As part of my series about the “5 Things, You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Vasco Borges, CEO of Beach Enclave Turks & Caicos.
As the CEO and Founder of Beach Enclave Turks & Caicos, Vasco Borges is not your typical hospitality executive.
With a degree in Economics and Marketing from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and an MBA cum laude from INSEAD, Borges worked for seven years at the global strategic consulting firm McKinsey & Co., advising clients on acquisitions and turnaround, product launch and manufacturing efficiency in a variety of industries including luxury goods, retail, chemicals, and steel. Yet, despite his growing success, there was no experience that made him say, “Yes — this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” It wasn’t until a friend asked him to consult for three months at a five-star resort in Turks & Caicos in 2005, that he realized a genuine sense of excitement in his work.
“The concept of welcoming people — making them feel at home in a special place while at the same time imagining spaces for them to relax and make memories fascinated me, unlike any other industry I have been exposed to.” And so, after working as chief financial offer at a luxury hospitality brand, he took a leap of faith and went out on his own.
He saw a missed opportunity in the marketplace — no one in the hospitality or real estate industries created a supply-side brand primarily focused on villas. Moreover, those who were operating in the villa space did not offer a rental or purchase opportunity fusing the privacy of a luxury villa with the comprehensive amenities and ongoing property maintenance function of a resort. And so he set out to create a lifestyle brand to do just that. With financial acumen, the ability to secure investors, and aptitude to attract superlative talent, he launched his passion project Beach Enclave in 2014.
Along the way, Beach Enclave has introduced innovative guest-centric hospitality concepts that take five-star luxury to an entirely new level. Examples abound, such as creating a joint, location expert reservations, concierge and butler team that allows a truly personalized experience from booking through departure; and making all of the resort amenities accessible to guests where and when they want them — not according to a set schedule — meaning breakfast can be served on a boat en route to an early morning fishing excursion, not only at a set time in a specific place.
To implement such an undertaking in the Caribbean — where you have to import everything from steel to skilled labor — Borges’ expertise in finance, sourcing, bidding, logistics, negotiation, and manufacturing all come into play. He has the unique ability to identify the types of experiences high net worth consumers seek and create an environment that best facilitates these opportunities. As a result, he has sourced building materials from as far away as Europe, identified innovative architects from Brazil, and set new service standards in the hospitality industry, which have truly made him the villa hospitality specialist and positioned Beach Enclave Turks & Caicos as a successful designer and operator in the private villa resort space.
Thank you so much for joining us Vasco! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for having me! I am a hotelier and real estate developer purely by happenstance. I was born and raised in Portugal, studied economics and did my “first” career in fast-moving consumer goods and at McKinsey & Co. I worked at the latter for 7 years advising clients on mergers and acquisitions, company turnarounds, and so forth. At McKinsey, I was exposed to several industries and functions, but there was none that made me think “this is what I want to do”. In 2005, as I was finishing my MBA and looking to do something completely different for three months before returning to McKinsey, I was asked to help a friend of a friend that had just moved to the Caribbean to open a hotel. He was in desperate need of consulting skills. I wasn’t very convinced but got offered a beachfront room on the best beach in the world, at a five-star resort, for the duration of my stay. Hard to say no, and so I went. I had no prior experience in real estate or hospitality, but I immediately fell in love with the industry. And never left!
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I am a big believer in the “aha moment” theory. I find most successful people and businesses are more reactionary than operating from a carefully designed plan from the onset. Say an event that presents itself, which leads to a reaction or strategic adjustment that proved to be a new way of thinking.
Our first “aha moment” was the realization that the luxury, vacation home real estate market across the Caribbean was dominated by either condo in a resort or stand-alone homes. We wanted to combine the best of both worlds — that is the privacy and seclusion of your home with the services and amenities of a luxury resort. That is Beach Enclave.
The other “aha moment” was realizing the villa travel industry is dominated by distributors, with no real dedicated brand on the supply side. And traditional hotel brands — we talked with a few early on to run our resort operations — were too focused on efficiency instead of personalized experiences. Our vision is each owner or guest has the same butler, concierge, and housekeeping team throughout their stay. This is key to make you feel at home. Traditional hotel brands focus on optimizing their staff roster. So, we went on our own and formed a hospitality company. Best decision ever!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Not sure it is funny, but it is certainly embarrassing. Construction in this part of the world is a blend of UK and US standards, measurements go back and forth between inches, centimeters, feet, yards, tons… it’s a recipe for disaster, and some mistakes were definitely made early on — luckily all corrected in time. It takes a while to get used to this cacophony, especially when having a global design and engineering team.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” is more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I agree. You can’t deliver on your own, you need to share your vision with others and create momentum toward delivering it. To do so, you need a clear purpose and clear communication of that purpose.
Ours is clear. We want to redefine the villa resort experience, by being the best at it. Everything we do is about unique, personalized experiences to our guests and resident owners, delivered at beautiful enclaves, that make you feel at home. Easier said than done, it requires every staff member to think of what it would take to make this guest have a better experience right there and then.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
In two ways. One is by example. For instance, I meet all our villa owners when they visit us, and several of our guests, and every time I try to improve their experience. Maybe it’s an adjustment to their home, or maybe it is knowing that their kids loved diving on their last trip, so this time we prepared a full family day on a luxury yacht with a marine biologist that allows the family to enjoy a day on the water while the kids have a one-of-a-kind experience diving with a knowledgeable biologist.
