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New Millennium & Copthorne CEO gunning for asset-driven growth

Millennium & Copthorne's new CEO Jennifer Fox outlines benefits of strategy, plans to nurture top talent

Millennium & Copthorne (M&C) will continue its core strategy of owning hotels, says its new group chief executive.

Speaking to The Business Times days into her new role, Ms Jennifer Fox said growth going forward for the London-listed hotel chain will be powered by acquisitions, management contracts and improving hotel performance.

M&C is also looking into acquiring hotels in what are yet untapped markets for the group, such as Australia and parts of the United Kingdom, as well as key American gateway markets like Miami.

"We like looking at individual assets, but we also do like portfolio if there's an opportunity to buy - it's about being in tune with the market," said Ms Fox, who is also a member of M&C's board of directors.

The M&C chain currently comprises over 135 hotels worldwide with over 40,000 rooms. Its six hotels here include Grand Copthorne Waterfront and Orchard Hotel.

Out of these, close to half are owned or leased by M&C, as opposed to those they manage, franchise or hold for investment.

HOTEL BUSINESS STILL THE BEST

I never seriously considered any other industry. I love the global nature of the hotel business, I enjoy the challenges and I love leading a team and mentoring young hotel executives.

MS JENNIFER FOX, Millennium & Copthorne's new group chief executive.

While other hotel management companies like Accor and Marriott have a larger footprint, Ms Fox said M&C's ownership-driven model has its benefits. "We can make sure we can buy the right assets in the right location, and ensure we can renovate and keep them to the standard we need for the consumer."

Earlier this year, a takeover offer of M&C by its majority shareholder City Developments Limited for 620 pence a share lapsed.

While she said she could not discuss the takeover offer as she was not at M&C then, she did say: "We don't expect to be acquired by another organisation, so we... can take the time to acquire the right assets."

Ms Fox was president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts until the owner of the Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles brands was sold to Accor in late 2015.

The hospitality industry runs in her blood: Ms Fox, an Australian who also has British citizenship, grew up helping her father out as he ran some small hotels in Australia.

"I never seriously considered any other industry," she said. "I love the global nature of the hotel business, I enjoy the challenges and I love leading a team and mentoring young hotel executives."

Before her six years in various senior roles in Fairmont, she spent 10 years in InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and 13 years in Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

She has worked and lived around the world in the United States, Canada, London, Hong Kong and the Middle East, and believes the global perspective will help as she helms M&C.

In the weeks ahead, Ms Fox said she will be getting to know the business and define more aspects of its strategy going forward.

Part of that will include a study of the brands under M&C's belt - she is optimistic about the prospects of the lifestyle-focused M Social brand as a driver for growth.

She is also upbeat about RevPAR (revenue per available room) for the Singapore market, which stood at £83.83 (S$151) last year, and thinks the Trump-Kim summit last month brought increased exposure to Singapore and could drive both the conference business and leisure travel markets here.

Several of M&C's hotels around the world will undergo refurbishment works, including the Orchard Hotel and Studio M Hotel here.

But one area she feels especially passionate about is grooming talent. She intends to find ways to work with general managers to identify top talent and ensure they are mentored as future leaders.

For Ms Fox, it would be paying it forward, having herself had the guidance of a mentor throughout her career. She tipped her hat to industry veteran Richard Hartman for opportunities at IHG, such as the rebranding of The Regent Hong Kong to the InterContinental Hong Kong when it was purchased by Bass Hotels & Resorts in 2001. And when Mr Hartman was CEO of M&C, he introduced her to M&C chairman Kwek Leng Beng in 2009.

Ms Fox believes hospitality is a people-centric business - not just for the customers but also within the organisation.

"It's a beginning-to-end process, and not just about retention... it's also about training and development and understanding what they (staff) aspire to do and guide them along the career path they want," she said. "We want to ensure they have rich career paths and that they will stay within the organisation."