President and CEO of Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica, Tehmina Adaya has been hard at work prepping the family-owned business for an expansion to five more locations in the next five years. Adaya also heads up the record label, So Sweet Records. More on her hotelier views after the jump.
How did you come to be associated with Shangri-La? I come from a family that owns commercial real estate and my father bought the Shangri-La in 1983. The family ran it as a mom-and-pop hotel for years, but my father handed the reins to me a few years ago. It’s still a privately owned and managed lifestyle business. I’m a family girl, who is wholly invested in the lifestyle business—as an hotelier in a fantasy destination for the hospitality industry.
How did you get your start? I’m originally from Pakistan, but moved to California when I was 12. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and still live six blocks away. My father was my mentor; he set the example of being a balanced individual and was a successful entrepreneur who worked until nine o’clock every night. I grew up in a family business environment. When my father became ill, he began to hand the family business baton to me, the youngest of six children. He groomed me all my life and put me in charge of his whole portfolio. I’m now the trustee for everything. My mother is alive and well, and a great supporter.
Who do you look up to in the hospitality industry? Ian Schrager did an amazing thing for the hospitality industry in general. Where I differ from him is in the elitism at the Gramercy Park Hotel. I also admire André Balazs, who has made the Chateau Marmont better and better. My personal mentors are Goodwin Gaw, who owns the Hollywood Roosevelt—another historic building—and turned it into a very dynamic space instead of a museum where nobody wants to stay. Another person I like is Mark Rosenthal of the Sunset Marquis, which is now an urban sanctuary that didn’t give up an inch of their history.
What do you predict for 2010? Part of the hospitality industry is turning into a lifestyle industry—now you go into a hotel and see beautiful art and hear relevant music, get different bath products in your room, consume different drinks in a unique bar, meet more interesting people. Even if you lead a suburban lifestyle, once you stay at the right hotel, you feel young and dynamic. You feel like you know what’s happening. The hospitality industry is also becoming more environmentally responsible. Our hotel is much more green than it’s ever been, and even the bath product bottles are biodegradable—they’re made of cornstarch and disintegrate in a landfill. Our toilets are green too, they’re dual flush toilets! I read a shocking old statistic that claimed that one American used as much natural resources as 40 Bengalis. My father would get upset if I left the tap on while brushing my teeth because he said, “You’re answerable to God and the environment for everything you waste.”
Positive changes in ’09? You were once treated as either a nobody or as a VIP. Now hosts are treating all guests with an equal hand with the economic downturn in full swing.
Something that people might not know about you? I don’t think people really know that I’m involved in the music industry, that I have my own dance music label, So Sweet Records, and that I adore fashion and I love designers like Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Alaia. I’m a complete Anglophile; I love that England is so culturally dynamic and socially diverse, which comes from living in Pakistan for the first 12 years of my life. My husband and I are both Muslims, although his mother is Turkish and his father is Lebanese. He was born in Kuwait where his father was brought to head the nation’s medical profession—his father delivered all of the royal babies there as well.
What’s your favorite city? London! I get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t visit twice a year.
Any non-industry projects in the works? Raising my children. My eldest son, 20, told me he was really proud of me when I started the hotel and the record label because it made things seem possible for him and said, “I can see my mother doing it, and it really inspires me.” The label is another child to me. I also started a school and worked hard at it—it’s an elementary school, pre-school-to-sixth grade called New Horizon. My father donated the land, and I had it accredited within five years.
Where are your go-to places in LA? First, I love SkyBar; it started the whole outdoor lifestyle bar thing in Los Angeles and is fabulously done at the Mondrian. I love the Chateau Marmont; that’s the property I would compare our historic hotel to—it’s a comfortable place with stellar service and impeccable food. Nothing compares to the Four Seasons, and you can actually smoke outside! I love The Edison, located in an industrial ballroom; it’s timelessly hot. I really like Foxtail, it’s just beautiful and reminiscent of Biba in London in the 1970s. My favorite indoor bar is at the Sanderson in London—very French and delicate, mirrored, like a doll house or a jewel.