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Leadership Lessons
Running paradise no holiday
Rick Gangwani
update on Saturday, August 13, 2011

From the upper echelons of the finance sector to the small back office of her first resort, Anchalika Kijkanakorn has seen many sides of the business world.

At the height of her corporate career with GE Capital, she oversaw 12 teams spread across Europe and, to accommodate this, maintained apartments in London, Brussels and Cologne while travelling frequently to countless other cities.

But as life on the road began to take its toll, she felt a need to reassess her long-terms goals.

"I didn't have a personal life and I certainly didn't have time to pursue any interests and hobbies," she says. "At one point, all my clothes were black, because that's often the only way to be coordinated while you're travelling. I found myself carrying more and more pictures and personal items. My suitcase was essentially my home. It was really depressing."

Determined to make a change, Kijkanakorn turned her back on the corporate world and moved back to Thailand.

There, she set in motion a long-cherished plan to convert part of her family's Hua Hin estate into a ten-room luxury resort.

"We started a small hotel with very personalised service," she says. It was different from the big chains, but still offered high-end amenities." 

Soon after its official opening around seven years ago, the property - Aleenta Hua Hin - was winning travel industry accolades and unofficially crowned Thailand's first boutique resort.

"It was an early success," says Kijkanakorn, who despite being stretched thin in terms of workload and learning a new business, decided there was no point holding back.

Without expanding, she explains, it would not have been possible to build a reputation and maintain the level of service that distinguished the property from both brand name and smaller scale competitors.

"That's often the pitfall of boutique hotels," she says. "You miss out on cost savings from bulk buying, and experienced staff don't rate you very highly in terms of career prospects. As such, it's difficult to find and afford the people required to offer quality service." 

Kijkanakorn therefore added 13 rooms and, soon after, laid the groundwork for a second resort, the Aleenta Phuket.

During this period she also met her husband and gave birth to her first child.

While continuing as managing director, she also felt obliged to introduce some marked changes in the way the business was run, which she notes, proved to be a blessing in disguise.

"I was forced to let go of a lot of things and hire people who were more capable than me," she says.

"We now have a director of sales, as well as several more experienced senior people to run the properties. This was one of the most important lessons I learned from my corporate career: find the right person for the right job," she adds.

Regarding home life, Kijkanakorn explains that her focus is on improving the quality of time she now spends with her children.

"In my heart I know that I don't have what it takes to be a full-time mother - it's not in my nature. That's why the time I spend with the kids has to count."

Aside from family priorities and managing four resorts, Kijkanakorn also attends to board duties with the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, an international organisation representing more than 400 privately owned hotels and even finds time for her marine conservation foundation, Pure Blue.

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