Staying free, independent and going global

Standard International is one of the last-remaining independent lifestyle brands, with many of its peers now under the roof of big global chains. CEO Amber Asher says parent Sansiri is a huge driver, and is, of course, doing anything but standard

Global growth is finally happening for Standard Hotels, with eight open in New York (two), Miami, Bangkok, Ibiza, Hua Hin, Maldives and London, and upcoming ones in Singapore, Melbourne, Brussels, Lisbon and Dublin, among others. Take us through the expansion and why it’s finally happening.
We’ve been on a global growth path since Sansiri took over a majority stake (from 37 per cent in 2017 to 59 per cent in 2019).

As you know, with hotel deals, some can go quickly while others take a long time. We opened Standard Ibiza in six months, but Standard Lisbon, which we started in 2018, will now open in 2025 because it was an old military hospital so there’s a lot of work to do for entitlements, excavations and so on.

Our biggest period of growth was actually during Covid. We signed multiple hotel management agreements. Interest rates right now in the global economy has more impact on hotel deals but we are continuing to push forward.

So, our growth has been happening; it just takes time.

Interesting that your biggest growth was during Covid. A company that thrives on uncertainty?
Part of it is we are a nimble, entrepreneurial brand that can pivot quickly with different projects because we don’t have to be as prescriptive in how we approach development as the big chains have to. We’re able to partner with different developers around the world and we have the flexibility in how we approach doing a hotel.

The other part is we believed travel and hospitality would come back stronger than ever, so we focused a lot on getting deals done. We grew our development team. When I started with the company 12 years ago, we had two or three people in development, now we have around 13 people in Bangkok and throughout Asia, Dubai, Lisbon, Latin America and different parts of the US to go out and find great projects that we can develop into Standard, Bunkhouse and Peri (two other brands). The most enjoyable part has been to bring these hotels to life in different parts of the world, from when we started as an American brand.‌

Does having a parent like Sansiri play a huge role in expansion? And now co-founder Srettha Thavsin is Thailand’s prime minister (note: the real estate tycoon is longer involved in Sansiri, relinquishing his shares in the company to his daughter in March as he entered politics)
(Laughs) I know, we’re very proud of him. Frankly, it was Khun Nid (the prime minister’s nickname) who made me CEO and president of Standard International. I’ve learnt a lot from him, his ability to grow a company, his focus and his determination.

Sansiri has changed the game for us in multiple ways. It has the development acumen, global reach and a reputation. Obviously it has provided us with capital, brought deals to us such as Standard in Bangkok, invested in a few of our projects such as Standard Hua Hin, and now we’re developing Standard residences with them in Hua Hin.

Sansiri’s connections and reputation has allowed us to expand in other places in Asia, such as our deal in Singapore (the hotel, slated to open in 3Q2024, is developed by Invictus Developments, owned by the family of Indonesian billionaire Bachtiar Karim).

For a lot of US brands, it is very hard to break into Asia, especially in the hotel business. To have a company that is so well-regarded in a vibrant city such as Bangkok, and is so aligned with Standard, helps us with our growth. We have 45 team members in our Bangkok office. During Covid, it was extremely helpful to have our team there and the support of Sansiri’s team because we were opening hotels and a lot of us were in Europe.

Is he still chairman of Standard International board?
No, he stepped down from all of those roles and removed himself from the business.

They say family-owned hotel businesses in Asia are never free of interference. Do you have a free hand in running Standard International?
Yes, it’s been great. We work closely with our board; our mission is clear, which is to bring incredible hotels to great cities in the world. We also want to create a company that continues to innovate, that focuses on inclusion and diversity, that does, as we say, anything but standard.

It’s now been more than five years since the Standard went from American to Asian hands. Has this reshaped the company’s culture? Are you American or Asian brand, or a mix of both perhaps?
I would say we are still an American brand – our headquarters is in the US, our roots are in America – but we are global now. When we go into different cities, we’re not a company says ‘we’re an American hotel’ in the middle of Khao Yai (Thailand). We try to build something that suits that city, but will also attract guests throughout the world.

We didn’t have that global sensitivity when I started with the company; we had more of a singular perspective as an American brand. It has been a learning experience for us to expand our world view.

I attribute this to the investment from Sansiri and its push to make us a global organisation with teams in Europe, Asia, and we will be in the Middle East.

It doesn’t feel like we’re an Asian-owned company; it just feels like we’re a global company.

We’ve seen small independent brands getting swallowed into bigger chains. What lessons can we learn from Standard as one of the last-standing independent groups?
Perseverance and being nimble. A lot of brands really struggled during Covid – we were lucky we had the right investor group behind us. We were able to make strategic moves such keeping most of our team members. Sansiri’s capital helped us get through that period. It sees the bigger picture versus some private equity companies that come in and have a seven-year horizon.

So, it’s Sansiri’s support, having to remain entrepreneurial, nimble and creative in our projects, and moving quickly and being decisive. That has really helped us to take on projects such as The Standard in Bangkok, which was a quick conversion and was massively different from the originally-envisioned Edition, then an Orient-Express.

We can do things very differently, plus it’s also about staying true to our brand. We retain people that really understand the brand, are interested in culture, nightlife, culinary and fashion, and have the sensibility to translate that no matter if it’s in the US, Lisbon or Bangkok.

What are your views on gender equality at the top. Are things changing too slowly and as a female CEO, what are you doing about it?
It is changing but too slowly. We need more diversity at the top levels of our industry and not just in gender, but race and sexual orientation.

For me, I focus on development from within and it’s not just about promoting people but developing them so they are ready (to take on higher positions). We give them tools, and we pay for people to take classes, for instance, we paid for the business school of our CFO who started as F&B controller at Standard High Line (New York) 13 years ago.

If you ask around, the team will tell you that I try to impart my own experience of having been in a male-dominated business through all these years. I was a real estate and finance lawyer at a big law firm in New York when I was 25 years old. That was always a male-dominated industry. I’ve watched often times how women don’t ask as much as their male counterparts for promotions and raises. As Sheryl Sandberg (former COO of Meta Platforms and founder of said, men ask for promotions based on their future potential, whereas women are promoted for the job they’re already doing. So, I try to see who’s really doing the work, who needs that additional push, that additional knowledge and education, and then I help them grow.

It doesn’t just have to be females but across the board. It’s about trying to create a fair-level playing field by giving people the support that I didn’t necessarily have. I didn’t have a female mentor, besides my mother, who was a businesswoman. This has been one of my projects beyond growing this company and brand. Women can be CEOs of global organisations and still be a mom and a friend.

You have two other brands, Peri, of which there are two currently from the rebranding of Sansiri’s Escape hotels in Hua Hin and Khao Yai, and three more opening in Bangkok and Phuket in the next three years. Your other brand Bunkhouse is not yet in Asia. Will you be taking Peri to the world, and Bunkhouse to Asia?
We want to bring Bunkhouse to Europe and Asia. We’d love to have a Bunkhouse in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Bali and Singapore, among others. Also in Europe in cities like Lisbon and London if we feel the project matches the ethos of what Bunkhouse does.

Peri is all focused in Thailand currently but we would take it outside of Thailand. Our primary growth would still be Standard but there will be projects that make more sense as a Peri due to factors such as key count, public spaces or location. It allows us to expand quicker but we also want to make sure that we’re doing these projects well and that they are successful in the long term.‌

One last question, what’s your recipe for staying upright in life, not upside-down like Standard’s logo?
(Laughs) I get a lot of sleep. I exercise and I spend time with my family and friends. But the thing that drives me the most is productivity, and the excitement of the growth and the progress that we are making at all levels.

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