In this episode, we speak with the founder and owner of Nikoi Island, Andrew Dixon on his efforts to build a sustainable luxury resort.
Can luxury and sustainability co-exist? In this episode, we speak to accidental hotelier Andrew Dixon,the founder and owner of luxury resort getaway, Nikoi Island in Bintan. From why he founded a sustainable business in 2007, to building a great culture, to giving back and having impact, we cover it all.
Listen to the first episode of the Good Business podcast now.
In this conversation we learnt…
– How Andrew built Nikoi from the ground up, specifically how he navigated the early days (02:31- 13:25)
– Why community, culture, conversation and commerce have been the rock of the business (14:26 – 22:53)
– How he created a bottom up sustainable culture (23:28 – 26:08)
– How Nikoi created impact inside and outside the company through education, investing in people, and building a community (26:29 – 36:11)
– That sustainability is a journey, and you’re not going to nail it on day one (14:26 – 17:33)
“I’d become the customer, as well as the business owner.” (05:34)
When creating the retreat, Andrew was not just following trends or marketing mojo but rather providing a solution that appealed to him. The “Robinson Crusoe-inspired simple barefoot luxury” of Nikoi is a combination of his own desire to escape the hustle and bustle of Singapore and also the needs of the island. As he said, “We didn’t want to bring in marble from Italy to build a beach resort on an island in Indonesia.”
“We’d probably want to be above 100% sustainable, where we’re actually having a positive impact.” (16:26)
The Nikoi business goes above and beyond in the sustainability department. They started by having no air conditioning in the rooms, refillable hand soap dispensers and no plastic water bottles but now their impact goes beyond. They have collaborated with three different foundations. First, the Island foundation is focused on education, providing sustainability training outside of the school curriculum for students and teachers. They also support Seven Clean Seas where over the pandemic, the Nikoi staff collected 300 tons of plastic. Finally, they have also set up a foundation that works on marine conservation.
“And I said, well, the worst thing is that I don’t train them, and they stay with me.” (34:25)
Investing in people and rewarding them has been core to their business, which means Nikoi has not laid off many employees over the pandemic. A key programme that has helped create a bottom-up sustainable culture is ‘Green Leaders’, where one person from each department is nominated to be the representative and work with the other ‘leaders’ to come up with sustainable solutions that can be implemented across the business and property.
The best sustainable businesses, you’ll find, are the most profitable ones. 37:41
Andrew and his team are part of the Long Run community, which has a framework called the four Cs: community, culture, conservation, and commerce. Andrew believes that producing profits is essential to being a sustainable business because it means you’ll be around for the long run. Plus, the profits aren’t just for you, you can reinvest them and continue to grow the business and your impact.
The Long Run
What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis
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Chris Edwards (02:14)
Hi, Andrew, thanks for joining us today.
Andrew Dixon (02:17)
Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Chris Edwards (02:19)
You’re so welcome. So let’s start with – you call yourself the accidental hotelier. How did this accident happen?
Andrew Dixon (02:31)
Well, that label was penned by a journalist who, having heard my story, scrubbed me as an accidental hotelier and I quite liked it, so it stuck. Yeah, I arrived in Singapore in banking and finance. And we’re always looking for some way to get out of Singapore on the weekends and came across this area, East Coast of Bintan. And yeah, I was quite taken by the whole area. I got chatting to a guy who had done something in the area. And yeah, we started going looking for islands to buy and we came across Nikoi.
At that stage, I was just thinking of getting a group of us together and it’d be like a holiday house. So we’d have you know, you’d have in Australia, but a real shack, and we were planning and do anything very elaborate with it at all. Got a few friends that signed up to the idea. As crazy as it was! And then when we found Nikoi, it is a bit bigger than what we were, what I was, really thinking about in terms of money and time and effort. But we thought that was an opportunity not to be missed. So we found a few more friends. And so we bought it and yeah, started developing it. Then the first days we camped on it. So we had some pretty crazy weekends camping there and some funny stories that came out of that. Yeah, it’s all been a bit of a journey.
