Analjit “BAS” Singh is on the acquisition trail and it’s not in the insurance or healthcare sectors. In just less than five years, what began with a “forced” vacation in South Africa, initiated by his daughter during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, has transformed into the establishment of a global, luxury hospitality portfolio that links prime destinations with which he has a special connection.
In the Franschhoek village his portfolio includes Le Quartier Français (currently under renovation), and the intimate Leeu House, which opened in 2015; while the truly delightful chef Vanie Padayachee creates delicious North Indian cuisine over the road at Marigold on Heritage Square. Leeu Estates is the flagship: its exclusive boutique hotel comprises the grand Manor House and smaller, freestanding historic cottages set among the vineyards and perfectly manicured gardens. The magnificent wellness spa was designed to be unobtrusive, and its contemporary stone and glass form hugs the manor while disappearing into the landscape.
Then came Linthwaite House on Lake Windermere in England’s scenic Lake District (reopening in November after a five-month makeover), followed by a historic property on the outskirts of Florence, a restaurant partnership in Milan, and a luxury hotel in central London (opening in 2019).
All this from a man who claims to be “a terrible businessman”. This is said in jest, of course, but acknowledging one’s strengths and weaknesses is a sign of a good leader, and what’s clear is how very skilled Singh is with people. “Admitting to not knowing anything is a strength and then you find the right team. My brother is the strong businessman, but you can’t have a good business based purely on a strong, controlling boss. You need good interpersonal relationships and partnerships,” says the founder and chairman emeritus of Max Group, a multi-business conglomerate in India. Without his team or “family” as Singh puts it, the Leeu Collection might not have been realised, or at least not as soon, but he throws in a reality bite, admitting that “sometimes you need to put on a fiercer face”.
Singh is always impeccably dressed. His look is studied smart casual, well suited to a man clearly at peace with himself. At our Saturday catch-up in June he’s in a midnight-blue wool bomber jacket and matching trousers, paired with a perfectly pressed blue-and-white gingham shirt. His turban is immaculately wrapped, and his beard is brushed, each hair in its rightful place — but without the obsessive-compulsive indulgence of a hipster.
Singh is a practicing Sikh, but is quick to clarify that he is a spiritual man, rather than religious, “embracing positive aspects from many beliefs”. He observes the ancient Hindu system of architecture known as Vastu Shastra, which “incorporates principles of design, layout, and spatial geometry”. He applies these principles to every project, and finding his initial retreat, which evolved into the Manor House, took many attempts by local agents, but finally this property ticked all the boxes: facing the rising sun and protected from the setting sun by the Dassenberg mountain behind. “It was destiny, truly, and my instantaneous love for the people, the place, the energy, all the five elements… the sky, the air,” Singh says.
He chats regularly with the Dalai Lama, whom he met in 2008. Singh has an air of restfulness yet says he’s still working to tame himself, his mind and his life. “According to the Dalai Lama, the source of happiness and good health is the truly calm mind,” he says, something the Buddhists refer to as taming the “monkey mind”.
“There is good reason why we now use words like mindfulness, wellbeing, energy. We place too much value on stuff and money,” Singh says. “What I can’t take from you is your mind, body, energy. You need to be in control of your mind.” This might all sound very well coming from one of India’s richest men, but to a large degree his state of being is the reason why he is so successful.
This energetic 60-something is a shining example that 60 is the new 40, and he exudes the benefits of a mind-body balance.
Partnerships on the Franschhoek high street include the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery with Cape Brewing Company and the new Everard Read Gallery, with a courtyard garden supplying herbs to the various hotel kitchens. Singh has partnered with award-winning winemakers Chris and Andrea Mullineux in Riebeek-Kasteel, who are also producing the delicious “BAS” house wines in the cellar on the Leeu Estates — BAS is his “new nickname” and is short for Bhai Analjit Singh, with Bhai being his family title meaning brother.
On the surface it appears that hospitality and the service sector is something new in the Max portfolio. However, Singh points out that “the central nervous system of our insurance and healthcare business is all about service”. Seventeen years ago Max was a manufacturing and industrial company focused mainly on pharmaceuticals, biochemicals, electronics, and telecoms. A new vision took the company into an all-service sector enterprise. “At the time I had identified four sectors: insurance, healthcare, education, and hospitality,” Singh says. “I just didn’t have the energy, time, or bandwidth to do all of them.”
The first venture into hospitality was Vana India, a wellness retreat created by Singh’s son about half-an-hour north of Delhi that explores each aspect of wellbeing. There is also Antara, founded by Singh’s daughter, which is a lifestyle community for seniors (55 and above). “Everything is done for you,” Singh says. “That has a slither of hospitality in it.”
If, according to kabbalah tradition, your name creates your life experience, then in Singh’s case even his childhood nickname “Manoo” fittingly describes this man: “a patient, meticulous person who enjoys working in a detailed, systematic way”. The Collection gets its name from Singh, the literal translation from Sanskrit being “lion”. Analjit is a compound of fire (anal) and wind (jit), appropriate for a man who chooses to live in complete harmony with all the elements.