The Shah family explain how they are continuing the dream founded by Anant Jivan Shah to bring innovative ventures celebrating Seychellois heritage to the islands. Describing their labours of love, and working together as a close-knit family, they recount their inspiration and their hopes for the future.
The Shah family’s success started with Anant, known as A.J. Shah, a versatile and visionary man whose enthusiasm for life was reflected in his many interests and business ideas.
Born in Victoria in May 1933, he was the son of businessman Jivan Jetha Shah, who arrived in the Seychelles from Gujarat, India, in 1894 and established Jivan Jetha & Company which traded in copra, cinnamon bark, vanilla and other local produce. The family business also included a large retail store, banking and a shipping agency. Anant spent the first 18 years of his life in Seychelles and after graduating from Seychelles College, he went to India in 1952 to study, attaining degrees in business and law. He went on to qualify as a chartered accountant and settled in Hyderabad, India, marrying Jayshree and bringing up his young family – twins Anil and Sunil and daughter Monisha. Sadly, Anil died at just six months old.
Anant stayed in close touch with his brothers in the Seychelles and together they shared their many business ideas – which led him to set up enterprises as diverse as a grape farm, steel works and a textile printing factory back in India.
Anant came home to the Seychelles in 1980 and promptly set up his accounting firm, joined in 1988 by son Sunil who also qualified as a chartered accountant. The practice went from strength to strength, becoming BDO Associates in 2008 with an intake of partners from the foremost practice in Mauritius.
Never one to stand still, Anant embraced the chance to diversify his business skills. With son Sunil, he developed The Creole Spirit, a commercial building in the heart of the capital Victoria, and Enchanted Island Resort on Round Island, comprising ten villas and a vintage style hotel and spa, evoking the romantic era of the Seychelles from times gone by. Even towards the end of his life he was a driven man, working with his son on the Enchanted Waterfront project to build an exclusive collection of luxury villas using traditional styles. He passed away on 12 June 2015.
An enchanted paradise
Sunil recounts that the inspiration for the Enchanted Island Resort followed a conversation with his father one evening in the car. His father was bemoaning the loss of the old Creole buildings and their simple charm. “I quietly went home and I said to myself, ‘Papa has just given me the most brilliant idea…what we are going to do on Round Island is recreate the Seychelles that is now fast-disappearing. Let’s recreate that old Seychelles, so that the old architectural style and interiors with old-world furniture is brought back to life.’”
Research was done lovingly, with many photographs taken of old architecture on the main island of Mahé, and the older generation asked for their memories of the old Seychelles, while Sunil searched far and wide for antique furniture to recreate an authentic-feeling interior. Over an eight-year period he collected over 100 pieces of antique furniture – some items being in a dilapidated state – and set up a workshop in India exclusively to restore them.
The resort was pieced together painstakingly. The villas have been designed in an unpretentious style that does not detract from the real star of the island – its natural beauty. The utmost reverence for the natural environment was observed during construction, with material carefully transported to the island on a barge above the precious coral reef, while no mature trees were cut down with structures being designed around them and the beautiful rock formations that symbolises Seychelles. In fact, over 20,000 trees and plants were planted during the process. Solar power – in plentiful supply – is used to heat water for the resort and a small organic plantation provides herbs and fruits – as local as you can get.
Luxury and heritage side by side
The resulting resort encapsulates the Creole charm of times gone by, but with a modern twist. With only 10 villas, the resort feels like an exclusive club, with all the facilities you would expect: library, bar, gym and spa. “When anyone steps onto this island,” says Sunil, “two things should happen to that person; one, the individual should feel that he or she is in the Seychelles, that identity should be there, and two, they should be transported back in time, not the Seychelles of today, but to Seychelles of the 1930s, the one that my father was born into”.
The resort – secluded, but only a 10 minute boat journey from Mahé – epitomises the height of luxury in a tropical paradise. Each villa has its own beach access, infinity pool, outdoor shower and gazebo to enjoy the ambience. The island is one of several that make up the Sainte Anne National Marine Park – an area of outstanding beauty with crystal-clear water, powdery sands and colourful aquatic life. It’s no wonder that Sunil speaks so lovingly of this enchanted paradise.
Sunil sums up the feelings the resort evokes saying, “It’s about going back in time, it’s warm…and you feel like a house guest. It’s unpretentious and there is no bling about it”.
