“I’m a foodie, but I’m a vegetarian so I can’t go and buy caviar and filet mignons,” says Sudima Hotel chain founder Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala when asked about his biggest financial indulgence.
A BMW 440i might be the most expensive thing he’s ever bought, he says.
It’s not that Jhunjhnuwala couldn’t afford to splash out a bit. The Sudima chain now stretches to eight hotels around New Zealand as well as several restaurants, bars and boutique spas.
It is a brand he has been building since he moved to New Zealand to run his family’s property business in 2000.
His family have always been entrepreneurial.
Jhunjhnuwala’s Hong Kong-based father began investing in New Zealand property in the 1990s.
But, before Hong Kong, he was a successful businessman and trader in Burma, which is where Jhunjhnuwala spent his early childhood years.
The family had to move abruptly when Jhunjhnuwala was just 6 because a nationalist military coup made it unsafe to remain.
He recalls life in Burma before the coup as being quite relaxed.
“You’re just running around on the streets and next thing you know, hey, you hear the neighbour has been arrested, put behind bars, for no apparent reason,“ he said.
“So we all knew that it’s coming. You had to get out.”
He recalls they could carry out only 20kg a person — that meant all his toys and childhood possessions had to be given away.
“We ended up in Kathmandu and that’s where I did my primary and secondary school, which was quite a shock to the system because I’d never seen mountains or felt cold before,” Jhunjhnuwala said.
His father started again and with help from his brothers, he ended up in Hong Kong.
In 1991, his father visited New Zealand and bought some large industrial and commercial properties, which grew and grew until they eventually needed local management.
That’s when Jhunjhnuwala and his young family settled here.
“I was just turning 40 and it was just the right time,” he said.
New Zealand brought back fond memories of his relaxed early years in Burma.
“What I saw in New Zealand I liked. You could walk down the street barefoot.”
But managing the business was a steep learning curve, Jhunjhnuwala said.
“I’d never been in property business. I realised how much you have to rely on agents to fill your property.”
“The biggest learning I got was you pay your agency fees on time. Pay your commissions on time because there is nothing worse than if the agent has to call you five times to get his commission. He’ll not show you anything. And he’s the guy that you want the good relationship with.”
Jhunjhnuwala’s tough childhood experience also taught him to be cautious in his approach to business.
“Our growth has been organic,” he says of the Sudima chain.
“We don’t take the maximum [debt] limit that we can.
“You know, something like Covid happens, which nobody can plan for, or a GFC.
“What I believe in is doing business the right way,” he said. “We have walked away from deals we thought weren’t so kosher.”
“We don’t want to do anything that will spoil our reputation. My grandfather started business in 1920. That’s a hundred years old, and that’s a lot of reputation that sits on our shoulders.”
Money Talks is a podcast run by the NZ Herald. It isn’t about personal finance and isn’t about economics — it’s just well-known New Zealanders talking about money and sharing some stories about the impact it’s had on their lives and how it has shaped them.