It’s surprising Julian Clark and Will Deague didn’t face off on the footy field or cricket pitch when they were at school in the mid-1990s, because they’ve mirrored each other in almost everything since.
These two Melburnians in their thirties, who attended Wesley College and Melbourne Grammar respectively, are CEOs of their family businesses, running hotels. But not just any kind of hotels: they run boutique hotels in Melbourne. And they’re setting the trend for how thirty-somethings experience hotels.
In the hotel industry, most owners leave the running of businesses to major chains like Hilton, Hyatt and Accor, but with these two it’s about getting involved and taking to their family businesses to the next level. That passion comes from the fact they’ve been involved in the construction of their hotels from the ground up.
Clark is the CEO of Lancemore Group, a company started by his parents. Lancemore owns and run the Mansion at Werribee Park; Lindenderry at Red Hill; Lindenwarrah at Milawa; and Lancemore Hill in the Macedon Ranges, alongside the recently added Alamanda in Queensland’s Palm Cove.
Julian has been involved in the family business since an early age, albeit unpaid back then, and he says a lot of that passion stems back from those days that involved non-stop work during school holidays.
“I worked in our family’s hotels while at school every term break from year seven onwards,” he says. “I started as a kitchen hand where I didn’t get paid as I ate my wages in chocolate buds.”
After school, Clark started a career in corporate strategy for the likes of Westpac, Royal and Sun Alliance and Betfair.com. He was sure the hotels industry wasn’t for him – apart from enjoying staying in boutique hotels across the globe. “I was adamant that I would create my own path at all costs.”
Soon enough though, the years spent weeding the gardens and pruning the grape vines at Lindenderry on the Mornington Peninsula were something he began to miss.
“After a few years in London I reflected on a conversation with my mentor and the options at hand – I was either to run a strategy department in a regional office, or be an exec in a small country operation like Poland. Or I could go home and change my career path.
“I decided that I loved travel and loved great hotels, great food and great wine. Thus, I decided to give Lancemore one year, and they gave me one year. I started out heading up Sales, Marketing and Strategy and then a year later, at 28 years old, was CEO.”
Deague, meanwhile is the CEO of Asian Pacific Group – the family business he joined in 1996 straight out of school. He worked his way up in the business and became CEO in 2008. “I have always been fascinated by the hotel business and at the same time my family has been in the property game since 1867, so developing was certainly always in the blood,” he says.
Deague created the Art Series Hotel Group which is unlike any other in the world. Each property – the Cullen in Prahran, the Olsen in South Yarra and the Blackman on St Kilda Road – is inspired by a prominent Australian artist, and inside their works decorate the hallways, lobbies and rooms. The first hotel to open in the group in Melbourne (the group briefly operated the Storrier in Sydney), in 2009, was named after the late contemporary artist and enfant terrible, Adam Cullen.
“The Cullen stands for daring, dangerous and bold,” Deague says. “Adam Cullen’s brightly coloured works from his infamous Ned Kelly Series adorn the 119 room hotel. Two life-size cow sculptures and a portrait of Phar Lap greets guests on arrival. In a hotel whose essence is to ‘live fearlessly’, guests are challenged to really get amongst it during their visit to Melbourne.”
The Deague family has been strong supporters of Australian artists for decades. “After buying a hotel site for development we work with our art consultants and approach an artist that we know personally, fits in with the Art Series culture and concept, fits with the local area (and is hopefully from that area), and will appeal to the market.”
Melbourne has become the boutique hotel capital in Australia over the last ten years and with Clark and Deague at the helm of the two leading businesses, building and renovating hotels to be places they want to stay in.
“We make it a habit of being proud of every hotel we operate,” Clark says. “You can only be proud of them if they fit your own personal sensibility I find.”
Deague sings the same tune. “I want the best retail and food and beverage… no more all-you-can eat buffet breakfasts… balconies in each room, and if that’s not possible, then definitely opening windows.”
Both Deague and Clark embrace farm-to-table cuisine in not just the restaurant but also the room service menu, whether it’s served at the Olsen in South Yarra or Lindenderry in Red Hill. Says Deague: “Hotels such as ours cannot offer hamburgers and toasted sandwiches. Instead you can now choose from the entire restaurant menu as part of our room service.”
Lindenderry sources the majority of its produce from growers and farmers on the Mornington Peninsula. “Most customers hate the soggy chips, the cheap pizzas and flavourless pastas,” says Clark. “It’s about high quality [farm-to-table] food, at a fair non-price gouging level delivered in a reasonable timeframe.”
Clark and Deague have also been fuelling travellers’ appetites on a range of offerings across their hotels and at the core of that is service and technology. “I also don’t like my room to have OTT technology,” Clark says. “I remain a steadfast fan of light switches… The best hotels have a wow factor… a rooftop bar or pool is always a favourite of mine,” Clark says.
“There should be an ease of check in and check out… I want no fuss but with comfort and luxury, and a comfortable bed. That would be first priority, then a good size TV and a desk to work at,” Deague says.
Looking to the future, Clark and Deague are all about embracing technology, while not giving up the important things like comfort and service.
“You can’t beat great service and a great concierge and small things like knowing guests by their name and making eye contact,” Deague says. “In the future I think we’ll see no money or credit cards… it will all be via phone apps such as Uber, which are also now being introduced into restaurants.”
Clark adds: “Technology will obviously increasingly play a large part of the hotel of the future. Bandwidth loads will definitely need to increase – that will be a big trend. And we can all only hope that all hotels offer free wi-fi (shock horror!).
“What is crystal clear to me is that good hotels will succeed and poor hotels will fail, given today’s information transparency around rate and customer satisfaction. There really is nowhere to hide and that has to be a good thing for customers.”
The power of tourism
Tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers for Victoria and in 2011-12 was worth $19.1 billion, or 5.8% of the state’s Gross State Product. The industry provides jobs for over 200,000 Victorians and contributes 7% of employment and other industries. Hotels are a key element of the tourism industry and across the state they offer 43,449 rooms – 27,779 in Melbourne alone.