If you like your tycoons 20th century style: loudly assertive, accessory-laden and grandiloquent, you’d miss Abigail Tan in a blink and at your peril.
In a blink, because she looks improbably young, unassuming, and almost fragile in her great big hotel just off Tottenham Court Rd, London.
At your peril, because underestimating her in business, and most specifically in the business of hospitality, would be a serious mistake.
The hotel is one of many in the St Giles Group, itself part of IGB Corp, headed by Robert Tan.
Abigail, his daughter and a third generation scion of Malaysia’s eponymous real estate dynasty, has literally lived and breathed the hospitality business since she was a toddler who had a precocious fascination with hotels.
She is one of a new breed of family empire builders who were educated in Europe or/and the US and who have learnt the business from the bottom up, leading the expansion, bestowing their own vision and thinking as custodians rather than profligate heirs of old.
Some people collect art; others collect antiques or wine, or just experiences. The Tan family collect hotels.
In the last few years they have been expanding their portfolio through acquisitions in the United States and the Caribbeans, as well as in London and Abigail is in charge of this expansion.
As is often the case with successful and driven individuals, it’s her ability to wear different hats that impresses: dealing with and reigning in contractors, hiring staff receptive to her work ethos and ultimately building a brand for the 21st century.
The brand strategy is based on a simple value proposition: offering top service at sensible prices.
Beyond that, the finer touches are a reflection of Abigail Tan’s vision and sensibilities.
Like many modern women of her background and generation, she has broken the mould of the traditional heiress with concepts such as social impact, sustainability and community writ large across her plans for the brand.
She says St Giles employees are trained to think as a team of equals and to take collective responsibility for everything at the hotels.
This community spirit carries over to guest engagement – the St Giles group developed the first ever user-generated VR campaign in the hospitality industry, a digital platform for creative expression that showcases guests’ travel experiences, shot as 360 ° videos in the hotels’ immediate vicinities.
The motto Be Central embodies the spirit of the hotel group with its strong appeal to the contemporary urbanite but also, its strive to preserve the cultural authenticity of each property in the portfolio.
Carbon and social footprints are a 21st century preoccupation and while many of us do little more than vent some existentialist angst about it, Abigail Tan seems acutely aware of the social impact large hotels have on the local community.
Expect the future St Giles foundation in the UK to engage disenfranchised youth and train them in the hotels and restaurant kitchens. Expect the large wall spaces to showcase local artistic talent.
Expect the St Giles brand to carve its place in the major hotel league.
What can we expect of Abigail Tan herself? She may be a slip of a girl, but like a true chip off the old block, she is blazing trails just as her grand-father, who made the Tan fortunes, once did. She remembers him fondly and I daresay he is looking down on her with an equal measure of fondness and pride.