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New M&C CEO gunning for asset-driven growth

Jennifer Fox says expansion will be powered by acquisitions, management contracts and improving hotel performance

While other hotel management companies have a larger footprint, Ms Fox said M&C's ownership-driven model has its benefits, such as being able to buy the right assets in the right location.


MILLENNIUM & Copthorne (M&C) will continue its core strategy of owning hotels, says the company's new group chief executive.

Speaking to The Business Times days into her new role, Jennifer Fox said growth for the London-listed hotel chain will be powered by acquisitions, management contracts and improving hotel performance.

M&C is also looking into acquiring hotels in what are yet untapped markets for the group, such as Australia and parts of the United Kingdom, as well as key American gateway markets such as Miami.

"We like looking at individual assets, but we also do like portfolio if there's an opportunity to buy - it's about being in tune with the market," said Ms Fox, who is also a member of M&C's board of directors.

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The M&C chain currently comprises more than 135 hotels worldwide with over 40,000 rooms. Its six hotels here include Grand Copthorne Waterfront and Orchard Hotel.

Out of these, close to half are owned or leased by M&C, as opposed to those they manage, franchise or hold for investment.

While other hotel management companies such as Accor and Marriott have a larger footprint, Ms Fox said M&C's ownership-driven model has its benefits.

"Owning our assets is to our competitive advantage," she said. "We can make sure we can buy the right assets in the right location, and ensure we can renovate and keep them to the standard we need for the consumer."

Earlier this year, a takeover offer of M&C by its majority shareholder City Developments Limited for 620 pence a share lapsed.

While she said she could not discuss the takeover offer as she was not at M&C then, she added: "We don't expect to be acquired by another organisation, so we ... can take the time to acquire the right assets."

Ms Fox was president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts until the owner of the Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles brands was sold to Accor in late 2015.

The hospitality industry runs in her blood: Ms Fox, an Australian who also has UK citizenship, grew up helping her father out as he ran some small hotels in Australia.

"I never seriously considered any other industry," she said. "I love the global nature of the hotel business, I enjoy the challenges and I love leading a team and mentoring young hotel executives."

Before her six years in various senior roles in Fairmont, she spent 10 years in InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and 13 years in Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

She has worked and lived around the world in the US, Canada, London, Hong Kong and the Middle East, and believes the global perspective will help as she helms M&C.

In the weeks ahead, Ms Fox said she will be getting to know the business and define more aspects of its strategy.

Part of that will include a study of the brands under M&C's belt - she is optimistic about the prospects of the lifestyle-focused M Social brand as a driver of growth.

She is also optimistic about RevPAR (revenue per available room) for the Singapore market which stood at £83.83 in 2017, and thinks the Trump-Kim summit in June brought increased exposure to Singapore and could drive both the conference business and leisure travel markets here.

Several of M&C's hotels around the world will undergo refurbishment works, including the Orchard Hotel and Studio M Hotel in Singapore.

But one area she feels especially passionate about is grooming talent. She intends to find ways to work with general managers to identify top talent and ensure they are mentored as future leaders.

For Ms Fox, it would be paying it forward, having herself had the guidance of a mentor throughout her career. She tipped her hat to industry veteran Richard Hartman for opportunities at IHG, such as the rebranding of The Regent Hong Kong to The InterContinental Hong Kong when it was purchased by Bass Hotels & Resorts in 2001. And when Mr Hartman was CEO of M&C, he introduced her to M&C chairman Kwek Leng Beng in 2009.

Ms Fox believes hospitality is a people-centric business - not just for the customers but also within the organisation.

"It's a beginning-to-end process, and not just about retention ... it's also about training and development and understanding what they (staff) aspire to do and guide them along the career path they want," she said.

"We want to ensure they have rich career paths and that they will stay within the organisation."

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