Chris Edwards (03:54)
That sounds like a very fun way to start a business to fall in love with a piece of paradise. And one thing I find really interesting is, you know, in the world of Crazy Rich Asians and particularly, you know, Singapore loves all the bells and whistles. You know, it’s a real Robinson Crusoe experience. You know, it’s simple. It’s really barefoot luxury. How did you manage to sell that, like, what was the strategy to get people to, to really buy into a very, I suppose, pared-back experience?
Andrew Dixon (04:29)
Yeah. Interesting. Because the early days in those camping days, I had invited a marketing and branding friend to come over and we had a fireside chat and, you know, the two of them. One was a branding guy and one was a marketing guy, and they were, you know, determined that we needed to have a USP. My thinking was, well, you know, we build something interesting people will come and say no, you need to have a USP and you know, eventually we sort of got through that. And I think the USP was that we were a private island, and we’re an escape out of Singapore. And we were everything that wasn’t Crazy Rich Asians, I guess. We were that escape. And that was something that I’d been looking for. And I figured that you know, maybe there are other people that were also interested in just getting back to nature and getting to something a bit more simple. Yeah.
Chris Edwards (05:28)
So were you your own target audience? You had yourself in mind?
Andrew Dixon (05:34)
In a way? Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I was not a hotelier. So my only reference point was, I had to go back to think about the experiences that I enjoyed when I stayed at a hotel and what was important to me, and I figured that there’d be enough other people, well, I hope, enough other people like me looking for the same sort of experience. And that’s what I sort of, that’s been always my go-to, think about where I would, what I would want out of it, and I’d become the customer, as well as the business owner. And think about that perspective. Try to put your feet in the shoes of your customer.
Chris Edwards (06:18)
Yeah, yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And tell me in the early years, what were the biggest challenges? I could imagine there’s just such a big learning curve. I mean, it’s a whole industry you’ve never been in. But it’s not just a hotel. It’s on an island that has you know, it was nothing there on the island, right?
Andrew Dixon (06:38)
No, nothing. Yeah. We were told there was well. Yeah, we couldn’t even find the well and stuff. Yeah, a lot of logistics, and even going back to those camping days, you know, we realised that it was a logistic challenge just to even do a camping trip there. But yeah, gradually, we took it bit by bit. We had a guy on the ground who had some experience. So he sort of led us through. We had some great support locally. Some that made it difficult. Yeah, but it’s a logistics headache, just from day one. Yeah.
Chris Edwards (07:21)
And did you get any good advice? Like did any advice that came to you in the first couple of years stick?
Andrew Dixon (07:27)
Most said “Don’t do it”.
Chris Edwards (07:31)
Didn’t listen to that one. And you were doing this whilst you still had a full-time job? Right? So this was like, you know, on the side initially.
Andrew Dixon (07:40)
Yeah. Well, like I was, you know, I was not there managing the project, we had someone on the ground doing that. But I was certainly going over there whenever I could. And I spent a lot of time in Singapore sourcing any sort of more technical stuff that we were looking for. And I like to research on how we could build it sustainably. And I was interested from early on how we could do that. And so I’d spent a lot of time on that. But yeah, I was working full time. I was lucky, I was in a position where my job was sort of winding down. And so I had a bit of time up my sleeves. So yeah, I guess they didn’t know that.
Chris Edwards (08:26)
So you put it to good use?
Andrew Dixon (08:27)
Chris Edwards (08:28)
I wanted to talk about your sustainable journey. Because, you know, I suppose you were really building something from a sustainable basis, like a long time ago, in terms of the, you know, the world we live in today. You know, from the very beginning, you invested in making the property out of recycled materials, and it was first driftwood and then bamboo. So where did this desire to make it as sustainable as possible? Where did this desire come from?
