This month, we had the chance to sit down with Howard Leigh, Chief Financial Officer for Anantara Vacation Club at their headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand. With over 25 years of experience in the financial and hospitality sector, Howard has taken the time to provide us with business tips, predictions for the future, and valuable insights into the timeshare industry. Read more below.
You’ve held high positions with some pretty large companies, including Coca Cola and Marriott. What made you choose to join Anantara Vacation Club?
Much of my early career was spent living and working throughout Asia, after which I returned to the USA to allow my children to complete their education. Once they had finished school I jumped on the opportunity to return to Asia’s hospitality industry. I joined Anantara Vacation Club in 2014 and have enjoyed it every step of the way. While they are not as large as some of the companies I’ve been with before, the potential is just as great. It has been a fantastic opportunity to work with a company with so much potential, and I think it’s safe to say that we are all very excited to see what the future will bring.
What is the state of the business now, compared with when you joined?
Right now, things couldn’t be better. However, this was not always the case. Upon my joining Anantara Vacation Club, it was apparent that the business model was not sustainable for the long-term. By making a number of changes to our products and realigning our strategies, we were able to stabilize our growth whilst providing Club Points Owners with greater long-term benefits and higher quality goods and services. Now, Club Points Owners receive greater value and more reliability than ever before. 2015 and 2016 were particularly hard years for the company, but we persevered and set the stage for the sustainable and growing business we have today.
How have you helped to achieve 4 quarters of consecutive growth?
In 2017, I refocused my team’s efforts on improving the effectiveness of their support for marketing and club operations. In Phuket for example, the operations team now has an on-site business analyst, and the corporate office is playing a greater role in working with the marketing teams. Accounting, reporting and variance analysis is more accurate and insightful, and a major emphasis has been placed on focusing on specific areas of Owner satisfaction and risk analysis.
What is the current state of the timeshare industry in Southeast Asia today, and what will the future bring?
At present, the industry is doing phenomenally well, particularly in Southeast Asia. As the Asian continent grows in population, wealth and prosperity is also on the rise. The internet is opening people’s minds, allowing them to discover and travel new regions across the globe. The industry will continue to grow quickly, but will also become increasingly competitive and more dynamic. The great news is that Anantara Vacation Club is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of everything that lies ahead.
What challenges face Anantara Vacation Club today, and what is your strategy for tackling these issues?
For the foreseeable future, the greatest challenges to come will be of our own creation. Anantara Vacation Club must quickly improve its operational infrastructure to support growth, maintain Owner satisfaction by improving products and the quality of services, and capture and analyze key data on which future decisions can be based. The ability to adapt is vital to survival in this industry. What has worked in the past very well might not in the future, and accepting that and developing viable and strategic business solutions is the only way to thrive and stay ahead of the competition. If we want to DO better we have to BE better. There are no shortcuts in this game.
Describe the work environment of Anantara Vacation Club.
The office environment at Anantara Vacation Club is one of the driving factors behind the company’s success. Office morale is high, and there are unlimited opportunities for both personal and professional growth. We foster an atmosphere of diversity and community, working together to achieve common goals. Our staff comes from all corners of the globe, allowing us to communicate with our Club Points Owners in English, Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. This gives us a strategic advantage in reaching new Owners and maintaining customer satisfaction. No other business unit typifies Minor’s ‘drive culture’ more than Anantara Vacation Club. To be successful here, employees have to be smart, highly motivated, and pro-active in their approach. A business is simply a collection of people, and luckily, ours are the best!
How about motivation? How can a business keep their employees moving forward?
As Lou Holtz, the famous Notre Dame Football coach, once said, “It’s not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It’s my job not to de-motivate them.” At Anantara Vacation Club, we put a lot of effort into team building exercises and activities to bring the office closer together. Luckily we have a truly gifted group. We want to give our team members the tools they need to use the gifts they already possess. In the words of Terry Neill, Managing Partner at Anderson Consulting, “It’s not the things you do to or for people – it’s the impediments you take away, leaving room for folks to empower themselves.”
What are Anantara Vacation Club’s plans for the future?
Grow, grow, grow. As the timeshare industry continues to thrive in Southeast Asia, we need to keep developing additional resorts to keep up with the demand. The more we develop, the more attractive our product will be, and the more the number of Club Points Owners will continue to increase. Currently, there are no plans set in stone, but Anantara Vacation Club’s resort developers are always on the lookout for the next great opportunity. Hopefully, we will have some new inventory added to the collection soon for our guests to enjoy.