understand the local culture. Who’s your customer? What do they want?

  • Be first class, even if you are working at the economy end of business. Be the best there is. Then give it a twist. Make sure there’s a style to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s clothing, restaurants or a club; it has to have style.

  • The most important thing in building a company is to build a good team around you. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Examine your own. If you are weak in some aspect, surround yourself with people who are strong in it.

  • There are no bad staff. Only bad leaders. People want leadership. They want to know where the company is going.

  • I’ve never had a candidate who was perfect for the job. You’ve got to work with them and let them understand your vision. Listen to every idea they have. You don’t have to use the ideas, but don’t put them down.

  • China is the future. The Chinese are fanning out all over the world. Fakes are for foreigners. The Chinese want the real thing. The Chinese will be the customers of choice.

  • Make sure your staff are happy. High-class, back-of-house facilities for staff are very important. If your staff are happy then your guests or customers will be, too.

  • No matter how much money you have, reputation must always be earned.

  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Use agents and don’t be afraid to pay commissions. I love agents.

  • There are many ways to get to the bottom line. They’re all correct if you get to the profit.

  • Think of yourself as the customer; If [what you are planning to do in business] meets your standards [as a customer] it has a shot at success.

  • Land is land. It’s what you put on the land that’s most important. You have to respect the land. You have to look at it, feel it, and then look beyond it.

  • Do what you think is right, even if people say you’re crazy.

  • Because of the internet, there are no more secrets. You can no longer get away with poor products. You must raise the way you do business. Be the best.

  • Always make the decisions. Clear your desk every night. You have to stay ahead of the curve.

He also offered advice for the Government in Bangkok and the authorities in Phuket:

  • Immigration at Phuket airport has to be sorted out. First impressions are the most important. People don’t want to stand in line for an hour at the start of their vacation.

  • Phuket has the weather, the nature, the culture, but planning could be better than it is. Planning is really important.

  • Make Phuket more business-friendly.

  • In Phuket you need more brand-name hotels. Then you’ll get the brand-name retailers.

Despite the fact that he is a director of the Wynn Casino in Macau, Dr Zeman said that introducing gambling in Thailand would be “a real mistake”.

Gambling, he said, “attracts a lot of undesirable elements. It’s something that needs controlling; I’m not sure that you can control it at this stage in Thailand. They need to clean up their act first. At this time it’s better if they don’t have gambling.”

Finally, he dropped a couple of surprises for those who don’t have the inside track on the property industry in Phuket: Andara is sold out apart from one final two-bedroom unit, so Dr Zeman is now getting ready to launch a new project, also on Millionaires’ Mile, called Suwannara.

He will also start work soon on another shopping mall, almost opposite Plaza Surin. This will be much bigger, with 54 shops.

“It will be another very special landmark.” he said.

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