‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
Andrew McLachlan, vice president, business development for Africa & Indian Ocean Islands, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group
1. What was your first job?
Technically it was as an airman “troopy” in the South African Air Force during my national service days, but after that my first job was working as a pot wash at a country club on a gold mine.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My wife. She has unselfishly supported and encouraged me to pursue bigger and greater things and allowed me to focus completely on my career while she keeps the home fire burning.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Hotels not meeting financial forecasts/performances due to factors outside of my control, like financial recessions or political instability/unrest, causing markets to drop.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I’m completely passionate about every part of the hotel industry; treating every new project as if it were my very own, from the initial site visit to deciding if it should be a 120 room 3-star or a 500 room 5-star hotel, the architecture, interior design, embracing innovation and being very aware of the cost per key and not allowing the budget to get out of control. I want the best possible hotel within the brand standard, but at the lowest possible price, so when the hotel opens I am able to deliver the anticipated returns.
I have an excellent understanding of sub-Saharan Africa – the people, cultures and different territories/market complexities – so I am prepared to enter new markets first.
I constantly monitor my competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and use this to my advantage.
Patience and being diplomatic are the most essential qualities when doing business in Africa. I never give up and never ever surrender.
Being a good listener and being able to read people’s behaviour/body language, which helps when working and/or negotiating hotel deals.
I’m honest, transparent and fair with all stakeholders, and I befriend people I do business with so it becomes difficult for them to say no to me.
5. What are the best things about your country, South Africa?
In business it’s the “never say die attitudes” of South Africans. If things don’t go our way, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again. [It’s] our ability to roll our sleeves up and just do what needs to be done.
6. And the worst?
In my opinion the government could do better in education, which has a direct effect on employment and crime… And the Proteas (national cricket team) choking every time they play in a cricket tournament.
7. Your future career plans?
Carlson Rezidor has just reached 50 hotels in Africa – two and a half years ahead of schedule. I believe the second 50 hotels will be easier to achieve and the third 50 even easier.
8. How do you relax?
My wife says I don’t know how to relax, but watching my boys play a game of rugby, going for a run, having a braai or going on a family holiday helps.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Firstly, don’t leave the continent. There is so much opportunity in Africa right now and the foreseeable future. Africa needs ambitious, hard working Africans.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
By educating its people and eliminating corruption and governments sticking to project master plans. As political figures pass the baton there needs to be continuity, so that projects which are started in one term are continued and completed in another.
Andrew McLachlan is the vice president for business development in Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, and has been in the hotel industry for over 20 years. He started as a pot wash and worked his way up to become a hotel general manager, before moving into a development role. McLachlan joined the Rezidor Hotel Group at the end of 2006, and in January 2007 he opened the Africa Development Office for Rezidor in Cape Town.