Andrew Dixon (09:03)
Well, when you’re on an island, to start with, you want to try and be sustainable and it’s probably the best place to start things down because it’s just so much more complicated from those logistics, those logistics challenges and just operating, you want to be that in any case. But I guess being immersed in nature, you know, we also want to have a positive impact. And, so we didn’t want to be having the… we saw the value in the property being pristine. And trying to even help restore, it was what we were focused on. So you know, it was naturally in those circumstances you want to or you need to be, you should be sustainable. It just made sense. So I don’t think that you know, I am certainly no visionary in terms of going down that route. It was driven a bit more out of necessity. That was the way to do it. You didn’t want to bring in marble from Italy to build a beach resort on an island in Indonesia.
Chris Edwards (10:11)
It’s funny you say that, but you know, so many resorts around Asia do have, you know, their marble from Italy. So, you know, it’s logical to you, but, you know, it really is quite a remarkable property. And I’ve been there many times, and I personally love it. I have so many good memories there. Like it really is a very special place. And I think it is special because it is so I suppose simple and clever. You know, like the design and the combination, it is all incredibly well thought through and clever in the materials and also the layout. And yeah, I mean, we went with young children and the kids just really loved it more than anything else, because they really got the sense of adventure and, and the Robinson Crusoe experience, right. So it’s, it’s, it’s amazing that what you have created out of necessity because you didn’t want to be importing marble from Italy is your USP.
Andrew Dixon (11:15)
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, no, you nailed it done, then, you know, we had young kids when we were doing this. So we grew up with them seeing their engagement with the property. You know, my son was four when we first went over there and my daughter was six. And so they were immersed in that experience. And so the things they got out of it, even at those early days, early camping experiences, were things that we then sort of parlayed into, you know, experiences for our guests. And so, it’s been a journey through that we didn’t have all the answers to start with. We have just been working through them, I guess.
Chris Edwards (11:57)
And did you have any major challenges? What are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome?
Andrew Dixon (12:05)
I guess, you know, it’s not easy. There are a lot of business, or government regulations in Indonesia, which make it a challenging place to work. Fortunately, we’ve had some good people on our team that have been able to help navigate us through some of that. And that can be frustrating, because, you know, we had good intentions from the outset. And we’re always keen to employ people locally and, build engagement and just can be a bit frustrating. Sometimes you’d like to do things, you’d like things to be a little bit easier than they are. I can sort of see it from Indonesia’s perspective, they don’t want to be overrun by foreigners. And, you know, but it has been challenging some of that navigating and understanding the, you know, some of the rules, it’s the whole legal frameworks quite different. And the property titles are all quite different to what we are used to. So getting your head around all that is challenging so many times you’re having to trust people, more so than we might in our more western way of thinking. And fortunately, we’ve been able to trust the right people. So we’ve come through and so getting your head around, some of that stuff’s been a challenge, to be honest.
Chris Edwards (13:25)
Yeah, I can only imagine. I have a registered business in Indonesia for Honeycombers Bali. And whenever I tell people, I have a registered Indonesian company. They’re just like, really? You’ve done that? And I’m like, yes, I know. I had no idea what I was getting into. But it’s like you get a membership to a club understanding of this, you know, it’s just a different world. And as you say, you can totally understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to, you know, protect what they’ve got, but it is pretty complex. And you definitely need a really good team of locals.
Andrew Dixon (14:04)
Yeah, we’d been very lucky on that. Yeah.
Chris Edwards (14:05)
So well, we’ll definitely talk about that. I wanted to ask you just back to the sustainability chat, just around. There’s a community you talk about called The Long Run, I’d love to know a bit more about this community and how they’ve shaped you and your thinking and tell us about it.
