Back on track

William Heinecke, founder of the Minor Group of Companies, on life and business after the Tsunami

FOUNDED in Thailand in 1967, the Minor Group of companies is at the forefront of the country’s hospitality, retail and investment sectors.

Brands in its portfolio include The Pizza Company, Swensen’s, Sizzler, Dairy Queen and Burger King, The Marriott, Four Seasons, Anantara and Royal Garden hotels and spas as well as lifestyle consumer brands such as Esprit, Red Earth, Bossini, Spalding, La Jolla, Henckels and more. The group was founded by William Heinecke, who came to Thailand in 1963 at 13 – and formed his first company four years later, named Minor Holdings because he had not reached the age of majority. The group now employs more than 12,000 people and has revenues of over $200 million.
The Minor Food Group recently tied up with Bin Lahej International Restaurants to operate The Pizza Company and Swensen’s Premium ice cream in a franchise deal that covers the UAE, Oman and Qatar. “This deal further highlights our commitment to the Middle East and North Africa, which we consider to be among the fastest growing markets in the food and restaurant industry,” said Heinecke. TTN quizzed him about Thailand in the aftermath of the tsunami. Excerpts from the interview:

How did the tsunami affect Thailand’s hospitality economy?
I think in the medium to long term there will be little damage to the tourism economy in Thailand. Whilst Khao Lak, Phi Phi were hugely damaged and will take some time to rebuild, Phuket is already back to normal and our resort there, the JW Marriott Phuket, is showing an increase over this time last year!
You have to remember too that the majority of Thailand’s beaches were not affected by the tsunami. Our resorts in Hua Hin, Pattaya and Samui are at virtually full occupancy. 
In Phuket, all the major hotels are open as usual. There are certainly still repairs being undertaken and there is minor evidence of the tsunami’s impact in certain areas of Patong. However, the clean-up operation has been hugely impressive and international tourists continue to arrive.

How long do you think it will take for the Thai economy to recover?
The Thai economy has already recovered.
You’re known for your jumbo elephant fundraisers, are you doing any more for the tsunami victims?
We founded two funds as soon as the tsunami struck on December 26. One was a staff fund, which topped four million baht within the first week. We have now closed this fund having provided for all our staff and relocated them to other resorts within the group. We continue to raise funds for the Minor International Tsunami Fund, which is helping those communities most devastated to rebuild their fragile economies.

How was the Minor Group affected?
Minor International was affected but fortunately only to a limited degree. We lost the Anantara Resort and Spa Khao Lak, of which we were a 40 per cent shareholder. However, our other resorts were on the Gulf of Thailand coast line or inland. Business at these resorts is at record levels so the impact upon the company was very containable. The other divisions of Minor International: Minor Food and Minor Corporation were unaffected.