The other is to empower your team to make decisions on the go, knowing that failing is ok because every time one of us does not make the best decision, we probably made 10–20 correct decisions that made the difference. So, our mantra is “what matter is not what you do, but what you do and how mistakes are corrected”.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
That is a good question! I don’t think I do. Maybe the realization that, ultimately, what really matters is your quality of life, your enjoyment of what you do. Even on a bad day at work, I will still go home and have a great time with my daughters or enjoy a squash game and beer with a friend. I’m getting better at that, putting things into perspective. Let things go for a while, before addressing them, it helps to reframe the issue at hand.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The toughest time was early on when I found myself with all my savings invested in the startup and only four digits in my personal bank account. I don’t believe in raising funds without first putting my own money in. And, on our first project, I did not feel it was appropriate to be paid any ongoing fees until such time as we would have real estate sales to repaid debt. But giving up was never on our mind, we were confident in our due diligence prior to launching the project, and focused on delivering the project. Our first project delivered a return of x2.3 Equity in three years!
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Beach Enclave has, in the space of six years, positioned itself as a thought leader on villa resorts, and as a key player in our home market — Turks and Caicos Islands. Our market share on real estate sales over $3M has been consistently above 50% in the last three years, including highest price point for pre-construction ever achieved; and our hospitality operations command both the highest Average Daily Rate and we are ranked #1 on Trip Advisor in Turks and Caicos. I couldn’t be prouder of the team!
Two factors have been key here. One is to always do the right thing — and not what maximizes short-term goals. This is reflected in how we engage with our villa owners and guests. For instance, we provide unlimited warranty on the built homes. The other factor is talent. The talent pool is scarcer in small Caribbean markets, and we do our best to attract and then retain talent.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
We’ve touched upon most of the key factors for success along with our conversation. In my mind, these are:
- Clear purpose or goal. Ours is to provide personalized experiences in beautiful enclaves, making our owners and guests feel at home. Every decision we do is based on this.
- Talent. This industry is built on collective talent working towards a singular goal. Thus, in the right direction, the quality of your team comes into light. Finding the right talent is not as easy as it sounds as there is a big part that we play as leaders that are often forgotten — Development! Developing the right talent in the right direction is also key.
- Guest centric. More often than not, we as operators have a message to share with our guests. May it be the architecture, the locale, the indigenous culture, the environmental experience, etc. I believe that the new age of Guest is traveling with the intention for himself, thus at BE, we are committed to focusing on the details on their kinetics and not ours. Our service structure is built from the guest’s perspective out and not from the company in.
- Team empowerment. If you hire the right talent and want them to make the decisions on the go, empowerment is key. It is a skill that, unfortunately, is not nurtured enough in hospitality. How many times have all of us been frustrated at hotel check-out because the front office team is not empowered to make corrections to the bill. We are all about the other way around. We give them tools and support to our team to make decisions on the go.
- Brand culture. All of the above lead to one of my favorites, our Culture. Brands are defined by their culture and this supersedes all else in my view. Investing in and building the right culture goes far in ensuring that that our values as a team and a company are relayed to the guest and homeowners alike. Culture dictates what and how your team engages and touches your guests. Control the culture and you control the smile as they say.
- If there’s another one, it is a willingness to take a risk and make your own luck.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many people. To start off, all the BE team for sure, past and present, each one put a piece of the puzzle we are today. Two of my early investors and now partners at Beach Enclave — John Zammit and Jens Reidel. Another unsung hero is my mentor, Joe Zahm, president of the Turks and Caicos Sotheby’s International Realty, who somehow kept convincing me we were on the right track. Early on, we identified land parcels that fit our strategy of creating beautiful, low-density enclaves on the best beaches but always located at the tail end of the beach so as to provide privacy and seclusion to our owners and guests.
For the first land parcel we acquired, we found ourselves in a bidding war with two other parties. The Seller finally requested one final offer from each party, to be delivered on Easter Sunday. The only issue is the Seller requested this unexpectedly, two days before the deadline. I was trekking the Andes with barely any data or phone connection. I literally had to use, in the middle of the mountains, a metal pan as an antennae to increase the phone signal and have a call with Joe. We decided to increase our offer by 10% to secure the land, and we won the bid by a mere $50,000! Nothing like the fresh mountain air for good decisions it seems.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Education would be my focus. Empowerment, equal opportunities, poverty eradication all require universal education. I do not think however it requires a new movement or new ideas. There are several very worthy causes out there that focus on improving education quality and reach. For instance, in Turks and Caicos, Food For Thought NGO delivers hot breakfast and lunch to public schools, ensuring pupils have the energy to focus on learning. We are big supporters of this cause and several others.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Our best social media is our product: experience our beautiful enclave resorts, with family or a group of friends, I promise you will go back home with lots of memories — visit beachenclave.com or talk with your agent. While you’re waiting to get on the plane to visit us, check us on Instagram — @beachenclave, or my account at @vasconfborges.