Mon | Dec 11, 2017

For Kevin Hendrickson, pride is profit

Published:Friday | September 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMHuntley Medley
Hotelier and businessman Kevin Hendrickson speaks earnestly about his business dealings over the years during an interview on August 23, 2017.
Hotelier and businessman Kevin Hendrickson speaks with front desk agent Crystal Mason, at the Courtleigh Hotel & Suites on August 23, 2017.
Hotelier and businessman Kevin Hendrickson leafs through plans for Project 77, during an interview on August 23, 2017.
Hotelier and businessman Kevin Hendrickson.
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Kevin Hendrickson is motivated by pride in his successes as an entrepreneur who owns and operates several businesses, but he makes a big distinction between pride and being boastful.

In fact, no one is inclined to apply the latter description to the hotelier and businessman who has never been known to seek out the spotlight, and like his three siblings and father, routinely avoids publicity.

In an interview with the Financial Gleaner, Hendrickson willingly discussed his holdings, but downplayed his family's substantial wealth, and politely sidestepped responses to questions about the price tag of some of the hotel and baking business acquisitions he has made.

Born into business, the baking business in fact, Hendrickson now has his hands full with a massive multibillion-dollar redevelopment and integration of three of his hotel holdings on Knutsford Boulevard, the focal point of the New Kingston business district.

Still, baking runs in his blood, so to speak. The owner of the former Wyndham Hotel, now referred to as 77 Knutsford, the Courtleigh, Jamaica Pegasus and Knutsford Court in Kingston, as well as the Holiday Inn Sunspree resort in Montego Bay - which are all now undergoing varying levels of refurbishing - is expanding his baking business at the same time, having recently bought out a small bakery operation in Old Harbour.

Dr Lushus now joins the Kingston-based Yummy and Manchester-based Holsum bakeries owned by Hendrickson, whose baked-food brands competes with National Baking Company, the family's flagship business run by his brother Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson.

Hendrickson says the baked goods market is large enough for his bakeries, National and several others that operate all over Jamaica.

He did not disclose the price he paid late last year for the small bakery outfit known for its speciality pastries, but admitted that Dr Lushus provided stiff competition in the segment of the market served by Yummy and Holsum. He is now hunting for property to house his new acquisition, which operates from rented premises in the bustling St Catherine town.

The businessman conveyed that no other expansion plans are imminent for the baking business, as he is now focused on consolidating his hospitality holdings.

Three years ago, he paid US$17.6 million for the 303-room former Wyndham property and is undertaking a re-scoping and redevelopment of the property that is running well beyond the US$100-million budget initially contemplated. He bought The Jamaica Pegasus in 2010 from state-owned Urban Development Corporation for US$11 million and did extensive refurbishing there. Nearly a decade before that, in 2001, Hendrickson purchased the former Sutton Place hotel from Dermott Blake and opened it a year later as The Knutsford Court Hotel. He also owns and operates The Courtleigh Corporate Centre in New Kingston.

The synergies involving the Hendricksons' Yummy, Holsum, National and Dr Lushus brands, with National doing some distribution for the other brands, are also reflected on the hotel side of the family business.

Family group

Although Kevin and his siblings each operate distinct businesses, they are all part of the Hendrickson Group pioneered by patriarch Karl Hendrickson.

The family business also includes Coconut Bay Resort & Spa in St Lucia, owned and operated by 'Burch' Hendrickson.

Cathy Hendrickson Kerr and her husband Ian Kerr operate Sunset Beach Resort & Spa in Montego Bay and Sunset at the Palms in Negril. The Ocho Rios-based Jamaica Grande, which formerly operated under the Sunset brand, was sold by the Hendricksons three years ago to Mexican hotel chain Moon Palace at a price estimated to be close to US$100 million.

Other businesses in the group include Caribbean Broilers, Newport Mills and their subsidiaries, owned and operated by Lori-Ann Hendrickson Lyn and her husband Dave Lyn.

Kevin Hendrickson says the siblings and their father still brainstorm business ideas together and assist each other with matters pertaining to the bakeries or hotels. Meanwhile, as he concentrates on his large hotel properties, he has put up the Ruins at the Falls in Ocho Rios for sale - he acquired that property in 2001 - and is mulling selling the riverside Blue Mountain Inn property located in the hills of St Andrew.

As to what drove his success over the years, he pegged much of it to the staff he has worked with over time.

"Work hard and always look after your customers and team members," he said. "Everybody is motivated by something. Pride is always a driving force in anything you're doing."

Still, it has not all been smooth sailing. As most entrepreneurs do, Hendrickson has experienced failure. Made-On Limited manufactured high-end, intricately handcrafted, fine furnishings marketed under the Courtleigh Furniture Company label almost exclusively for export to the United States, with some pieces also utilised at the Courtleigh Hotel.

The business was shuttered after Hurricane Dean destroyed the factory at Riverton City in Kingston a decade ago. Hendrickson recalled that there were other issues with the business, which, in the final analysis, was no longer a good fit for the emerging business model.

Hendrickson's beginnings

Hendrickson started out in business fresh out of university with a business administration degree. He proved his mettle as general manager for Courtleigh Manor hotel on Trafalgar Road, bought as an investment property in 1981 by National Continental Corporation under the chairmanship of his father.

Recalling the popularity of the Mingles Bar at the Trafalgar Road property, Hendrickson quipped: "Unlike most hotels that have a great bar, this was a great bar that had a hotel."

Among his memories of the property was the experience during and after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, when, through proper planning and forward buying, the hotel and bar operated 24 hours at full capacity.

The property was later sold, but the hotel continued to operate under lease from Mutual Life Insurance Company. It expanded its rooms to the nearby Mutual Life-owned Renfrew Apartments, which became Courtleigh House. Financial difficulties encountered by Mutual Life in the 1990s resulted in the property changing hands and, ultimately, being bought by Scotiabank Jamaica, which constructed its Scotiabank Trafalgar Centre at the original Courtleigh location.

In 1996, the by now seasoned hotelier bought the Marcus Garvey building, nestled between the Pegasus and former Wyndham hotels and with a USAID development loan, converted it 11 months later into a new home for The Courtleigh Hotel & Suites.

As to whether he is looking at any new hotel acquisitions, Hendrickson's response was telling without giving away too much. "I look" is all he would say.

His acquisitions and expansion projects have mainly been financed over time by bank loans, but Hendrickson says he is not closing the door on the equities market as a future source of capital.

"Never say never," he said. But: "Currently, there is no need to raise funds on the stock market. We are in a good position - we have been planning for it."

Planning for succession

Hendrickson's three adult children now work in the businesses, learning all aspects of the operations and paving the way for succession. Their tutelage includes the prospect of eventually going public.

"We have to give the children an opportunity to understand and appreciate the responsibility of being part of a public entity, which is very different to being a private company," Hendrickson said.

He believes his business portfolio now provides more than enough work to occupy his time and the energies of the 1,600 workforce his companies employ. Hendrickson said that figure will reach 2,000 when his current project, the massive redevelopment of the former Wyndham Hotel property, which he has dubbed Project 77, is completed.

huntley.medley@gleanerjm.com