Earlier this week I had the chance to sit down with the man behind Thailand’s largest entertainment and nightlife group that own countless bars, clubs and restaurants across Bangkok and beyond including the world famous Nana Plaza.
Paul Hayward, does not do interviews. Until now, when he agreed to sit down with Stickboy…
Paul, this is your first ever interview. I would like to first thank you for allowing Stickboy Bangkok this opportunity.
You’re very welcome
I’m going to dive right In. Why has it taken 17 years for you to do this?
I’m not one for drawing attention to myself in the media. I always believed in business the important people are your customers. I would rather spend my time shaking hands and getting to know people rather than being behind a keyboard or a microphone.
Times have changed and social media is the most powerful source to communicate with your audience, so this old dinosaur needs to step up his game.
Recently a website stated you are the largest nightlife operator in Thailand by a country mile, is this true?
I guess so. People should also understand this has taken Micky Doherty and I almost 2 decades to build. We started with just a couple of bars and then built it up from there, adding 1-2 bars a year. It’s doesn’t sound much but over 20 years it adds up.
A lot of mystery and gossip surrounds the Eclipse Group. What do you have to say about that?
Gossip and mystery is good for business. Nightlife is glamorous so over the years I’ve always felt any publicity is good publicity but in the last 8-9 months some people have taken it too far.
A well-known British blogger who fled Thailand in January has written some sensational stories about you. What do you have to say about this?
This blogger fled Thailand because he had a warrant out for his arrest, no other reason. If he comes back to Thailand he will be arrested not because Thailand’s laws about freedom of speech are poor as he likes to say, Thailand takes a dim view on individuals who tell lies about others for commercial gain. If you can prove what you write Thailand is ok. If you can’t, they protect the victim.
A few countries could take a leaf out of Thailand’s book on this. How many lives do these bloggers ruin?
Regarding the accuracy of his stories? I would say that he has got a couple of things right like err my name and my partners name. The rest is bordering on ridiculous. When you get into the nightlife business you have to become thick skinned. You will be likened to a sinister figure, the bigger you get the more absurd the rumours will become. I remember being in the clubs back home and gossiping with the other patrons about the club owners. Now people do it me. It’s part of the business.
Is it true you blocked his website in Thailand?
Absolutely not. He has worked hard to achieve that all by himself. He has 60+ court cases against him. A warrant out for his arrest and he has criticised this political regime, previous ones, the Army, the Police. Thailand has had enough of him.
Why haven’t you answered his accusations before now?
Because I wanted to do it in the court room. But he just won’t face me. His tells his readers that he has this and he has that. Then put up or shut up. He refuses to be served by my lawyers. He emails my lawyers asking if I want an address to serve the papers, when my lawyers respond “yes” he responds “you can’t have it”.
It’s important people understand what are the traits of a good blogger. You need to be a traffic whore. The more clicks you get the more advertising money you can make. The more sensational the story the higher the traffic. If you write a story that states someone is a good guy no one will want to read it. If you write someone is a bad guy people love it. A blogger gives his audience what they want. But a really good blogger knows that he needs to be able to avoid getting into the court room at any cost as he will never be able to back up his accusations as he had made them up.
People should know the difference between journalism and blogging. Journalism is researched articles written based on facts, proof and credible sources. Any blogger who claims to be a journalist but doesn’t follow these simple rules is a disgrace because he or she is misleading people.
How do you feel about this blogger personally?
I don’t really know the man. I’ve never met him.
We have spoken three times on the phone. One time he called me fishing for gossip. The second time we spoke about an investment in his new magazine concept, which I declined. The final time we spoke is when he asked me to do an airport check on a friend of his as a favour.
I only have issues with the lies he writes and that he is never man enough to stand by his accusations after an article is written.
The other time his name came up is when I recieved an anonymous email asking for $20,000,000 to be paid into an offshore bank account or my life would be made difficult on Google. That email told me to contact the blogger to work out the finer details. Let’s leave that one for court, yeah?
Are the rumors true you worked as a telephone salesperson when you first came to Thailand?
Absolutely not. Eclipse owned a chain of restaurants at the time it’s claimed I did that. What people don’t realise is Eclipse was trading in Hong Kong before expanding into Thailand in the summer of 1998.
