John Spence (L. 1975-80)
Monday, 25 February 2013

While at the College John Spence played the Judge in the Government Inspector November 1976; and William Dudgeon in The Devil's Disciple 1978. He also had poems and prose published in the Brightonian throughout his time at the College, which he also sub-edited, and played in a rock band (considered very edgy in its time!). He went off to York University to study, but got way-laid by his burgeoning social life which he then turned into a rather impressive career. Named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 by Ernst & Young, John is the entrepreneurial chairman and owner of Karma Royal Group. The OB office managed to catch up with him on a beach somewhere in the Maldives...

  1. When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you 'grew-up'?
    I think I thought I probably wanted to be a writer, but what I most wanted to be when I grew up was in a rock band, but unfortunately I was the worst guitarist in the world and can't sing! We even had a band at school called the wild dogs!! However I dropped out of university after a year to pursue a career as an agent in the music business and through luck rather than any skill ended up with bands like Culture Club and the Eurythmics.
  2. What are you now you've grown up?
    I sincerely hope I haven't grown up!
    However I am now the owner, chairman and CEO of the Karma Royal Group (www.karmaroyalgroup.com). I started the company 20 years ago and our primary business is the development, sale and management of high quality holiday resorts in some of the most attractive parts of the world. We currently have 22 operational resorts and 6 under development in places such as Australia, Bali, India, Thailand, Europe and the Caribbean. We also develop and operate related amenities such as spas and beach clubs. Two of my three main board members are also Old Brightonians, Robert Faulkner (H. 1973-79) and Russell Knight (H. 1974-78), we were friends at the College!
  3. What is your best memory of school?
    Many good memories.....girls in the 6th form, winning a squash epic, over Lancing I think and sneaking off for half a pint at lunchtime to the Bristol.
  4. What was the best piece of advice you were given?
    CARPE DIEM (seize the day) I try and live by that maxim every day.
    I believe very much in the concept of 'Blink' as expounded by Malcolm Gladwell - we can make a decision in the blink of an eye, so do so and move forward quickly.
    The other maxim I love is TUTTO E SUBITO... everything and now!
  5. What do you do /did you do as a career?
    I always tell people that I am not really a developer, a hotelier, a company director..... I am mostly a salesman - I used to sell bands, and then I moved into selling holiday properties and holidays in general. I have never had a real job!
    We are in the business of finding land in a beautiful location then developing something equally beautiful on it, and then selling it to people; either as real estate, timeshare, fractional ownership, or by the night. We are selling holidays, lifestyle and dreams.
  6. What does your job involve?
    I started the company 20 years ago with 20 people ... We now employ over 2,000, so I have done pretty much everything over that time. These days a lot of my time is spent finding new sites and working with my managers to help motivate and manage our teams. I tend to get hands on from time to time, but they probably wish I didn't!
    I also do a lot of PR work and promote the company generally, and also do a number of non-company functions. I was recently honoured to be asked to be a judge for the Global Entrepreneur of the Year Awards (I am a past winner). I was also delighted to have been recently given a Fellowship at Yale University and will be joining the teaching faculty for a term (rather amusing as I dropped out of York University after a term and have limited academic qualifications).
  7. What are the most challenging parts of your job?
    I travel an enormous amount (approx. 180 days a year), but luckily I still greatly enjoy it and have an element of a gypsy in me. It is sometimes challenging to always be able to daily motivate people... I firmly believe that companies need to see that the leader has a clear vision and a plan to achieve it. But in general I have the best job in the world!
  8. What have you done that you are most proud of?
    I am proud of many business achievements and accolades and obviously of the fact that we have taken the company from nothing to a turnover of in excess of 100 million a year without ever incurring any debt.
    However I am most proud of the philanthropic work we have done. I took my children recently to the Christel House Charity School in Bangalore, India where we look after and feed almost 700 children and ensure they get a proper western style education. It is based on the concept that if you give a man a fish you feed him today but if you teach him to fish you feed him forever. The kids there are all orphans or even worse street children and the project is trying to help break the cycle of poverty. The school laid on a special day for my children and they saw how they lived, and the difference this school made to them, to see the effect this had on them and to hear how proud and positive they were about my involvement was a fantastic experience.
  9. What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
    The rather trite answer is definitely a long range private jet for all the flying I do every week!
    Also taking a personal trainer with me on the road so I can work out properly every day.
  10. What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
    My iPad (with a long term battery source), fully loaded with kindle books, great music and a selection of games.
    My wine cellar.....I have a passion for wine, mostly drinking it!!
    And firmly believe in another bit of advice I was given as a child:
    You start with Cabernet.....you may play with Syrah.....but eventually you will discover Pinot noir!
    As another friend puts it in his restaurant wine list...
    Wine, it's red and it comes from burgundy!
    And the third thing? 3 a satellite dish so I could watch rugby...
  11. How would you like to be remembered?
    Carpe diem

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