Andrew Dixon (14:26)
Yeah, it’s a group of about 40 properties around the world. Hospitality businesses, or hotels, resorts, whatever you want to call them. We’re all very different. I’ve just come back from our annual general meeting. And first time we’ve been able to do it in three years. It’s a great way to share ideas and knowledge and showcase what each other’s been doing; both successes and failures. Everyone’s very open to showing off things that haven’t worked. You know, and we learned from each other. Above that, there’s a framework that they’ve developed called the four C’s. And that’s the four C’s are, community, culture, conservation, and commerce. And the idea is you’re trying to get all those four Cs. It’s, like, there are other models, but this one works well on sustainability. I guess the one that’s new in that list is probably the culture one. You don’t necessarily see that when people talk about other models or other frameworks, but it works really well in the hospitality sector.
And, yeah, we’re very proud members of it, I’ve got a lot out or you’re invited to join it in 2012, or 13, or something, and we’ve just Nikoi has just become their highest one of their highest level, there’s 1010 of us that are in that, that that level. We’ve gone through a, you know, formal audit with an external review auditor to check out all of our sustainability claims. And that was a process in itself. And we found but, you know, one of the things that the group is very focused on is that you’re not going to be at the top to start with, it’s going to take you a while, it’s a journey. And I think that is how it should be looked at, people try to say they’re going to be 100% sustainable from day one. And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not, it’s not something you can achieve straight away.
In fact, it’s a funny thing, I was asked by journalists whether we were 100% sustainable, and I think that’s a silly question. It’s a funny one to ask. But because you’ll never be 100%, you know, you can never be there on and then I thought about a bit more actually, we’d probably want to be above 100%, where we’re actually having a positive impact. And, and, you know, in many aspects, I think we are getting there but there are still things that we’d like to do better. But I think there will always be things that I want to be doing better throughout that journey. And this is the Long Run has helped me and now the team sort of works out. How do we focus on aspects that, you know, that we need to, and whereas before we were a bit scattergun on the way we went about it, this framework has helped us define what we should tackle first.
Chris Edwards (17:33)
Hmm, yeah, it sounds fantastic. We’ve just started to journey into the B Corp. certification process. Oh, it’s huge.
Andrew Dixon (17:44)
Oh,Yeah, yeah, I’ve looked at it. Yeah, we started to look at doing that. And I think it’s, you know, we already had the Long Run membership. And we thought it was a bit of a duplication for us. But yeah, I can see it looks like it’s, it’s well thought out. And it’s very similar in terms of its sort of thinking. So yeah,
Chris Edwards (18:03)
Yeah, I am kind of a mixed bag of emotions about it. So I’m, I’m, I’m happy that it’s the right thing to do. I’m scared because it’s going to be a lot of work and quite hard. And it’s obviously not designed for small businesses. But I’m also really excited by the challenge of making me and my business level up, you know, in a really good way. So, yeah, it’s big, though. And the long run sounds just like a similar kind of format, which is awesome. Because yeah, as you say, it’s so hard to know, you know, where to start. So having a framework really helps. And also, you know, I’m a big advocate of community and business. So it’s awesome that you found that community that’s so specialised to what you do and has the same values as what you hold, right? I’m wondering, though, how did you educate your customers about sustainability? Because I presume you need the people who visit your properties to share the same values or understand why you were doing things the way you were doing them so that they appreciate it. So was there an education process there?
Andrew Dixon (19:21)
Well, firstly, we’ve not really ever tried to sell sustainability. I want to sell on an island destination that people will enjoy as an experience, you know, going back to that, that looking at myself as a customer, that’s what I valued. We probably could have been better at this in terms of talking through our guests, but I also haven’t wanted to be labelled as an eco-retreat, that you know, because people often then get confused and think that they’re having to give up something to come and stay with us. And I don’t want that. I actually think that you can look at sustainability in that it’s going to add value and add to the experience rather than take away. And so I’m always a little bit careful about talking too much about, certainly when we’re selling the product that we’re sustainable or environmentally friendly. I know, it’s coming a bit more in the fore now, but certainly, in the past, people often would shy away from it. And, you know, they’re the ones that we sort of want to get in and learn from staying there that it’s a great experience and can be a great experience, doesn’t have to be a negative experience. That’s how some people look at it.