Despite Sunil’s love for the resort shining through his words, he has been astute enough to take a step back from running operations. “My father and I were very clear. We are accountants by profession… we will develop this resort but we will not run this resort”. Instead, they appointed Dubai-based JA Resorts & Hotels to manage the resort, making their vision of a luxury but homely experience that harks back to another era, a reality.
It’s a family affair
What adds to the cosy ambience is that Sunil’s daughter Sanjna and son Vishal have followed their grandfather’s and father’s footsteps into the family business after having graduated from university in the UK. “It was just kind of instilled since we were young,” explains Sanjna. “I remember sitting around the dining table with my dad and grandad having very deep business conversations at five or six years old. It just felt natural.”
Around the time of her graduation in accounting, finance and business management, Sanjna took her grandfather’s passing as a sign to return to the Seychelles and take up the vocation that she had been preparing for all her life.
Whilst they continue to be involved in the oversight of their island resort, Sunil and his two children have embarked on a new boutique resort, residences and marina development in the Seychelles comprising of 10 luxurious villas. The private pool villas at Enchanted Waterfront continue the theme of the Enchanted brand and are being built in a contemporary Creole style that epitomises casual luxury. 5 of these villas are being offered for sale and the owners have the option of returning it to the resort rental pool.
A non-stop labour of love
Sanjna paints an attractive picture of their work and family life together. ‘The office’ is part of their family home, which affords many advantages – an idyllic setting that allows them to spend time with their mother, Babita, and their grandmother, no commuting time and the knowledge that a home-cooked lunch will be waiting for them upstairs. This doesn’t mean that they don’t put in the hours – the business day starts at 7:30am and can end late into the evening, but in reality, it’s a non-stop labour of love. “It’s not an 8:00 to 4:00 job, it’s twenty-four hours” says Sanjna.
Despite the challenges of working with her nearest and dearest, Sanjna appreciates the benefits that working in the family business has afforded. “It’s a lot less structured and I feel like I have a lot more freedom. Whilst there are always things that need to get done, there is no regimented schedule which allows me a lot more flexibility in terms of work and travel.”
Brother Vishal explains how he has followed in his sister’s footsteps: “She went to university first…so I knew what it was like straight away. I think maybe for me it was a bit easier to merge into the family business than it would’ve been for her because by the time I joined her, she already knew what it was like, which was very helpful”.
Vishal echoes his sister’s positive sentiments about working for his father, emphasising the breadth of work that he is involved in: “I really enjoy working for the family business. I feel like the exposure that we are getting, we wouldn’t get if we had a job elsewhere straight out of university. Our work here ranges from interacting with senior government officials, architects, coordinating the project teams, construction site visits, sales initiatives as well as routine administrative matters. So it’s a wide range of things that you’re doing and no two-days are the same.”
While Vishal concedes that working outside of the family home would help draw a clearer line between work and leisure time, he appreciates the closeness of their set-up benefits the business. “Let’s say you’re at home in the evening, you’re having dinner, you’re having drinks, and you get an idea. It’s easy to bounce that idea off my dad and my sister straight away without having to go to the office next day and try and get a meeting organised, it just makes it much quicker and much easier”.
So how does the dynamic of three different personalities work? Sunil appreciates the different qualities that each family member brings to the business: “I know what they are good at and therefore it is task driven. And more often than not, you get to put all the three heads together”.
And of anyone thinking of setting up a family business, Vishal has some words of wisdom: “I think the key piece of advice I would give is that as a family you have to be very strong. If you want to work together in a business, your family bond has to be very, very strong”.
Sanjna is quick to add: “A lot is at stake, and I can’t just say ‘Okay I quit.’ This is my house, this is my dad, this is my brother”.
The best of both worlds
Sunil explains his approach to employing two of his children in his business, and how their experiences at university and subsequently working in the family business should inform their next steps. He was keen for them to see what the family business is all about and see how they could apply their knowledge and fresh ideas to make it grow rather than seeking employment elsewhere. Sunil’s youngest daughter, Divya, will be following her passion and pursing architecture at university in a few months’ time – a profession that will fit well into the family enterprise.
It seems that Sunil’s pragmatic approach, offering his children the freedom to try new ventures, has paid off. Both Sanjna and Vishal express their enthusiasm for the family business, while keeping an open mind about the future.
What is certain is that Anant Jivan Shah’s entrepreneurial spirit lives on in his son and grandchildren, all sharing a vision of preserving the best of Seychellois heritage with eyes set firmly on the future. There can be no better definition of paradise than that.