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Michael Ayling

Michael Ayling, 44, is the sports keen, understated managing director of Laguna Resorts & Hotels, Phuket’s largest single employer with over 3,000 employees, who firmly believes in the team style of management… and drives a nine-year-old Honda.

May 2011

Where are you from?
I was born and bred in Kent in England. I joined KMPG and qualified as a chartered accountant for my sins while in their Oxford office, then went back-packing to South East Asia in 1988 to Bali then back through Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and India before returning to England. The trip was life changing. I realised there was an exciting world outside of Oxford and England.

So what did you do before you ended up in Phuket?
While queuing up for my accountancy results to be published in The Times, I shared an umbrella with a man representing an international recruiting firm, who asked if I wanted to go and work in Papua New Guinea. So I got a book on PNG and decided to give it a go. I loved PNG. As a 25-year-old it was a sink or swim experience. After working for KPMG in PNG from aged 25-32, I went to their Parramatta office in Australia where I took out Australian citizenship. I'm married to Pat, who's from Papua New Guinea.

When did you come to Phuket?
I came to Phuket as Chief Financial Officer of Laguna Phuket in 2000. It was my first time here. I wanted to work in a business that was big enough to provide a challenge, but small enough to make a difference. Laguna Phuket was the perfect fit.

What were your first impressions when you arrived?
After six years in PNG I didn’t expect any difficulties adapting to the local culture which, in fact, turned out to be quite the opposite. As an expatriate in Thailand you have to adapt to the culture and have to earn respect. There was also the language barrier. It was a tough but rewarding first year.

How has the Laguna Phuket business has evolved?
We were very much a resort owning company. Then property sales took off. In 2002-2008 we couldn't build as quickly as we could sell. But since the global meltdown in 2009 the division has become smaller and we're back to being a resort owner with property still being important, but less significant than before.

What's the most important ingredient in running a company like Laguna Phuket?
I firmly believe in creating a happy working environment. This has resulted in a stable management team which has been together for years. Having quality people in a teamwork environment is the main ingredient to financial success.

What about the development of high end products such as the Banyan Tree properties?
Around 2002 we developed our house and land products then took that one step further by introducing the Banyan Tree villas, which are a popular investment and lifestyle product. We've taken the model to other regions, such as the Seychelles, Bintan and China. The villas concept is a popular model with 60 days use a year and good interest return rates.

What about future developments at Laguna Resort?
I take a very active role in our Vietnam Laguna development. There are greenfield opportunities there. By getting involved I hope to create opportunities for the people working at Laguna Phuket to expand their own horizons.

You've sold off two hotels lately? Is that it?
That's it. From a company perspective we've been too Thailand and Phuket heavy; with the funds raised from these sales we can now diversify overseas options.

How do you evaluate success?
I tend not to. I'm goal-oriented and results driven. Once I achieve a goal I move to the next one.

Where do you live and what sort of car do you drive?
I live in Laguna Village. It's a great communal environment, which is what we wanted. I drive a nine-year-old Honda CRV (Laughs). Image is not very important to me. The car has served me well over the years. It's nice to be below the radar in this position.

So what do you do in your free time?
I spend it with my family and playing sport. I play in the Laguna Cricket Team as a batsman/bowler in the Phuket league and I fit in a round of golf whenever time permits. I also travel as much as I can for pleasure – within the region, Europe and Australia, mainly.

You're well known for your love of all sports, particularly football and cricket. What football team do you support these days?
I still support my beloved Gillingham Football Club and Kent Country Cricket Club – my local teams that I grew up with. Unfortunately, just like the English national teams, they bring me little success.

What charities do you support?
I channel my charitable contribution through Laguna, which supports many charities. I'm proud of what we've done in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) area. As a large company in Phuket, I strongly believe we have a responsibility to the local community.

Where are you heading personally in the future?
I'm here for the long haul. The longer you're here, the harder it is to leave.

 

For more information contact:
Laguna Property
Tel: +66(0) 76 362333 or visit: www.lagunaproperty.com

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