And the one thing that people get scared about coming to stay with us, is that we don’t have aircon in the rooms, yet we’re charging a price that, you know, it was like a five-star hotel in Singapore. And people sort of can’t understand that. But then when they’ve stayed there and realised, actually, it’s really comfortable. And there are blankets on the beds because you get cold at night. So I think seeing is believing I guess and that’s how we can educate people. We’ve got to get them there in the first place.
Chris Edwards (21:10)
But that hasn’t been a big problem for you. I mean, you’re at 90% occupancy, I presume it’s a lot of word of mouth because it’s quite a unique experience. Is that been the core strategy?
Andrew Dixon (21:24)
Yeah, yeah. And that’s why getting back to focusing on trying to make sure the guest has a great experience because they go back and tell their friends and you know, they might all those. So say you wouldn’t believe it was great, so sustainable on what they were doing. And that’s, that’s when we really made the connection, right? And now we’ll take in, if they’re interested, we’ll take people on tours around the back of the house and showcase some of the stuff that we’re doing there. Talk a bit more about it, but we could probably do it better. But we need to trade that balance.
Chris Edwards (22:00)
Yeah, it’s a bit of a fine line. Yeah. But I think that is one of the things I remember very early on because the first time I stayed there was in 2008. So it must have been like, pretty, pretty early. And I remember, you know, it doesn’t sound unusual now but having refillable soap containers in the rooms, right. But back then I was like, oh, that’s different, you know, whereas now that’s pretty standard, that I presume there are little things like that. And I also imagine people would freak out a bit about not having bottled water.
Andrew Dixon (22:34)
We’ve always used glass bottles and not plastic. So since 2007, when we first opened up, but that’s never been a challenge. To be honest, I think people accepted that you know, we were putting clean water into those bottles and managing that. Yeah, it’s not been an issue, to be honest. Now, don’t get me started on that.
Chris Edwards (22:53)
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Let me ask you something else. I read that your staff now come to you with sustainable ideas on how you can improve. How did you get your staff to buy in and understand the importance and really live the values that you have about what property is? You know what, what you’re trying to create?
Andrew Dixon (23:28)
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a good question. Because for a long time, I felt that I was the one sort of trying to ram this stuff, this message down to our staff, and I talked about the four C’s and those blank faces. And, you know, how is this going to help us? We started a program, I think I might have learned even from one of the other Long Run members of trying to ingrain the thinking at a lower level. And we introduced a program we call Green Leaders, which was to try or invite someone from each department to nominate themselves to be a green leader for their department in their team. We didn’t want the senior person and we wanted someone right at the bottom that was going to show some leadership or learn and want to grow with the business. And then I said to them, you know, sat them all down and chatted to them about what my thinking was around this and they were very receptive. I said, look, it doesn’t have to be there, I’m not giving you a budget. You can come back to me with ideas, and proposals and you guys collate the best ones amongst yourselves. It doesn’t have to be front-of-house stuff. It can be back-house as well. You know, it can be in your staff dormitories, if you want to see some improvements there. Particularly if they’re, you know, there’s the stuff that is going to help from a sustainability perspective. If we went through those four C’s, you can help address those, then, you know, I’ll look at approving it. And they started getting together to discuss their better ideas. And yeah, we’ve, I think without fail, we’ve put them through or approved them. So, but a lot of the time they’ve been little things that empowering them to do it and it’s allowed them to see some changes. And I guess that’s what gets people excited and interested. And now a lot of them are taking some of the concepts and things that we’re doing back to their own families. And that’s really powerful!
Chris Edwards (25:43)
Hmm, wow. And what gives us some examples of some ideas that they’ve had or that they’re taking home to their families.
Andrew Dixon (25:50)
Oh, it can be just as simple as sort of what to do around waste management. You know, sorting out your plastics and composting and things like that none of it’s terribly complicated, just understanding it. And seeing in practice makes it easier for people to do.
