Mukesh Valabhji is a fourth-generation Seychellois entrepreneur and investor. As founder of Capital Management Group and the Seychelles Marketing Board, Mr Valabhji has explored a vast array of business interests including telecommunications and media, commercial real estate, hospitality and tourism. He has also acted as Economic Advisor to the Seychelles President and spent a ten year period as Chairman of the Public Utilities Corporation and serves on the Boards of both Softbank PrinceVille Investments and Crimson Investment. We asked Mukesh Valabhji a series of questions relating to his vast business experience – here’s what he had to say:
- Church Street Holdings, comprised of the Buxani Group and a collection of offshore investors advised by your own Capital Management Group, has invested heavily in commercial properties within the central business district of Singapore, purchasing premium office strata in properties including Samsung Hub, Robinson Road and the Finexis Building and selling these on at a profit when the market is favourable. What makes Singapore such an attractive option for commercial real estate investment?
Singapore is probably one of the easiest countries for a foreign investor to do business in. It’s the ease with which you can operate that makes it such a good choice for anyone considering investing in commercial real estate.
As a foreign investor, you are really made to feel welcome and treated no differently than a local investor. The banks in Singapore are also very efficient and they work closely with clients to find solutions if issues do arise. This, coupled with a low tax base and very effective government who are welcoming of international investment, means that the climate is right for real growth.
- The sale of the 21st floor of the Samsung Hub building in 2014 attracted a record price for an entire floor ($3,280psf) after a number of unsolicited offers came in from potential buyers. The previous year Church Street Holdings divested the 17th floor in six individual strata units, with one such unit selling at $3,500psf. Why did the Capital Management Group / Buxani partnership make the decision to divide some floors and not others in order to achieve the maximum prices?
We realised that there was a greater demand for smaller owner occupied space. By making the decision to divide these floors, the sale of these units helped us to subsequently sell complete floors.
- Does Church Street Holdings have plans for any new investments in commercial real estate in Singapore now so many have been successfully sold?
Because of the success that we’ve had with our previous investments we are keen to look for new opportunities in Singapore. Currently we’re looking to focus on establishing Grade A office space.
- There are rumours that you will be venturing next into the US property market as high competition and low rates of lending see commercial real estate prices surpass the 2007 peak in the completion of a seven-year turnaround. How attractive is the US for Capital Management Group in terms of future real estate investment?
We have previously explored various markets, including the USA, however we feel that our current focus should be on developing in markets where we have strong local partners and investors. While the USA isn’t currently on our radar screen, we continue to keep an eye out for new opportunities. Dubai, Europe, and of course, the Seychelles are all interesting prospects for future projects.
- The new Six Senses Zil Pasyon luxury resort and spa is scheduled to open for business on the private island of Félicité in the Seychelles later this year. How will this visionary project create truly memorable and unique experiences for guests?
Zil Pasyon, managed by Six Senses, will be one of the most iconic and sought after Resorts and Residences in the Seychelles. The picturesque landscape coupled with exclusive facilities will redefine luxury and privacy. We are all very excited for the grand opening next year!
- How do you believe the opening of the Six Senses resort will affect tourism across the Seychelles?
The Seychelles offers a variety of attractions which visitors of Six Senses will be able to take advantage of. As a beautiful location for weddings and other celebrations, it will draw larger parties of visitors who will want to see everything that the Seychelles has to offer.
I believe the resort will set new standards in eco-tourism, offering a level of luxury and privacy which will attract travellers to the Seychelles who are looking for high quality accommodation.
- Which other hospitality investments and resorts does Capital Management Group have an interest in, both within the Seychelles and across the globe?
We are currently developing a new integrated resort on the main island Mahe. It will include a Five Star hotel, Casino, Designer Residences, High end shopping and a marina. As many of these attractions are lacking in the Seychelles, it will be a considerable development.
- Intelvision has been providing affordable telephone, broadband internet and cable television services to the Seychelles for over a decade. How do you believe the Intelvision philosophy of providing internet services that are accessible and affordable to all has affected the lives of the poorer families in the region?
We have certainly changed the entertainment scene in Seychelles, both in terms of providing affordable access to television and also the internet. Our aim to be the cheapest provider, with more channels then any of our competitors, has enabled us to compete head on with giants like Cable & Wireless. We are still way ahead of them in terms of content, price and efficiency.
The effect that this had in making services available to poorer families in the region is reflected in our large customer base; we have almost 90% of the market share in Cable TV and 40% in internet. We are in 80 % of the homes in the Seychelles through Fibre-optic or HFC.
- What are the main objectives of Intelvision looking into the future?
Our next step of expansion is in the mobile industry, launching a mobile service through a 4G platform.
- How does Intelvision combine profitability with the provision of affordable services that are accessible to all Seychelles households?
We achieve this by ensuring that our overheads are kept low. By making sure that we have no exorbitant head office expenses, we are able to keep an advantage over our competitors and pass on those savings to our customers.
- What expectations do you have for the new 3G and 4G network roll-out through Intelvision?
We will be lower in price than the other networks, also launching access to TV via mobiles using a state of the art network.
- You serve on the board of Softbank PrinceVille Investments, which has recently closed a $250 million fund for new technology start-ups and expansions within the Asian region. How do you believe this fund will be different than others?
The advisory board is made up of highly respected industry professionals, which is something that sets us apart from the rest.
We also have a solid team at Softbank, they source various deals in the technology space. Sound investments in companies, such as Fitbit, are also important.
- Why do you believe more and more tech companies are seeking global expansion into the Asian market ahead of Europe?
Asia has developed a world renowned reputation as being industry leaders; it is the new normal in technology, not only in terms of markets and finance but also talent. There is a continually growing talent pool which is why many tech companies are looking to Asia for expansion.
- What led to your appointment as Economic Advisor to the Seychelles President in 2000?
It was a number of factors, but I believe the key one was my strong track record on managing companies and possessing the ability to turn around those making a loss.
- The Valabhji family have been involved in a variety of trading businesses within the Seychelles for more than 75 years to date. Which family enterprises particularly inspired your own interest in trading?
I think it was not what the family had been doing over the 75 years, but what it was not doing.
It has always been a local Seychelles focused company and all investments and assets were based in the Seychelles. I was interested in taking it internationally.
This drive for expansion is why most of my activities are now overseas. The relative size of the Seychelles economy is small; if you want to grow you need to diversify and go into new markets.