With the opening of a new FIVE hotel in Zurich, Kabir Mulchandani has the secret to keep guests coming back to his property empire.
“When you are taking your MBA, the financial world will teach you that it is all about building your model,” explains Kabir Mulchandani, chairman and founder of FIVE Holdings. “It is about building your customer. When you have your customer, then you will be able to build a model that makes it profitable as well.”
Mulchandani is speaking from experience. When he opened his first hotel property FIVE Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, it was a four-year process. He literally started from the ground up to build a 476-room lifestyle hotel which today is the epitome of luxury.
“All success is based on customer service first,” reveals the 49-year-old. “We were writing new rules. Here is an example. After you stay at a hotel, you get an email asking ‘How could we do better?’ This makes no sense. I should find this out on the first day of your stay. It is not the angle of how your chocolate sits beside your bed that is important but rather how you recover from mistakes and how you make people feel. That is what they will remember.”
It is a unique approach and Mulchandani has built his team around a creating a mindset of shared values. “Our culture is based on hiring people who love people. We ask the question, ‘What do we as consumers want to feel’ because once you are providing value, there is money to be made. Guests will keep coming back.”
Arabian Business ranked Mulchandani one of the “Richest and Most Powerful Indians in the Middle East” in 2021. An impressive nod considering he moved to Dubai in 2003.
FIVE Palm Jumeirah Dubai.
“I had just sold my consumer electronics business in Mumbai and was in between jobs. It had been a challenging decade and I was tired. Emirates had launched a Dubai-New York flight, and gave me two hotel nights at the Ritz Carlton. I had been thinking of relocating to London or New York but I felt a tremendous sense of energy in Dubai and knew it was time to move here.”
Mulchandani refers to Dubai as “a true 21st- century city, one that will rank as one of the top three cities created in this century” and says it is like Monaco “offering a tremendous lifestyle, security, and great financial planning on a larger scale.”
He puts its specialness down to diversity. “The beauty is that you have 180 nationalities, probably every different religion, living in peace. Everyone is coming here to collaborate and create. You are in a sense someone who wants to achieve more, you are looking for opportunity. And when you put this diversity and this mindset together you are going to create something powerful. As long as Dubai maintains that openness to the world, more than the physical infrastructure, you will always have growth and innovation. There is no end to the story.”
Born in Mumbai to entrepreneurial parents, Mulchandani attended the private school Cathedral and John Connon School before being sent to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He did an undergrad year at Stanford University studying industrial engineering.
“In India, you traditionally do what your father does. My mother was very successful at building her business in the late 70s. She called me and said, ‘I want to invest in you, in order for you to continue to strengthen and grow your family's legacy.’ ”
Back in India running Baron International and Baron Electronics, by 1998 The Economist was calling him “Mumbai’s Marketeer.” “My mother invested the capital and I did all the work. That business did well and that led to this business. She was my seed capital and I put in the effort, which had challenges and ups and downs.”
Between 2004 and 2008, Mulchandani traded $8 billion of real estate, “like how you would trade positions. It was tight margins but I still walked away from the financial crisis with something. By June 2008, I wanted to do something more sustainable, more long term.”
He first looked at the land for FIVE Palm Jumeirah Dubai in 2012. “I remember. It was a Thursday evening, the beginning of our weekend. I closed the deal Sunday morning.”
Hotel construction began in 2013 and three years later, FIVE Palm Jumeirah was born. The chairman and founder lives in one of the the sold-out FIVE residences and walks to work. “I don’t think of it as a hotel. We provide a very sensory experience, which is why it is named FIVE as we combine the five elements and how they impact our life. Passion, freedom of expression and consciousness are just some of the elements that are important to our team's shared vision.”
The Philanthropist of the Year at the CEO Middle East Awards in 2017 adds, “We are a people-oriented entity, customers are on the top of our minds 24/7. They rely on us to feel at home, while not at home—so we always stay focused. Especially on our target audiences—Gen Z and Millennials.”
His philosophy is that “You do not need a big thing to fix a business, you need little things.” As an extremely detailed oriented individual, Mulchandani believes it is important to delegate and “to create culture, culture, culture.” FIVE Hotels and Resorts takes part in the Great Place to Work. We were ranked number one in our sector in 2021, and we are only four-years-old.”
His refers to his organization like a tribe, bonded by values. “It is a matter of trust and staying together during adversity. It is not always easy but it is always about the team. And as long as the leadership keeps adapting, the sky is the limit.” He has been best friends with Aloki Batra, FIVE’s CEO of Hospitality, since
the age of 13 and has known CFO-COO Jaydeep Anand for 47 years and Nabil Akiki, CEO of Development for 15 years. “The key thing a leader needs to focus on is how do we make sure people feel we are there for them and how do we translate that into action and improve on that every year.”
Just after FIVE launched Project Udaan that helps children in India, Mulchandani opened in 2019 his second hospitality and residential project, FIVE Jumeirah Village Dubai. In 2020, during the height of Covid, FIVE was able to purchase two stellar properties—FIVE Zurich in Switzerland and FIVE LUXE in Dubai by working with financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank for Zurich and Commercial Bank of Dubai for FIVE LUXE with existing relationships with Arab African International Bank. Mulchandani was able to do so because of FIVE’s ability to maintain its EBITDA from 2019 to 2020.
“I am not going to lie to you, on a personal level, there is a tremendous sense of achievement and pride in building an empire. Absolutely. Anyone who tells you otherwise or that it is all altruistic is probably lying. When I started out, it was about making money and how do I get that sports car?
“As time goes on, you exhaust those ideals. When I put my head on my pillow at night, I ask the question: Am I proud of myself? In 2019, I was able to answer that question with a yes. I have achieved what I set out to do. Creating FIVE, a brand built with people,” says Mulchandani, whose net worth is over $2.5 billion.
Married to Nadia Zaal, considered one of the most influential Emirati women, the couple have three sons and one daughter. “FIVE is my fifth child,” he smiles. And with a new hotel opening in Switzerland this spring, Kabir Mulchandani looks to be extending the family.