Chris Edwards (26:08)
That’s pretty, that’s pretty amazing, that’s very inspiring, that you can be creating change on a bigger level outside of, you know, the world you are responsible for. And the other thing I wanted to just touch on is the Island Foundation, can you share with us a little bit about this and how it’s managed and what you’ve been able to do with the Island Foundation?
Andrew Dixon (26:29)
So actually now set up three different foundations, or helped set up three different foundations, the Island foundations, the first one we did that was focused on education. And we now have 11 learning centres where we teach a curriculum we’ve developed, we’ve had some help developing, called ‘learning for sustainability’. And this is done outside of the school national curriculum. And it is fantastic!
It’s really, you know, kids turn up there, they don’t have to pay for this, but it’s done after school. And attendance rates are fantastic. It was the only form of education through the pandemic, because schools were closed, we converted it to a home learning system. So they took home paper materials, and they could work at home and study at home. And enrolments went up 50%, during the pandemic, because it was the only form of education for some of these kids.
And we teach, we do teacher training workshops, where we get 100 teachers together, they are now accredited by the Ministry of Education, so they get continuing education points for doing that, which helps boost their salaries. So we get a good attendance for those. And that’s trying to then better educate those teachers so that they pass that on to, you know, a wider team. We get teachers from schools, you know, some of them have travelled 24 hours to get to us to attend those. They’re quite popular. We only do three or four of those a year. But they’re good. And then the other thing that’s pretty powerful that we often don’t really talk about is that we’ve been we’re developing a team that have become teachers in our in our learning centres, and they’re really becoming important leaders in their own communities because they’re, you know, teachers, empowering them with the skills and learning through the programs that we’ve set up as is helped elevate their positions in their communities. And some of them you know, there’s one guy in particular as he was a street kid, and it’s fantastic is now seen as an important person and he’s in his community. So that’s stuff that’s been pretty exciting.
Then the other two foundations are set up. One was a collaboration with a group called Seven Clean Seas, which we collected, where our staff collected 300 tons of plastic during the pandemic and were paid a wage for doing so and then we’ve also helped set up a foundation that does work on marine conservation. And we’ve just had marine protected area gazetted around the whole east coast of Bintan.
Chris Edwards (29:07)
Oh, wow. Wow. Sorry. Say that number again, how much plastic did you guys collect?
Andrew Dixon (29:13)
Chris Edwards (29:15)
Andrew Dixon (29:17)
15 million plastic bottles equivalent off.
Chris Edwards (29:27)
Andrew Dixon (29:28)
So our staff have come back to work and the group ‘Seven Clean Seas’ now hiring locals largely from informal waste pickers, so people were not really earning much of an income but just getting by collecting waste because it doesn’t have much value. They weren’t getting much money for it, but now they get paid a wage and so they’ve got a form of employment, which is exciting for them. They developed a waste materials sorting facility to try and reduce how much goes to landfill.
Chris Edwards (29:59)
Yeah. Right. Right. And was this part of the strategy of how you survive COVID by employing your staff? Yeah.
Andrew Dixon (30:06)
There might be quite a bit of maintenance as well. But yeah, during most of the two years,
Chris Edwards (30:11)
Wow. Wow. That’s a long time in a business just to have zero revenues. Right. Yeah. Was that pretty stressful? Yeah. Understatement of the century huh? So how did you cope? How did you cope with the stress yourself? Like, what did you do?
Andrew Dixon (30:34)
Um, look, I’ve got a great bunch of partners and co-investors and they’ve been hugely supportive and having that reduced the amount of stress on me significantly. So yeah. Having that behind you all the time made a huge difference. If you didn’t have that, I would, you know, would have been really, really tough. So, because then you’re starting to look for more desperate solutions to help fund and finance going forward. So,
Chris Edwards (31:15)
And we were able to keep all your staff on?
