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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Sept. 6) - Richard H. Bailey, CEO of Tahiti Beachcomber SA, is the first American to have worked both sides of Tahiti's tourism industry -- the public and private. Now he is the first businessperson in Tahiti to have won the Grand Prix for Entrepreneur of the Year.

With degrees from Stanford and Harvard, two top American universities, Bailey moved from his first job in the banking business to the oil drilling financing business before leaving the U.S. for Tahiti. After five years at the French Polynesia government's tourism promotion office, he entered the private sector, first through a Japanese hotel investor and finally as a hotel owner.

As chairman and CEO of Tahiti Beachcomber SA (TBSA), Bailey owns and operates four InterContinental hotels in French Polynesia. While the newest of those hotels, the InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora is the Rolls Royce of the four hotels, there's still at least one more big challenge facing Bailey--The Brando, a 40-unit hotel on Marlon Brando's atoll of Tetiaroa that the late actor dreamed of. It's still a project that Bailey hopes to realize one day.

Normally Bailey is someone who shies away from the media, more out of mistrust than timidness. But he has been making headlines recently as the local media has written about him as a candidate for four of nine Tahiti Entrepreneur Awards organized by the Temaru government's Tahiti Invest.

Each article has been published with an almost uncharacteristic head shot of Bailey, resting chin in hand, looking at the camera with an over-the-water bungalow from one of his hotels and palm trees blurred in the background. The photo would be more appropriate for the back cover of a novel showing the author.

While not a novelist, Bailey has become the darling of the local press as the winner of the first Tahiti Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He also won the Tahiti Entrepreneur Award for the "eco-dynamic company", having also been nominated for the "innovation award" and the "international company award."

Although the awards were announced Friday night, the local media was still talking about Bailey and the other Tahiti Entrepreneur Award winners in Monday morning's two French language daily newspapers.

One newspaper, Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, had even predicted in Friday morning's paper that "Bailey is likely to win the trophy" for Entrepreneur of the Year. The newspaper, the first French newspaper in Tahiti ever to devote an entire page to an article about Bailey, based its prediction on the May 1 opening of the InterContinental Thalasso Spa.

That InterContinental, French Polynesia's first 21st Century hotel, offers guests "the very first Thalasso-spa ever built in the southern hemisphere", according to the hotel. While the rooms opened on May 1, the Thalasso Deep Ocean spa opened on Sept. 1 becoming "the first in the world to administer care, using water drawn up from the bottom of the ocean." The inspiration for the use of deep ocean water for the spa and to run the hotel's air-conditioning system came from Brando.

Les Nouvelles headlined its article with Bailey's motto for living and working, "Do the right thing". The newspaper described Bailey as "a very relaxed American with a sharp and frank look, a happy air about him as someone who does what he likes. One knows very little about him, other than he is concerned about the future of planet earth. His entourage credit him with having deep human qualities and a discretion that the stars who stay in his dream hotels appreciate."

But Bailey has also proven to be an accomplished businessman in a foreign country with two cultures -- French and Tahitian -- and ways of doing business that sometimes are totally different from his early work experiences in the U.S.

His success in dealing with such elements could explain why the InterContinental hotel chain is one of the stockholders in his Tahiti Beachcomber SA holding company for the four InterContinental hotels. Hotel management chains rarely invest in hotels, but InterContinental initially took a 16 percent stake, which today equals 14.9 percent.

Reflecting his U.S. Deep South heritage as someone who grew up in Lafayette near Louisiana's famous bayous, Cajun language and Cajun food, Bailey today still has a trace of a southern accent. But that accent is part of an overall charm that this handsome nearly 52-year-old businessman uses effectively, regardless of whether he's speaking in English or in fluent French, which he speaks almost with the same cadence as his English.

People who know and work with Bailey often talk about his intelligence, his enthusiasm and his discretion. He respects confidences, can be very outgoing, but can also play his cards very close to his chest, depending on the situation.

He is a thinker, which he sometimes has difficulty hiding as he pauses to collect his words before answering a question. But he's also a doer, who sets examples by being a leader.

He told Les Nouvelles for Friday's personality profile, "To be a good entrepreneur, it is necessary to be well-surrounded, not to be afraid to be surrounded by people more capable than yourself; to have sufficient human qualities to recognize them in others; to assemble and motivate."

In looking over Bailey's 20-year business career in Tahiti, it is not difficult to spot all of those traits, along with the charm, the intelligence and the discretion. Those attributes are probably what helped him to negotiate at one point with a Japanese investment company's 11-bank consortium. They also no doubt played a role in the several years of talks with Marlon Brando--and with his family after the actor's death in July 2004 at the age of 80--about the hotel project for Tetiaroa, 26 miles (42 km) north of the island of Tahiti.

