Interview – Craig Cogut

In 2012, Pegasus Capital Advisors bought the Asia-based resort and spa company Six Senses with a view to its global expansion. Three years on, the firm’s founding partner tells Rhianon Howells what they’ve achieved so far and where they go next

By Rhianon Howells | Published in Spa Business 2015 issue 3


At first glance, Pegasus Capital Advisors’ decision to buy Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas three years ago may have seemed surprising. After all, the US-based private equity firm had no a track record of investing in spa or hospitality, while the Asia-based development and management company had built its reputation on creating intimate, slightly quirky and highly localised (albeit highly luxurious) experiences of a kind not obviously compatible with the growth expectations of most investors.

You don’t have to delve too deeply, however, to understand what attracted Pegasus to the contract management business – then including 10 Six Senses- or Evason-branded resorts and spas plus 18 Six Senses Spas in other properties – which it purchased from founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani and shareholders for an undisclosed sum in April 2012.

Since 1996 Pegasus, under the steerage of its founding partner, chair and president Craig Cogut, has made its name by specialising in sustainable and, more recently, wellness-related investments. With current assets under management of US$1.8bn (€1.6, £1.2), the firm actively seeks to partner companies “committed to overcoming global resource scarcity in the fields of health and wellness, sustainable communities, energy and zero waste”. Meanwhile, Six Senses, which turns 20 this year, has long been recognised as a pioneer of sustainability in hospitality, as well as one of the first resort brands to put spa at the heart of its offering.

“[We felt] the brand was uniquely positioned but hadn’t been fully fleshed out or grown,” explains Cogut, who co-founded Apollo Global Management prior to setting up Pegasus. “Our belief, which we’ve found reinforced, was this was an absolutely tremendous platform.”

In addition to Six Senses’ environmental and wellness credentials, Cogut cites its highly evocative name – “you couldn’t ask for a better name” – as well as the properties themselves as key factors in the decision to buy. “The existing properties were absolutely spectacular.”

He saw a real opportunity for the Asia-based company to become a global leader. Since then, the firm has further strengthened its spa and wellness portfolio with the acquisition in 2013 of Raison d’Etre Spas, the globally renowned, Stockholm-based spa consultancy and management company. But three years on from the Six Senses acquisition, how close is Pegasus to realising its goals? And as an equity company whose first obligation is to its investors, what will be its next move?

Global expansion
In contrast with many private equity firms, Pegasus “is focused on long-term business building and working with our management teams [to create] something of fundamental value, rather than just to have a play with the markets,” says Cogut. “If we’re making money, [we want it to be because] the company’s gone some place… a better place than where we started.”

With Six Senses, the first crucial step was to get the right people on board. Starting with Wolf Hengst, former president of Four Seasons, as new executive chair, a dream team was recruited. Appointments included Neil Jacobs, former president of Starwood Capital Hotels and senior vice president for Four Seasons in Asia, as CEO; Bernard Bohnenberger, previously the group’s managing director, as president; and Anna Bjurstam, the former owner and CEO of Raison d’Etre Spas, as vice president of spas. Bjurstam, who is still a managing partner of Raison d’Etre, divides her time between the two businesses.

Cogut says: “Neil is a visionary; he’s got tonnes of experience and he knows how to get stuff done. The people he’s brought in around him, and some of people we had before, are really superb.”

He adds that now the focus is firmly on refining the product and global expansion. “When we bought the business it was largely based [in south-east Asia]… but if you believe in doing things environmentally right, with tremendous service and an emphasis on wellness, that’s not geographically confined. Clearly part of our investment thesis was to expand geographically: Africa, South America, and selectively in North America and Europe, and we’re starting to do that.”

According to Cogut, Six Senses has “a very, very big development pipeline,” and while there’s a lot he can’t talk about, there are 15 resort openings confirmed for the next three years, including five in Bhutan, three in China and one each in Bali, Taiwan, France, Portugal, the Seychelles (its first African resort), Tunisia and St Lucia. The group also has seven spas in other properties in the pipeline: one each in Oman, Qatar, Greece, Spain and the US, and two in India.