Andrew Dixon (31:18)
Yeah, we had to let go. Some staff that were temporary or on contract, because by law, we furloughed our staff and reduced the shifts that they worked, but then tried to find other sources of employment, like the beach cleanups, we did move forward with some maintenance work. And so we would hire staff that were free to work on that. So they work to reduce shifts, they got a reduced salary. But some of them were able to complement it and nearly get to where they were otherwise. So yeah, we kept all our permanent staff. So we had over 200 permanent staff, and we kept them all on through the pandemic. (Which) was, you know, now in hindsight, a fantastic decision, because it’s meant that we’re able to restart very quickly, very easily. And we have very few, we lost very few staff that resigned and went elsewhere/ It was just difficult for them to find jobs in alternative places. So it was pretty powerful when we started up a few staff that came in, and personally sort of thanked me. And that was quite touching.
Chris Edwards (32:26)
And I imagine that it changes the culture a little bit, right, like this relationship that you’ve got with your employees has changed, I suppose I presume, because of that commitment.
Andrew Dixon (32:40)
We always had a pretty strong culture in that sense. And I don’t know if that changed enormously. But it probably strengthened. Yeah. And that was very much a team effort. And, building that back up, again, I think has helped strengthen the teamwork, what we’ve tried to focus on is staff working across departments to help while we were building it up. And that’s been really powerful. So I think we’ve come out of it a better place.
Chris Edwards (33:13)
No, I know. Yeah, totally agree. It was such a scary time, just then not knowing I think was the hardest thing. I had real trouble. I’m just like, just if someone could just tell me when this is going to be over. I’ll be okay. But not knowing it was something else.
Andrew Dixon (33:30)
Yeah, it was very frustrating. In that sense. It was particularly around hospitality where, you know, governments are making decisions around hospitality businesses without the sort of lead time that we really need to be able to run our business. And to start up again, I mean, you know, we were like turning, they treated it like turning on a light, turning it off. Again, it doesn’t really work like that. You know, it’s very easy to sit where I am and be critical. I think, you know, governments generally have done a pretty good job, keeping most of us pretty safe.
Chris Edwards (34:06)
Yeah, absolutely. 100% agree. And just going back to the culture. So I’d love to know, what’s your view on how to create a great culture? Like, I mean, you said it was already pretty good before the pandemic. So what have you done to create a great culture?
Andrew Dixon (34:25)
We were lucky, we hired some really good staff to start with. But I think also looking after staff, I mean, you know, the hospitality industry, I think generally doesn’t look after their staff very well. And they are wondering now why they’re having trouble hiring people back after the pandemic. You know, I think it’s important we have to look after them. It’s our most important asset. You know, we can build an amazing building, but without the service standards, it doesn’t work. So yeah, I come back to looking after the staff and rewarding them. You know?
I remember early on, someone said to me, why are you bothering training these people aren’t? Well, you know, if I did, because if they said, well, they’ll leave you. And I said, well, the worst thing is, is that I don’t train them, and they stay with me. So we put a lot of effort into staff training. And doing it in a fun way. That’s interesting, you know, and we bring people to Singapore and get them to see different experiences that open their eyes and haven’t travelled before and they’re excited, I’ve sent staff to other long run properties. So we have a bit of an exchange of staff, and they come back really empowered because they’ve, they’ve learned something, seeing something in different picture and just wouldn’t have had that experience otherwise. And so throwing them into those sorts of situations or training them and putting them into new situations moving in from around different departments, so you keep them fresh and opening their eyes to different opportunities. I think it’s important.
Chris Edwards (36:11)
Okay, so now I’m going to just jump into some rapid-fire questions. What brings you joy?
Andrew Dixon (36:18)
Ah, friends and family.
Chris Edwards (36:20)
Do you have any mantras that you live by? Do you have any little sayings that you continue to roll over in your head?
Andrew Dixon (36:28)
Keep it simple.
Chris Edwards (36:29)
Yeah, I like that. Tell me. Do you believe Luck favours The Open Mind or Fortune favours The bold?
Andrew Dixon (36:37)
Chris Edwards (36:41)
Okay, cool. What does community mean to you and your business?
