The resilience of a family business

Sarin Investments is a family business that owns and manages several high-quality hotels throughout New Zealand, as well as partnering with well-known international hotel brands. Along with hotel ownership and management, Sarin is involved in property management, event centre management, lease management, and residential and commercial development.

Their twenty-year operation has seen Sarin create a niche in the hospitality sector as specialists in developing unique, boutique hotels, especially in New Zealand. For example, The Muse art hotel in Christchurch features a fusion of designer surroundings, expressive work from local artists, comfortable luxury, and Christchurch’s first rooftop bar. Their newest property, The Observatory, opened in May 2022 and with 33 uniquely designed rooms, guests are transported into an exquisite world of luxury, art, and comfort. Both hotels attract people who are seeking an experience, rather than just a place to sleep.

Raman and Anu Sarin’s story started over 30 years ago. Both worked in international hotel groups and rose through management to senior levels. They first moved from India to Australia with their employers, and quickly found opportunities in Australian property and hotel groups. Moving to Wellington, New Zealand, they diversified into hospitality, owning restaurants whilst running several apartment buildings under management contracts.

Regardless of the business or the opportunity, the couple was focused on customer experience. This guided all construction, fit-outs, and restaurant design, right down to the utensils and menus, wine and produce selection and the training and care of their teams. 

Raman and Anu have two children, Udai the eldest, is now the CEO of the hotel group, with Raman and Anu supervising special projects such as the construction and retrofit of hotels, as well as the design and training of the teams to run these facilities to the group’s high standard. Sachin, the youngest is responsible for the group’s property portfolio and its management.

It is a joy to see families working together with the parent’s legacy being enhanced by their children. Of course, business is not always plain sailing, and like all fast-growing businesses, problems arise.

In Sarin’s case, a problem surfaced with a joint venture party, whose values were misaligned with their own. There were stressful and difficult negotiations with local bodies and builders, not to mention the trial of Covid and lockdowns.

They weathered with strength and determination assisted by a strong balance sheet, augmented by the timely sale of the misaligned joint venture interest. It was the resolution of this joint venture that brought the Sarin’s and Gilligan Sheppard together. 

Midnight resolutions

Sarin’s CEO Udai Sarin says their relationship with Gilligan Sheppard began around five years ago when they were in a predicament requiring some high-level business advice. Udai asked a lawyer he knew, “Who is the worst possible person you’d want to be across a table from in this situation?”  The answer came without hesitation. “You want Bruce Sheppard from Gilligan Sheppard.”

Udai jumped on the phone to Gilligan Sheppard and got the first available appointment with Bruce three weeks later.

‘Predicament’ is a rather soft description of the issue the Sarin’s were facing. It was in fact, a serious matter on which Bruce and his team worked arduously with an unwavering tenacity that eventually resulted in a positive resolution – the final deal was struck at midnight.

Bruce says “The counterparty and their legal team were among the most intractable, and difficult parties to deal with that I had struck in a long time. My usual ‘frog in the pot’ approach to gradual escalation didn’t work with these guys. It took over two years to get the deal that should have been done on the first day. Such is life.”

“It was a very big deal, and a strong respect developed between us during that time,” says Udai, “and so it made sense to keep Bruce on retainer for business advice, and any potential future issues. And although the accounting firm we were using at the time was good, we decided to move everything to Gilligan Sheppard, as we appreciated the easy and personal way they engaged with us, and the way they understood our business. Having people who care about our business, as well as being good at what they do, is hugely beneficial. And they’re reasonable in terms of charging.”

Survival, the measure of success

With 40 years of experience in hospitality, the Sarin family thought they’d overcome every imaginable obstacle possible, but just to test the true grit of hoteliers – and the hospitality industry in general – along came Covid. But Udai says that while no one could have predicted the pandemic, their foundations were solid. They’ve always had a balanced approach to business – never over-extending themselves, and rectifying anything that wasn’t working to its full potential. So, while feeling the impact of the pandemic, they’re surviving. Their resources aren’t depleted. They didn’t have the benefit of being a MIQ facility, but they were able to take advantage of the government wage subsidies, their loans were under control, and each family member took responsibility for one part of the business.

“We’ve just worked day by day, rather than month by month. Sure, it has been torturous at times, and our resilience was tested – but we’re still here. So, if success is measured by the benchmark of still being here, then we’ve succeeded.”

Udai Sarin believes Gilligan Sheppard works particularly well with family businesses because both give personal service. “Corporate firms don’t have shareholders that are really invested in decisions about their clients. To us, everything is personal, and so it is with Gillian Sheppard, too.”

Hospitality in our blood and Gilligan Sheppard by our side

Having Gilligan Sheppard by their side throughout the pandemic has been a huge support. “Because they understand our business so well, they knew cash flow was under fire. They go over and above just general accounting, their advice and support have been excellent.”   

Another benefit for Sarin is not being aligned to any international chains, which enables them to make their own decisions and action them quickly. They’re able to do things that hotels in the bigger chains just can’t do. They can be flexible with value-add promotions and can consider how best to make a stay at a Sarin property a great experience for their customers. For example, they can offer specific sweeteners to suit their target market, such as a free happy hour (or two) for suite guests.

Being hoteliers rather than marketers or salespeople, they know what guests need and genuinely understand the value of excellent, personal service. Hospitality is in their blood; it comes from a passion for the industry that they absolutely live and breathe. 

More than just accountants

As a family, the Sarin’s believe in treating and being treated well by those they do business with. Gilligan Sheppard is involved in everything they do. “We work with Richard for specialist tax matters, Nicola, Humphrey, and Josh for our day-to-day accounts, and of course Bruce for anything requiring ‘outside the box’ strategic thinking. But he’s across everything, very hands-on.

“They understand the importance of relationships, beyond the numbers of business success. They care about us and want to make sure we’re doing okay. We started out engaging with one person and ended up engaging with the whole company.”

Raman Sarin, Owner and Director of Sarin Investments.
“Working towards creating synergies that are focused towards growth and winning partnerships.”

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