AS CEO of InVision Hospitality, the hotel management company he founded 10 years ago, Kevin runs two successful hotel brands offering over 1,000 rooms in 12 properties operating in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.
While the past decade was filled with setbacks, disappointments and crises beyond his control, Kevin is now enjoying corporate stability and the prospect of even better returns in the future.
“It’s taken longer to reach this point of maturity than I had expected,” admitted 57-year-old Kevin, who spent 25 years with Marriott International before going it alone.
“By 2019 InVision Hospitality will have 3,000 rooms in our portfolio – and that’s not just wishful thinking, those are signed contracts to date.”
“Life’s looking good now and I look forward to financial independence by my 60th birthday,” he said quickly adding that retirement is not an option. “What would I do if I sold out? Set up another company?”
InVision’s two hotel brands comprise of GLOW – a spirited mid-tier chain which he says competes with the likes of Holiday Inn Express and Marriott Courtyard – and MAI HOUSE – a more cultural five-star experience with the first property open on Patong Hill in Phuket soon to be joined by Ho Chi Minh City 2018 and Hoi An Beach in 2019. Kevin mentioned it was important to him to cover both bases, capturing the diverse market of leisure and business travellers in Southeast Asia.
Reaching this stage has not been easy for Kevin. He first arrived in Thailand in 1997 as opening General Manager of the five-star JW Marriott Bangkok. Three months into that job and the hotel market in Thailand crashed due to the Asian financial crisis. “The owners of the hotel had a 100% offshore loan and were desperate.
Overnight we had to work twice as hard just to pay the mortgage and get things done. It was a defining challenge in my career, and I couldn’t be prouder of the outcome and the entire team that turned that dire situation around and made JW Marriott Bangkok one of Thailand’s premier hotels,” he recalls.
“We started by focusing on the hotel’s F&B operations. For instance, we created an amazing buffet that no one had seen before, with our chefs continuously cooking small dishes for guests instead of the normal practice of simply putting out large buffet plates.
“There was no corporate business because of the financial crisis, so we looked at the leisure market and we quickly filled the hotel with tourists. We also worked with nearby Bumrungrad Hospital for medical tourists.
“We built up an amazing and very loyal team of associates who were extremely proud to be part of the Marriott work family. Ten years after I left the JW Marriott, 75% of my original team was still with the hotel.”
Kevin was subsequently appointed Country Manager of Thailand, which eventually saw him in charge of ten properties under the JW Marriott and Marriott brands – Marriott Executive Apartments and MVCI resort – integrated timeshare facilities. This brought him into contact with Bill Heineke, boss of the Minor Group, and one of this country’s major hotel operators.
Kevin convinced his fellow American entrepreneur to rebrand his Royal Garden Resort properties in Pattaya and Hua Hin which Heineke agreed and after upgrades, both became Marriott resorts.
This close cooperation led in 2003 to Kevin becoming Chief Operating Officer and Director of Minor International PLC where he established a corporate operational structure that enabled the expanding company to manage and grow its hotel brand portfolio, including Four Seasons, Anantara and Marriott.
Under Kevin’s guidance, Minor International added seven more hotels and successfully introduced the Thailand-based Anantara brand to the global market. After two tough years “and one day” with Minor, Kevin decided it was time to take a break from corporate life and start planning for his future.
“I had been working a pretty hectic schedule,” he says. “So my wife Therese and I decided to take a year off and enjoy life a bit. I’d made a good living and had tucked away plenty of savings, so I felt I was in a good position financially – not bad for a young kid from the Midwest!”
The over-riding plan was to “reconnect with family and friends” scattered across the globe. “We bought round-the-world tickets and spent three months flying to places like Russia, where we spent three weeks in St Petersburg and Moscow, as well as Italy, Holland, France and back in the US.
“We blew loads of money, but it really recharged our batteries. And then, we bought two more world tickets and did the whole thing again. It was a fantastic adventure!
“When I got back from our travels, I knew I had to do something different and work for myself. There were offers. For example, Four Seasons invited me to join them, but I politely declined knowing I had the desire to open my own shop.”
And so began Kevin’s life as the boss of his own company, the InVision Hospitality, which opened in 2007. It didn’t get off to an auspicious start as the launch coincided with the major global economic crisis of 2008, along with ongoing political upheavals in Thailand.
To ease the financial situation, Kevin sold 51% of the company to investors in Nepal – that country’s first millionaires. The relationship didn’t work out. “They didn’t deliver what they had promised and eventually I gave them back two times the amount they had invested. They kept the Zinc name, I kept my company” he recalls.
“It took me 27 years to save the money that went into that venture and within five years it was gone. It was a brutal time for me.”
It wasn’t just his choice of partners that caused the setbacks. “We had too big a team,” he says. “That was a mistake. We also employed big company people who could swim in their own lanes but were not entrepreneurial enough in a time of crisis. Our first two or three teams were highly compensated, too much so for a start-up, and it caused a great strain on the finances during those turbulent years.”
To distance himself from his former investors, Kevin changed his company’s name back to InVision Hospitality and reorganised its structure. “This year, we’re proudly celebrating our 10th anniversary half the size and a much more nimble organisation than we used to be. We’re also far more productive. “Now, life is great.”
Kevin spent 25 years with Marriott International, working his way up from a Management Trainee to General Manager in just eight years, and was part of the pre-opening team for Courtyard by Marriott in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Later he was appointed Resident Manager of the 1,200-room Boston Copley Marriott before arriving Thailand as opening General Manager of the five-star JW Marriott Bangkok and Country Manager for Thailand.
Kevin serves as Chairman for Operation Smile Thailand, a non-profit medical foundation that helps children afflicted with facial deformities such as cleft lips and palates. He is a former President of The American Chamber of Commerce Thailand and is a founding and active Director for the American Chamber Charitable Foundation. Kevin sits on the Eagle Scout Review Board for the Boy Scouts of America, having been a boy scout himself in his younger days. He was also Chairman of the Youth Career Council for UNICEF in 2002.
Regarded as an industry expert in developing and implementing customised formulas for maximising results and return on investment, Kevin is a regular panellist and speaker at hospitality management and investment conferences.
About InVision Hospitality
InVision Hospitality maintains offices in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, understanding that regional flexibility and responsiveness is the key to success. Headquartered in Bangkok, InVision Hospitality offers a nimble, less bureaucratic, hands-on management style that is needed in today’s fast-paced world. InVision brands embrace concepts at the forefront of contemporary hospitality, including GLOW Hotels & Resorts and MAI HOUSE Hotels & Resorts.
InVision Hospitality launched its Mai House Hotels & Resorts brand with the opening of the luxury Mai House Patong Hill, Phuket, in March 2017.
The 225-room Mai House in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is set to open in February 2018, with a 450-room mixed-use resort planned for Hoi An Beach to follow in late 2019.
Additional MAI HOUSE projects are under development throughout the region.