Andrew Dixon (36:46)
A lot? Yeah. Okay. I’ll tell you a good short little story. If you’ve got time. A few years ago, one of our senior staff came up to me, and he said that someone in the local village had said to him, wow, you must work for an amazing company if they’re prepared to invest so much in the local community. And you know, he’s telling this to me with a tear in his eye. And, you know, I was like, that was really touching. It blew me away. Yeah. And so those little bits you take away and you realise that we now have the community coming and asking us to help them with things rather than the other way around. And that’s, that’s when you know, you’re starting to have a positive impact. There’s a trust, you know, they want some help. And so we, you know, if we can, we will
Chris Edwards (37:33)
Say, I think you’ve answered my next Rapid Fire question, but I’ll throw it to you anyway. What does good business mean to you?
Andrew Dixon (37:41)
Having a positive impact? Yeah. And not just in the community, but it’s around conservation. It’s around culture. So it’s all those four C’s. And, you know, it’s that we’re a sustainable business, because we’re producing profits. You know, the best sustainable businesses, you’ll find, are the most profitable ones. Because they’ll be able to reinvest in those other aspects. And so, you know, I’m an entrepreneur, we’re out to make some money, I’m out to get a return. We are endeavouring to be a profitable business because that means that we stay around for the long term. Yeah, it’s important. Yeah, I think people overlook that, you know, and it’s not just about us making, making money. It’s about our other stakeholders, looking after our suppliers. It’s helping build that relationship, helping build their businesses, and we’ve had some great successes there. And we’ve got them look after us way better than they look after anyone else because we’ve helped set them up. And so those relationships become really strong.
Chris Edwards (38:43)
I love that. I love that. Do you have a favourite business book? Or a favourite business podcast besides this one, obviously. Do you have any business books that you’ve read? That really helped you? Along the way?
Andrew Dixon (38:59)
Yeah, yeah, one? Yeah. “What Would Google Do?” It escapes me who wrote it, but it’s quite old now. But it helped me sort of think about our business in the modern tech world.
Chris Edwards (39:17)
Great. Okay, I’m going to read that one. And my last question, the community that I run called Launchpad, we have a saying, and we believe a rising tide floats all boats. So I’d love to know, do you have an entrepreneur that we should invite onto this podcast? You have someone that would be interesting that you’d like to hear? Speak with me about good business.
Andrew Dixon (39:38)
There’s a woman called Soon who is a travel journalist, but she runs a trade show or, you know, a trade event called Web Travel in Singapore. And she’s interviewed me so it’d be nice to see the other way around. She’s done some great things in the way she runs her events. And sustainability and CCS are an important part of that. And yeah, I think she’s very dynamic, well connected. And she’s interesting to question.
Chris Edwards (40:16)
Awesome. That’s great. Well, thank you, Andrew, that was just delightful. I’ve actually just enjoyed spending 40 minutes thinking about Nikoi. Because it’s such a beautiful place in the world. And to get under the skin of it has been an absolute joy. One of the reasons I was so keen to talk to you is, I think you have really been, I suppose, someone that has been on the sustainable journey more than a lot of us. And it’s been something that’s been part of your DNA and your approach, and it’s very admirable. So, thank you for inspiring me. And thank you for your time today.
Andrew Dixon (40:51)
Very kind, Chris. Yeah, I’m not quite sure how I can come back. And thank you, because you’ve done so much for helping promote us. So thank you. Yeah, appreciate it.
Chris Edwards (41:00)
Awesome. Thanks, Andrew. Cheers.
Okay, so three things I learned from this chat.
Firstly, why we aim to be more than 100% sustainable. I love that idea, too, we need to get everyone on board no matter what level they are in the business. And that really can be done through empowerment. And finally, why being sustainable doesn’t actually need to be high in your brand positioning or marketing messaging. But it’s more about your own personal impact values, and really the satisfaction you get from having a really positive impact on the world.