This will be a blow to the people who believe your empire was built on millions of dollars of cash needing to be invested.
If you look at the balance sheets of my business you will see the share capital of my outlets. This includes the builds and the buys. If you look at the dividends stream of the Group you will see the dividends are greater than the share capital. That’s shows clearly we grew organically. The facts are there if people can be bothered to look. But that’s not an exciting story is it?
How do you think you are perceived by those who don’t know you or never met you in person?
Probably as a James Bond villain with sharks under a trapdoor in my elevator? People that know me and people that don’t will have a very broad range of ideas on what I’m like. But if you want to know me, come say hello, mines a Jack Coke.
Everybody wants to know about Nana Plaza. The rumour for years was that Nana Plaza was going to be demolished then out of nowhere came the news that you guys had taken it over. How did this come about?
I heard a few years ago that Qbar was going to be knocked down so I approached the then owners at the time to find out what was happening. They told me the lease was up and they couldn’t get the landlords on the phone. I always wanted to be a part of Qbar so I made the owners a proposition. If I can get you a new lease and provide enough cash to remodel and upgrade the place will you let me in 50/50. They agreed. We brought our side to it and the partnership was in place.
At the meeting I picked the landlords brains about property investment in the area. Indians and Thais always hear about the good property plays before farrangs. Nana Plaza was mentioned in passing. Seven sisters has inherited the land from the old boy who had passed. They wanted nothing to do with a red light area. The rest is history.
You have been criticised for hiking the rents. Is this criticism fair?
Well it’s true. We did increase the rents to bring the prices in line with the rest of Sukhumvit. The rental on my own places are the same as Nana and some higher.
Some bars were paying 7,000 baht per month rent for the last 10 years based on old handshakes. I think they had a good run.
Rumours are circulating that after the tenants 9 years are up Nana Plaza will be sold and developed into a large hotel and that no tenant can get a lease extension. Can you shed any light on this?
Nana Plaza will be around longer than anyone reading this article. It’s an institution. It’s going nowhere.
There were rumours a couple of years back you and Micky were going your own separate ways.
Again with the rumours. Micky and I have our differences and we argue like an old married couple. Then we sit down and discuss both sides and we both end up agreeing I’m right. I’m joking of course. We are a great team. Always pick your partners more carefully than you pick your wife. You can divorce a wife easily enough. Not so easy to move on a bad partner.
What’s the Eclipse groups plans for the future?
There has been no Eclipse Group for quite some time now. We were very close to floating on the stock exchange so it made sense for a while to pool all companies under one umbrella. We abandoned that idea a few years ago so we broke the Group up into multiple corporations for tax reasons. But our plans for the future are what they always have been. To ensure we have the best product available for patrons, whether it be food, cocktails, light or sound. We will always strive to be the market leader.
What’s the plans for Paul personally?
Be healthy and be happy.
Any advice to new expats coming to Thailand?
Yes. Stay away from drugs and motorcycles. The amount of funerals I have been to that involves either one of those two!!!!
Can you give my readers another couple of nuggets? Many are coming to Thailand and want to open businesses.
OK. I will give you two more. Firstly, If you are going to be a minority shareholder in a partnership never take less that 26 percent. This must be your minimum level of entry. Thai law only really protects people at 26% as they also have to offer you a directorship at this level.
Secondly, your directors are important not just a formality. A Thai director with no equity in your business can transfer all of your shares out of your name without your signature at companies house. So think before you consider yourself clever giving the maid or your driver a few thousand to sign a bit of paper.
Yes. Never ever put any assets in your Thai girlfriend or wife’s name. I do not understand why expats keep doing this. Love and business are not the same thing. That’s chapter one in my up and coming book.
Eh? You’re going to write a book?
Yes. I want to write a couple actually. The first one is going to be called “An Idiots Guide To Owning A Bar In Thailand”. I want to write a very simple book for people to read before they open a bar. I am still baffled that people open a bar thinking it’s easy and do it with zero experience. 7/10 bars fail in Thailand. It’s a risky business even with experience. But the horror stories I hear about people losing their asses are endless. So I’m writing a book for them.
What’s the second book?
Your kidding? That would be an interesting read. Can Stickboy have the exclusive?
Let’s see. It will cost ya.
I’ll wrap things up for now by saying thank you for taking the time today.