The Sybarite spoke to Colin Baker, Executive Chairman of private jet hire company 365 Aviation, to talk about his interesting career history, travelling the world, and his tips for budding entrepreneurs.
Colin Baker still refers to himself as a Londoner, “born-and-bred”, despite having spent most of his adult life living overseas – primarily in Eastern Asia. Before setting up 365 Aviation, Colin had a long career as a stockbroker, a job that took him to some incredible places around the world. However, finance wasn’t his first port of call; he originally intended to study law. “I kind of fancied myself as a barrister for some reason,” he recalls. But money excited him and Baker soon hot footed it to the capital’s finance hub, the City, where he worked on the old London Stock Exchange trading floor.
At the turn of the century after more than 10 years in the game, Baker was considering “packing it all in and travelling the world,” when he got a call from his boss asking him to come to Tokyo for two weeks to help sort out a situation there. At the end of his visit, Colin was hooked on the vibrant city and ended up moving there shortly after. He stayed for 11 years before moving to his current home in Hong Kong with his wife in 2010 to ‘retire’, although he admits he hasn’t been doing much of that.
“There really is an incredibly unique way of life in Tokyo,” Colin said. “It was a complete culture shock but in a good way…Everyone cares about everything they do. People care about their jobs and try to do it as passionately as they can. It transcends all the way through their business culture and their personal culture.”
“When I go back to Japan I always exhale – you just relax. Everything just works when you get there. People are just wonderfully polite. It’s a special place.”
Hong-Kong in comparison is much more fast paced. “Everything is very intertwined,” Colin says, painting a picture of modern “gazillion-dollar apartments” next to traditional Chinese market stalls.
Having worked for companies for so long, Colin relished life as an entrepreneur and active early investor. “There literally is no tangible product in finance and trading,” he says. “There’s a kick out of thinking about an idea and a sense of satisfaction in backing an idea, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Entrepreneurs don’t live in bubbles, quite often they collaborate or invest in each other’s businesses. They’re very involved in a process and will speak to [the founders] on a regular basis.”
However, it’s not always smooth sailing, and Baker admits there have been low points during his time as an entrepreneur too. Investing in a really great business and “watching it fail because of the human elements.”
His advice to budding entrepreneurs? “People matter. Human beings matter a lot more than just a business idea. The best business idea in the world will not succeed if you do not have the right people in place.” He also believes that a successful business is 20 percent idea and 80 percent people.
“Have a refined business plan. Something you’ve bounced off lots of people. People whose opinions you care about. All different kinds of people. Doesn’t have to be a specialist in the industry; sometimes the best comments you get are from people who don’t really know what you’re talking about so they look at it from a very different way.”
Baker co-founded 365 Aviation with his brother-in-law, Chris Tofts, in 2011. Together they have built a private jet charter company that provides its clients with an uncompromising dedication to quality, discretion and personalised service, making it the preferred charter company for international royalty, governments, business leaders and celebrities. Colin says that small, personal touches are key with HNW and UHNW clients.
One of the biggest emerging trends in the private aviation space, Colin says, is aircraft sharing. Much like the concept of UberPool, some private jet companies are facilitating the sharing of flights, allowing a reduced fee for customers and creating a lower carbon footprint per journey.
Every time a private jet is booked for a one-way flight, an empty leg becomes available for the return journey. This is because aircrafts must fly empty to return to its previous destination and pick up its next set of passengers. This way of doing things is extremely wasteful, so Colin predicts that savvy tech companies will soon capitalise increasingly on the opportunity to charter these empty legs to travellers for a reduced fee.
As time goes on, Colin would like to scale back on some of his existing projects and “clear [his] decks,” as he wants to free up some space for new investments in the coming years. He has recently been involved in developing a boutique resort in Bali which whet his appetite for luxury properties. It was upon the purchase of a former 12-acre coconut plantation in Koh Samui that Baker decided to created Lime Samui, a series of ultra luxurious private villas which have gained a following amongst the more discerning high-end travellers. He’s considering a phase two development of smaller villas one, two and three-bedroom plunge-pool-sized villas when he has some more time as part of the Lime Samui brand. He also sits on the board of a private property fund which is planning a flagship luxury hotel for one of its prime beachfront sites in Samui.
Very much a man of the world, Colin Baker has visited some exquisite corners of the globe during his lifetime. He tells me that one of his all-time favourite trips was to Antarctica where he switched off digitally completely for a week. The same year he also took part in the Mongol Rally, where you drive from London to Mongolia and is hoping to visit the Galapagos Islands for his 50th birthday in a few years. “To me, a holiday is either seeing really pristine wildlife or an adventure holiday.” Definitely some ideas to add to our bucket list!