Adrian Willem Lauw Zecha
Aman Resorts, Regent International Hotels
Celebrating Adrian Zecha
Zecha was born in Sukabumi, Indonesia to the prominent Lauw-Sim-Zecha family, a wealthy, landowning clan of Peranakan Chinese and Czech roots. He is a grandson of Louisa Zecha, an Indo planter of Czech descent, by her first marriage to the colonial magnate and government official Lauw Tek Lok, Luitenant der Chinezen ("Lieutenant of the Chinese") of Bekasi. His uncle, Chester Sim Zecha, was a community leader in the Dutch East Indies. Zecha had a privileged upbringing that included being educated in the United States. He is also a cousin of the Malaysian royal, Che Engku Chesterina (née Sim-Zecha).
In 1956, when President Sukarno nationalised the country's private businesses, many members of the Lauw-Sim-Zecha family fled to Singapore, The Netherlands and other countries. At the time the 23-year-old Zecha was in New York, working at Time magazine. In 1961, Zecha launched Asia Magazine, the first regional newspaper colour supplement in Asia. When the magazine faltered a year later, Rupert Murdoch was persuaded by Zecha to invest in the magazine (in what was his first Asian investment). The magazine was a part of English speaking families until 1998. It was held above water for its last ten years by Mr.Giro Semba and Mr. Olav Mueller-Uri until it finally closed in 1998. Olav Mueller-Uri is the person responsible for getting Air France back into Vietnam.
In 1970, Adrian started a new travel and lifestyle magazine named Orientations based in Hong Kong. With the advent of in-flight magazines, Orientations dropped its travel content and progressed over the years to become a publication focused on the arts of East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Himalayas. It is now the leading magazine in this field and its contributors are renowned scholars and researchers from around the world.
Zecha's first experience of the hotel business was when a friend asked him to help the Marriott Hotel chain broker land deals in Asia. This experience led to Zecha joining with Robert Burns and Georg Rafael in 1972 to found Regent International Hotels, which was one of Asia's first luxury hotel groups. The trio built 12 hotels before in 1986 Zecha sold his 30% stake for $30 million. He then moved into real estate speculation, forming an investment fund that, among other deals, bought Bangkok's Regent Hotel and London's Dorchester Hotel before eventually on selling them.
While in Phuket looking for a site upon which to build a holiday home, Zecha was walking along Pansea Beach when he came across a coconut plantation which occupied a prime location. Plans to build a home on a site soon developed into an idea to build a small boutique resort in partnership with longtime friend Anil Thadani. The two spent mainly their own money as no banks would lend for the project due to the small number of planned rooms, instead of the 500-room hotel they thought would be more practical.
Amanpuri opened in January 1988 at a cost of US$4 million with only 40 rooms. Its success, followed by that of Amandari in Bali, confirmed to Zecha the viability of a chain of minimalist boutique resorts in remote, natural settings.
In 1992, Zecha sold a controlling interest in Silverlink, the holding company which owned Aman Resorts, to Clement Vaturi, an old friend whose family owned the Hoteliere Immobliere chain of French hotels. Zecha was left with only 45% of the share holdings. The arrangement was satisfactory to both parties until Vaturi's controlling interest effectively came under the control of Los Angeles-based Colony Capital, a real estate investment fund. A lawsuit between Vaturi and Colony Capital promised to drag on, putting Zecha's plans to expand the number of Aman resorts on hold. Dispirited, and by now owning only 45% of Silverlink's shares, he resigned from his position as CEO in 1998.
By 2000, Colony Capital and Vaturi had settled their lawsuit, which led to Vaturi getting his Silverlink shares back. He soon sold his shares to Lee Hing Development, a Hong Kong property fund which was affiliated with Thadani's Schroder Capital Partners (a Singapore-based fund). With the controlling investors now sharing his vision, Zecha returned as chairman and CEO.
In the intervening period Zecha founded Maha Resorts, which opened its Hacineda de San Antonia in Mexico in October 2000.
In 2007, Zecha announced that he had reached an agreement with DLF Ltd, India's largest real estate company, to form a partnership to acquire a controlling interest in Aman Resorts for US$250 million. DLF Group sold the company in 2013 to a joint venture between Russian real estate investor Vladislav Doronin and American entrepreneur Omar Amanat for US$358 million. Controversy ensued when Doronin announced that Zecha was stepping down as CEO and that he would assume the position. A London High Court injunction against Doronin reinstated Zecha as CEO, alleging that Doronin did not have board approval to remove him. The ruling, however, was limited, as it returned Zecha to his role for only 17 days. Olivier Jolivet, a longtime Aman executive, was appointed to the role which he held until February 2017.
In addition to his history at Aman Resorts, Zecha is also chairman and director of General Hotel Management Ltd (GHM), a developer and manager of luxury hotels and resorts with locations in Bali, Switzerland, Oman and Vietnam.
Zecha was also a partner with Georg Rafael in Rafael Hotels Limited, a company that was sold to Mandarin Oriental Group in May 2000.
In February 2017, Zecha began the soft opening for the first hotel under his new Azerai hotel brand which aims to provide more affordable lodging for adventurers and "the younger crowd".
In 2005 Adrian Zecha was awarded the Innovation Award at the 16th annual Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP).
In 2010 Adrian Zecha was awarded the 2010 Travel & Leisure Design Champion Award. The celebration was held at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
In 2011, he was awarded an award for lifetime achievement during the International Luxury Travel Market event in Shanghai.