In His own Words April 2014
Executive Director, Sports Engineering And Recreation Asia Ltd.
Born: South Bend, Indiana, USA
Time in Thailand: 33 years
George Foose has spent half of his life in and around Thailand, moving overseas only a few years after leaving Thunderbird School of Global Management. With that, his studies at the University of Notre Dame and five years at Clark Equipment Company behind him, he was let loose on South East Asia. A few steps down the line and he is now in charge at Sports Engineering And Recreation Asia – better known as Seara International.
Seara specialises in the design, development and installation of international standard sports, recreation, athletic, fitness and health facilities. The company provides its products and services to developers, contractors, architects, owners, and operators of hotels and resorts, property developments, private clubs, health facilities and governmental projects. They focus on the very highest quality, building sports facilities only to the international standards set by the governing bodies of those sports.
Seara has offices in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Koh Samui, Hanoi, Phuket, Dhaka, and, recently, Pattaya. More are opening soon Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. We caught up with George at the head office in Bangkok.
How did you get from South Bend to Bangkok and how have your experiences along the way helped you?
“I spent five years with a Fortune 500 company in the US after I finished grad school. I left that company and came to Asia, where I'd made a number of trips for the company, and I ran into a classmate of mine, who said that his distributor for South East Asia might have a position open. I went and interviewed for it – it was an Australian company with offices in Indonesia, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I worked for them and, six months later, went to Kuala Lumpur.
“Later, I decided that I had to get out of anything to do with steel. I wanted to get into consumer marketing. I saw that a US company had set up a joint venture in Hong Kong. That company was called Club Corporation of Asia. They were the largest owners and developers of high-end, luxury private clubs in North America. I went to work at a property they had just taken over and were redeveloping in Singapore. Then I moved to Hong Kong as their Director of Marketing. Then I grew weary of Hong Kong and I said that I wanted to move to Thailand. We split the territory – one marketing manager for northern Asia and one for the south. I took the south and moved to Thailand.
“During that time, my Canadian business partner started what became Seara in 1991. I left Club Corp in 1998 and came in and started the process of restructuring and changing the share ownerships and business model and we've been Sports Engineering ever since then.
“It made sense because working for Club Corp was all about the development process and the marketing and operating of private clubs. Whether they're dining clubs at the top of a building in the financial sector or whether it's a large golf and country club or a city athletic club, it's all about amenities and knowing your operating cost. This business is all about knowing the difference between quality and not. It's a perfect blend for what Seara does because, when we talk to customers, I have the background so I know exactly what things cost to operate and what it takes to market them.”
Going into Pattaya, what expectations did you have about the market for Seara and did the city meet them?
“I expected it to be similar to Phuket, only I wouldn't think that the farangs in Pattaya would have the same amount of disposable cash as the ones in Phuket do because you have more million dollar homes going into Phuket, but it's been okay. It was above our expectations on retail sales.
“Commercial sales are still a bit tough because the commercial market there is still kind of low-end. All those condos are about 38 square metres. If you spend 950,000 baht on your condo, are you going to come into our store and spend 200,000 baht on fitness? Probably not – you're probably going to put a dishwasher in the place.
“In the condominium market, some developers take the amenities of their project very seriously and others just low-ball it so they can shove it onto the marketing material. An example of a good one is Nigel Cornick and Kingdom Properties. He's selling a brand. The brand is what's going to make his next project and the amenities are part of that. Raimon Land, too, does really good amenities and we've done everything there for the last 10 or 12 years. There are some public listed companies here where we don't sell anything cheap enough for them. Some of our competitors will go that low, but we won't because something that low can't be supported or repaired. So, we're waiting for a lot of the property developers to move up the value chain so that they're in our lowest levels and up.
“It's only in the last five years that high-end hospitality has moved into Pattaya. I think the first one to start it was Northshore. Before that, property was selling in Pattaya for 35,000 to 40,000 baht per square metre. They launched Northshore at 75,000 and, before it was even finished, people were reselling their units for up to 120,000 baht per square metre. At about the same time, a number of the branded hotel projects started coming in, like the Hilton and Pullmans, and that's when we started looking to get an office there.”
What do you think the population of Pattaya might be, and what proportion of that is expatriates?
“Pattaya is the urban area for the Eastern Seaboard, which is becoming basically one big urban area from Bangkok all the way to Rayong. If you were to say just the Greater Pattaya area including Jomtien, Na Jomtien, in as far as Siam Country Club and north as far as Laem Chabang, there must be five million people there of which 4.5 million are Thai. I don't really know.”
What are your plans for the future, both for your company and you?
“I'm going to stay here,” he said, meaning Thailand generally rather than Bangkok specifically. “I've got a house in Bang Saray. My hobby is sailing and I've got a sail boat in Ocean Marina. I've got nowhere else to go,” he joked.