From India to Burma, then Kathmandu, across to Hong Kong and now New Zealand - Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala's family took quite a trek before he arrived here to establish its Auckland outpost 18 years ago.
The founder of New Zealand's expanding $300 million Sudima Hotel chain tells of his family's tortuous migration route, having factories seized and suffering racial prejudice. Yet he harbours no grudges against those who created hardship for them.
"My grandfather Brijlal Jhunjhnuwala left India to make a living in 1917," says Sudesh. "India was a colony then and jobs were scarce, while Burma was booming.
"When World War II happened and the Japanese invasion took place, my family had to evacuate Burma and walk to India in a refugee convoy. They returned once the war ended."
The family established two textile factories in Burma but the military government nationalised those in 1961. So they left their new home, this time moving to Kathmandu in 1968.
"Whatever was in demand in Kathmandu, we imported. But we got persecuted there. Too many Indians in businesses were flourishing. They wanted to make an example of us as the biggest so they harassed us via the tax department and other government departments."
It was in the mid-70s that his father, Laxmi Niwas Jhunjhnuwala, decided to move to Hong Kong. Sudesh later went to the United States to study.
Meanwhile, Laxmi came to New Zealand in 1991 to set up a property portfolio here. That year he bought the Central Park office complex in Greenlane/Penrose, then the Wiri wool stores, and the 7ha Masport industrial estate on the Mt Wellington Highway in Panmure.
Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala sums up his history: "I grew up in Hong Kong, then went to school in the US at the University of Southern California, then joined the family business. We had a lot of buying power so my dad came down to New Zealand and liked what he saw so decided to buy Central Park in 1991 when it was run down. He then bought the Masport site. He bought industrial land, for example, the Wiri wool store. My father never migrated but I came here to look after the New Zealand part of the business."
In 2001 Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala moved to New Zealand to look after the group's property portfolio, furthering the family business, Hind Management, and establishing Sudima Hotels.
"My siblings' names - to make 'Sudima', with a bit of poetic licence - are my sister
Sushila, then brothers Dinesh, Arun, Anil and Manoj." And to reflect a welcoming brand, the 'u' in the name becomes a smiley face in the company's logo.
Jhunjhnuwala arrived in New Zealand with his wife and their three daughters, then began building the national hotel chain by taking advantage of the family's existing commercial property holdings via Hind Management - its name a reference to the family's strong Hindu roots.
"Hind Management has been managing all of the properties under the Sudima Hotels franchise for over 10 years. Apart from the day-to-day running of the hotels, Hind Management has played a role in the build and pre-opening of a newly built hotel, major refurbishment of hotel wings and the conversion of pre-existing hotels to the Sudima brand," says Hind. "Furthermore, we have managed technology upgrades to the hotels' operating systems. Our services have helped Sudima Hotels excel and establish itself in the market."
Hind owns the hotels as well as a 5000sq m warehouse in Wiri and an East Tamaki property.
Sudima's newest hotel is in the centre of Christchurch, on Salisbury St near the Victoria St clocktower. Jhunjhnuwala bought that new development with an adjoining commercial building, joined by an atrium. He offers apartment-style accommodation in the new building, and sees Christchurch as the gateway to the South Island, crucial to New Zealand's tourism,
The 86-room, $40m Sudima Christchurch is said to be the first newly-built hotel in the city CBD since the earthquakes. Management is targeting the international and business market, with rooms fitted with full kitchens and laundries, allowing long-stay occupation.
Rates start from around $300 a night.
In Auckland, construction is underway on the first Sudima in the city's CBD, at the intersection of Nelson St and Wellesley St, opposite the $703m NZ International Convention Centre, the almost-finished SkyCity Entertainment Group project. The 200-room hotel will have a gym, rooftop bar, separate bar and restaurant.
The 4.5-star property is expected to be finished around July next year.
"What a lot of people don't realise is if there's a 3000-person conference happening, it doesn't mean SkyCity can accommodate them all, so that's why they need hotels around to support them," says Jhunjhnuwala. "Nelson St is being built because of the NZICC, otherwise that site would not be worth half as much. We have a lot of contact with SkyCity.
"The area around our site has been extensively developed in recent years and is now a hub for hospitality, entertainment, events and major conferences, so we are looking forward to introducing a new accommodation choice for leisure and corporate travellers who want a high level of service and comfort in a hotel with a focus on sustainability and social responsibility."
Callum Mallett, SkyCity Auckland hospitality executive general manager, has cited that new Sudima and Safari Group's new Ramada Victoria Hotel and Suites nearby on the corner of Victoria St and Graham St as examples of new hotel developments around the NZICC.
Mallett expects another two or three hotels to rise near the NZICC because of the amount of business anticipated.
Back in the South Island, the new $30m Sudima Kaikōura is due to open next October, aiming to capture the approximately 60 per cent of tourists who visit that town when travelling through the South Island. Jhunjhnuwala says that property will strengthen the Sudima chain's national character.
"We looked at Kaikōura and thought it's time had come," says Jhunjhnuwala. "The Kaikōura hotel [is being developed by] a syndicate of investors with Hind Group."
And the potential to establish the chain in Australia and Fiji is "still on the cards but we have two developments on here. We just want to finish that."
Group debt will be below 50 per cent of assets when the new hotels are finished, he says.
Daughter Vedika Jhunjhnuwala followed dad, attending the University of Southern California where she got a science and business administration degree. She is now Sudima's hotel development executive.
Sudima aims to reduce its carbon emissions to zero, bans single-use plastic items, has replaced plastic water bottles with glass, and its chefs and cleaning staff use biodegradable gloves. It claims to be New Zealand's first hotel chain to offer guests free biodegradable slippers, refills bathroom products to cut plastic waste and offers toothbrushes with wooden handles. No plastic straws are allowed in any of the chain's properties, and plastic food containers are either re-used or replaced by cans.
Hinduism is central to Jhunjhnuwala's life and he says those environmental aspects are all part of his core beliefs: "It says you just have to put your head down, into work and you will get your just rewards. But I am not a person who goes to temple. You do as much as you want to do. It's the practice of doing the right thing, being kind and that's what we try to cultivate.
"Hind Group has core human values and that runs through everything from the environmental aspects to how we manage our staff. Our staff turnover is half the industry average."
• Sudima Auckland Airport, Airpark Dr, Mangere
• Sudima Rotorua, Eruera St
• Sudima Christchurch Airport, 550 Memorial Ave
• New Sudima Christchurch City, Salisbury St, opened May
• Sudima Auckland City, corner Nelson St/Wellesley St
• Sudima Kaikōura: Hind Management + investors
SUDESH KUMAR JHUNJHNUWALA:
• Age: 57
• Position: Owner/chief executive Sudima Hotels, Hind Properties
• Lives: In Kohimaramara
• Office: 155 Queen St, corner Queen St/Wyndham St
• Last book read: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
• Last film watched: The Intouchables , a drama about a quadriplegic and his caregiver
• Last trip: To India's Rishikesh, "a hippy place I'd heard all about but never seen"