Dev Anand, like many entrepreneurs without traditional schooling, tells the story that there was a natural progression into the hospitality industry. It was all around him within his family. His father, born in India, moved to the UK after Partition and bought a Victorian house which he turned into a small hotel in the 1960s, or his brother who created one of the first hotel booking agencies, Dev was surrounded by hospitality and the concept of hotels from an early age.
The essence of Dev’s story is that he did not remain stagnant within the industry. Throughout his career he evolved and formed many new concepts, from initially founding Expotel, a corporate booking agency focused on putting returning customers first, to expansion to include a global apartment service or a more recent founding of The Hotel Property Team a boutique hotel brokerage. Rarely can someone boast 17 separate accounts of experience on their LinkedIn page and this is testament to the range and diversity of Dev’s entrepreneurial spirit. Is this a prime example that, with a passion for business and ever-changing interests, there is opportunity for multiple entrepreneurial ideas rather than a single vision? Does it highlight how all people need to evolve and reinvent themselves as their careers develop?
Like many entrepreneurs, Dev attests much of his success to external influences and the help of others. When asked aboutany mentorship early on in his career, Dev tells stories of natural discussions with customers who shared small snippets of career and life advice. The travel manager of Ford Motors and the KLM general manager are but two names mentioned,organic professional friendships, who he says “taught me about life”. Whilst it was the general manager of Copthorne Tara hotel, who gave him crucial advice during a time his businesses were expanding. The concept of “mentorship”today is so often debated for its usefulness; however, his description portrays an accumulation of advice which at different times has influenced development and facilitated a confidence to trust decisions within his businesses.
To understand Dev’s story, one must understand that Dev began work at the tender age of 17 with Expotel and learnt as the company grew. It also highlights the difference between the ages as this today would be highly unlikely to be seen but, in those days, young talent being given and taking opportunity was seen as a good thing, as a sign of an upward social mobility at work. It is a strange thing that as the world has become more sophisticated, so the barriers to such examples have increased.
Despite the success of many of his projects Dev is no stranger to navigating failure and challenges. In the 1980s his company attempted to expand globally; however, the expansion went too far and was unsustainable. He mentions that he thought they “had to do everything themselves” and instead “we should have franchised and developed a different model “. However, Dev did not let one failed business venture end his entrepreneurial spirit and instead comments on how much can be learnt from times where he hadn’t fully succeeded and how the combination of such failures gave him greater insight for future projects.
Multiple times throughout our discussion, there is mention of how different the industry was during his early career. Mentioning that the price of a top London hotel room for one night used to be a mere £10 (in the 1970s) highlights the growth of the industry in the last forty years or how the 60s and 70s were brilliant for beginning in hospitality. However,when asked if he feels it is more challenging for young people to start entrepreneurial businesses within the industry, Dev interestingly mentions that there is always opportunity for new concepts and that to succeed you need to just be the best in whatever you are selling (or as he puts it a thriving sandwich shop “just has to make great sandwiches”). This appears so obvious when mentioned, but perhaps many young people are reluctant to start their own companies due to overcomplicating what can really be that simple?
Whilst commenting that there is increased competition for exposure in the market, he champions the idea that there is always room for new niches or expansion of concepts which are already present. It seems apparent that Dev’s success comes from ensuring that his projects are finding ways to be the best within the industry, recognising the importance of prioritising customer service and above all always finding where there is room for improvement in comparison to his competitors.
So much can be taken from looking at the progression of Dev Anand’s career and his natural entrepreneurial spirit seems to be backed up with a continual developed curiosity and interest with his work. His story is reflective of an era but also that of someone who has seen both success and failure, learnt from both and evolved. It is the kind of spirit which so many companies seek today and yet feel is hard to find. However, maybe the lesson is that it comes from empowerment, from giving talent the chance and letting people learn from their own journeys?
Written by Lexie Cook, EP Business in Hospitality