TBY talks to Erdal Seyhan, CEO of MG Development and COO of MG Holding, on the luxury martket, the local workforce, and launching the St. Regis Astana.

Erdal Seyhan
Erdal Seyhan studied tourism and hotel management at the Mediterranean University in Antalya, Turkey. After university he joined Hilton International’s training program, following which he was appointed Purchasing Manager before moving to Hyatt International for the opening of the Hyatt Regency, Istanbul. In 2003 Seyhan moved to Almaty as the Development Director for Capital Partners, and was largely responsible for the company’s rapid expansion through high-profile, landmark projects, including three successful hotels in West Kazakhstan, the Ritz Carlton in Moscow, the transformational Almaty Financial District, the newly completed Esentai Park project, as well as master planning the Chimbulak-Medeo Ski Resort. Seyhan joined Base-MK in 2007 as Operating Partner and CEO. He has been with MG Holding since 2013 and was appointed CEO of MG Development in July 2015 with responsibility for the St. Regis Hotel and Residences as well as the further development of the business.

Last year MG Holding started sales of the Residences at the St. Regis Astana, while the hotel is almost complete. Can you tell us more about the status of these projects?

These products are the first of their kind in this segment, a luxury, fully branded residential product. The majority of actual sales will be officially completed when we have the building occupation certification from the local authorities. Based on our plans, the residences and the hotel will be completed in July. The interior will be done on a customized basis, because, as it is the luxury segment, we cannot provide similar finishes for every client. We have exclusive clients who want their own tastes reflected. We work with Wimberly International, a renowned interior design firm from London that did the interior design of both the hotel and the public areas of the residential building. The residences are unique, with access that is separated from the St. Regis Astana, though residents can still access and use the hotel services.

In terms of investors' interest in the residences, do you expect them to be mostly local?

We expect mostly high-net-worth locals. We do not just offer a residence; we offer a club. It is very much a status symbol, reflecting a customer's status, tastes, and standing in society. They will be part of a select community, the Astana elite, and others from around Kazakhstan. Things are now shifting to Astana, including the financial sector with the Astana International Finance Center, so there will be more need and demand for similar signature projects. There are similar products entering the market that will widen the portfolio of clients and we feel confident that we can compete in that environment, because we have a top-quality project out there. The increase in the scale of quality products is positive for us, with a larger market and more competitive environment in which we expect to thrive.

How would you rate the luxury market today, and where do you see the sector going in the coming years?

Kazakhstan is large; therefore, we should look at it by region. The luxury segment only developed in Astana in the last 20 years, whereas Almaty goes much further back. Therefore, there are still many opportunities for the luxury sector in Astana. If a company does the right thing in Kazakhstan and people get top quality for what they pay for and they love it, they will demand more. Quality is everything. That is what we try to deliver.

How has MG Holding managed to be so successful in just five years?

We have a top management team that is truly excellent. We also believe in outsourcing tasks and operations to make sure we do what we are best at while others do what they are best at—all of us are working toward a common goal. We pick our partners carefully, identifying who to work with in each area, before proceeding with a project. When we work with the best, we get the best. We have no limitations in terms of finding the best partner. For the St. Regis project, for example, we first identified the operator. Then, we looked for the best architect, the best interior designer, the top engineer, and so on. Of course, we also need a team that can manage all these teams; hence, our management company. We let those companies and teams perform and do what they do best, and we manage these projects. We believe in the power of teamwork and spare no costs to work with, find, and attract the best. We may be young, but we are confident in our segment and have strong partners to work with. If any factor other than quality takes precedence in selecting who a company works with, then it naturally compromises quality by definition.

How much of your management team is comprised of local employees and is it a challenge to find talented locals?

Whenever possible, we try to work with the local teams of the companies we work with, rather than with international companies. Still, it is a challenge to find good local partners and professionals with the right skill sets and experience, so we try to bring them together to have a contributory role. That being said, we have four brilliant colleagues just out of university, and we give them a chance to take the initiative and produce work for themselves, delegating responsibility to them. We want to get the younger and newer generations involved and to take pride in the work they do. It is also a much faster and better way to build experience.

What projects do you have in the pipeline here and abroad? What opportunities do you see in the future for additional segments?

As a group of companies, MG Holding is focused on creating and delivering top class commercial real estate projects. While doing extensive research, we have identified potential and growing demand for the wellness industry, which perfectly blends with and complements the luxury real estate sector we are in—both commercial and residential. Thus, we have worked out a separate ambitious project and established an agreement with UFC Gym (US) in 2016 to be its master franchisee for the whole CIS region. We will be responsible for executing UFC Gym's master franchise in 11 countries within the region. That project will kick off soon and we have the most suitable locations to rollout the network of gyms. We are doing our research and want to develop a minimum of 15 clubs. One of the conditions of the agreement is that UFC Gym will come here and set up a management company; this will create opportunities for Kazakhstani citizens to work there. All these are handled by our MG Sport company, which we recently set up. UFC Gym will have a different approach to other fitness centers, mainly oriented to martial arts and sports like boxing, wrestling, judo, aikido, and so on. In this way we will create a life-changing and rewarding experience for our clients in the region.

What is your outlook for 2017?

We look forward to launching the St. Regis Astana and The Residences at the St. Regis Astana and developing UFC Gyms. In terms of the overall economy, I expect things to keep moving forward. Expo 2017 Astana will be a positive stimulus for future activities, especially in Astana. In our sector, there are still many untapped opportunities. We need to continue to do our research and homework. We have a positive outlook for what lies ahead.