Ted Fang is distracted. We should have known better than to have asked a hotelier, yet alone one who is a designophile, to meet us at Singapore's hottest hotel of the moment, Parkroyal on Pickering. “Look at that green wall,” he points to a vertical garden. “Interesting that they did that,” he adds, before literally trailing off into thought.
With Fang, these little flashes of momentary rumination are bound to happen. Whether on holiday or at a magazine cover shoot, he cannot truly disconnect from work. It would be hard to, anyway, considering that as president and co-founder of the Frontier Group, he oversees the strategic direction of one of the biggest mid-market hotel chains in China today. And design inspirations — as well as design no-nos — can translate to future applications.
Fang's Beijing headquartered Frontier Group, which he founded with his half brothers Harry and David Tan in 2003, holds the master franchise for American hotel chain Days Inn in Greater China. In just 10 years, it has grown one hotel into 120, and already has a further 80 in the pipeline. Of this, 20 to 25 are due to open in 2013. “If we're lucky, it'll be 28,” the 46-year-old tells us.
Slated also for this year is the group's first hospitality school, a joint venture which will open in Shanghai before branching out into second-tier cities such as Chongqing. “We've run training programmes for our management staff since day one. Now we want to train the masses,” says Fang. “We're just taking the next step.”
The opportunities in China “are just tremendous,” adds Fang, playing down talk of China's economy slowing down. “Yes, it has affected some other industries, but by and large, the travel industry is still doing well. It's in a growth phase which I don't see stopping for the next decade or two. The main reason is because the Chinese are under-travelled. That just means they will want to travel, and the infrastructure makes it convenient for them to do so around China.”
A go-getter by nature, Fang sees the Middle Kingdom, as one big canvas just ready to be painted on. “That's the fun part,” he reveals. “Just as a comparison, when I was in business [in Singapore], I was kind of frustrated. The canvas is really small. You have five to 10 guys bidding for every one plot of land. But in China, there is a lot of land, a lot of cities, and plenty for you to do. The pace is exciting.”
It was precisely for this reason that Fang and his brothers named their firm Frontier Group. “Because 10 years ago, we saw China as the next frontier in our business,” he explains. (Fang is also CEO of Tera Capital, a private investment firm established by the brothers that invests in hospitality-related businesses in Asia Pacific.)
While the group has managed to seal their status as the fastest growing mid-market hotel and service apartment chain in China in the span of a few short years, Fang brushes off talk of success. “We're far from it,” he says. “Our intention is to hit 1,000 or 2,000 hotels. Only then, from a size perspective, will we consider ourselves successful.”
Now looking to expand outside of China, the brothers have also trained their sights on Southeast Asia, and are set to break ground for a new mid-market hotel in Indonesia later in the year. Plans for a design hotel are also in the works, but first, the right location has to be found.
“We have the designers ready to work with us. But I can't say who,” says Fang, drumming up suspense. What he does share, though, is a short list of designers whose body of work he has long admired. Among them, design virtuoso Philippe Starck, Japanese firm Super Potato and Canadian duo Yabu Pushelberg. “Design is like chemistry,” Fang says. “A good design is well thought-out, considerate and functional. It's not just nice to look at.”
Driven by the need to create and be creative, the former junior national squash player, is also devoted to his music. A keyboardist and guitarist, Fang played in a band as a teenager, and last year, reunited with its bassist for regular jam sessions. This April, he has also rounded up a group of musicians to play at the Starlight Carnival, a fund-raiser in benefit of the Prestige-Yellow Ribbon Children's Fund.
On playing at the event, the fan of mainstream rock groups — including The Beetles, The Police, Hall & Oates, as well as Linkin Park and Bruno Mars — says: “I feel very privileged. And although I don't have much time to start a charity, I do try to give back. It's good to be part of a cause. And in this case, playing at the Starlight Carnival is efficient. I get to do what I like and hopefully raise some money for those less fortunate.”
He adds: “We just hope to reach out to the audience. The idea is to have people sing-a-long and have fun.”
“We all set standards for ourselves — and whatever it is, it's nobody else's business — but when you meet those standards, it's so much fun. Of course, along the way, there may be days of heartbreak and challenges”
— On setting the bar high for himself
“I love music, but I wish I could spend more time on it, then I'll be a lot better”
— On jamming with his band
“When you pick up a nice product, it should make you feel good. It's like why people make so much effort dressing up, because it makes them feel good”
— On good design
FASHION DIRECTION / EDDIE HALIM
PHOTOGRAPHY / BRENDAN ZHANG
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT / DERRICK NG
STYLING / BERNARD TAN
GROOMING / LOLENT LEE (9114 7447) USING GUERLAIN
LOCATION / PARKROYAL ON PICKERING