Bailey's first experience with Tahiti's Tourism industry began in 1981 when he became marketing director in Papeéte for the Tahiti Tourism Promotion Office, then known by its French initials as OPATTI. Before leaving OPATTI to go over to the private sector in 1989, Bailey became the first American to head up the tourism promotion office.

The Entrepreneur of the Year award comes as Bailey celebrates his 20th year in Tahiti, which doesn't count the first visit back in the early 1960's when his adventurous father brought the whole family to Tahiti from Lafayette, Louisiana.

"My dad had seen an article in Life magazine about the Bali Hai Boys," Bailey told Jan Prince in a February 2004 interview published in the "Tahiti Beach Press", a weekly English language publication for tourists.

The Bali Hai Boys were three Americans -- Hugh Kelley, Jay Carlisle and Don "Muk" McCallum--who had moved to Tahiti from California in the 60's to buy a vanilla plantation on Moorea. They ended up starting the first American-owned hotel chain, which at its height operated Bali Hai Hotels on Moorea, Raiatea and Huahine plus the Club Bali Hai on Moorea. Today, all that's left is the Club Bali Hai, where Jay, 72, and Muk, 76, are still going strong. Kelley died in 1998.

Bailey, better known as simply "Dick", is the only other American to end up owning four hotels in French Polynesia. Backed by two local businessmen, Bailey's Tahiti Beachcomber SA (TBSA) owns and operates the company's 263-room flagship hotel, the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, the 143-room InterContinental Resort Moorea on Tahiti's sister island, and the 64-bungalow InterContinental Moana Beach Bora Bora and the newest member of the group, the 80-over-the-water-villa InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora in the Leeward Islands.

The Bailey family's first experience in Tahiti was more fun than successful. Dick, who was nine at the time, still remembers Muk throwing him into the lagoon from the boat dock of the Moorea Hotel Bali Hai.

His father's business of making buttons out of mother-of-pearl shells and coconut shells lasted only six months. So Frank, the father, moved Dick, his four brothers and their mother back to Lafayette.

After obtaining a BA and MA at Stanford University between 1976 and 1977 and working as a junior credit officer at the Citibank in New York, Dick returned to Tahiti on vacation in 1978. He ended up meeting Mireille Chin Foo, who became his wife. They moved to Cambridge, Mass., where Bailey finished an MBA degree at Harvard University and Mireille, who had studied law in Paris, finished her education.

The next stop for the young Bailey couple was Dick's stomping ground of Lafayette, Louisiana. He became executive vice president of Vermillion Irrigation, Inc., which had diversified agricultural and oil and gas interests in South Louisiana. Bailey worked with his father in the oil business from 1981 to 1985. "My father would find the oil and I would help find the money to take it out of the ground," he told the Tahiti Beach Press.

When the Reagan Administration repealed the tax deductibility for oil and gas drilling investments, Bailey brought his wife and their U.S.-born one son and two daughters to Tahiti.

Bailey became interested in the hotel industry while working at OPATTI, particularly after meeting Harunori Takahasi, who was among the Japanese real estate investors surfing in the late 1980s on capital investments throughout the world.

Leaving OPATTI in 1989, Bailey went to work for Takahashi's Electronic and Industrial Enterprises (EIE), which became the owner that same year of what was then the Tahiti Beachcomber and the Moorea Beachcomber and the now closed and abandoned 200-room Hotel Tahara'a. The following year, Takahashi bought the new Moana Beach Hotel on Bora Bora.

When Takahashi's financial empire started to unravel in 1995, Bailey spent three years, making some 20 trips to Japan, as he negotiated with EIE's 11-bank consortium to buy the Tahiti and Moorea Beachcomber hotels, which are both InterContinental hotels today.

And for additional financial backing, Bailey approached two local businessmen, René Malmezac and Paul Chichong, who became TBSA shareholders and members of his board of directors in 1998, the Tahiti Beach Press reported.

The three TBSA hotels in the beginning -- Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora -- became Beachcomber Parkroyal hotels operated by Southern Pacific Hotel Corporation (SPHC) of Australia. When SPHC was sold to the InterContinental chain, the three TBSA hotels became InterContinental hotels.

The Bailey family is now spread throughout the world. Yann, 26, is an aerospace engineer in Japan. Kelly, 23, is studying geology with a keen interest in the environment in California. Alison, 21, is studying in Paris to become an English teacher. When they can all get together at the same time, something increasingly rare, they meet in Tahiti, at the family's home in Hawai´i or in Lafayette.

September 7, 2006

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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