Growth strategy
In such pristine rural settings, getting the architecture and design of the properties right is “absolutely crucial” says Cogut. In a previous interview with Spa Business in 2013 (see SB13/2 p30), Neil Jacobs said the Six Senses design philosophy would be evolving somewhat, “to lose a bit of the Robinson Crusoe feel and add some modernity.” Cogut confirms this, but stresses that the change will only involve a subtle shift of emphasis in a few select properties rather than a complete overhaul.

Another strategy under consideration is the development of Six Senses hotels in urban locations, both to help build the brand and to cater for the needs of its city-dwelling and visiting customer base. “I often look for an urban retreat and they’re hard to find,” says Cogut. “I think there’s a certain segment of guests who would welcome that – I think that’s incredibly appealing in the world we live in, where we’re so disconnected from nature, from our sixth sense.”

The company is also looking at investing in Six Senses-branded real estate. “We’re looking at owning or investing in certain properties through a number of structures,” he says.

A more immediate focus for Six Senses is to refine and expand its spa and wellness offering under Jacobs and Bjurstam’s leadership. “Neil and Anna can talk better about it than I can, but we’re trying to aggressively position the spa business to offer many new services, taking advantage of science and knowledge on the wellness side.”

In certain areas, such as sleep health and digestive disorders, Pegasus is able to help directly by contributing ideas and expertise from its other wellness-related companies – such as the Lighting Science Group, a firm developing LED lighting to aid sleep and improve health (see opposite), or PanTheryx, a medical nutrition company specialising in intestinal problems.

Alongside Six Senses, Pegasus is also focused on expanding and adding value to Raison d’Etre, particularly its educational platform (the company runs online spa management programmes) and its LivNordic brand, which combines Scandinavian design, fitness, bathing, treatments and products in a single concept (see p32). “The interest in Nordic wellness and the LivNordic brand has been incredible,” says Cogut. “In addition to the original LivNordic spa in Stockholm, we’ve now entered the cruise industry with a LivNordic Spa on the Viking Star; and we have another two cruise ship spas planned for next year, plus another five on land.”

Value creation
A spa-lover himself, Cogut refutes the belief that properly managed spas can’t make money. “My view of the spa business is that people really do care about how they look and how they feel and I think the future of the industry generally is a very bright one.

“In many properties, the spa can be a significant contributor, but it’s under-exploited. I’ve heard people say, ‘Yeah, we have to do it’, but I think [that the expectation that it won’t be profitable] becomes self-fulfilling… It’s why we often get spas from other people’s hotels: because we’re focused on it, it matters to the brand and we think it’s really important. Obviously, in a good hotel, the economics will be better than just the spa. But spas can and do make money, and we’re very excited about the spa business.”

Aside from making money, Cogut believes resort and spa operators have a fantastic opportunity to be thought-leaders and educators, imparting learning to guests who in turn impart it to others. An example might be an employer who experiences meditation at Six Senses and then implements a meditation programme for their staff. “In the resort industry, where we have people in a captive setting, we can really influence people so they come back changed. We have the capability of doing that at Six Senses.”

For now, Pegasus has no plans to acquire any other spa or hospitality businesses – “Six Senses and Raison d’Etre are our focus and our vehicles” – nor is it ready to let go of the investments any time soon. “We’re in no hurry to sell because we think there’s tremendous value creation happening… We think there’s a lot to do to build out both brands. Obviously we’re a fund and we have to sell for our investors, but certainly not in the short term.”

Such is Cogut’s enthusiasm for Six Senses, in particular, you get the impression that when the time does come to sell it will be with some regret. “I love Six Senses,” he admits. “I vacation there, and it’s because my family and I love what they do – whether it’s the spas, the wellness programmes, the beauty of the setting or the sense of place.”

Lighting Science Group

Lighting Science Group is a Pegasus portfolio company developing LED lighting that’s not only energy efficient but that also addresses environmental and health concerns. Its products are specifically designed to support natural melatonin production, improve sleep, boost alertness, accelerate plant growth and protect wildlife.

Using patented technology originally developed for the International Space Station and the US South Pole Station, the company has created a range of LED bulbs and lamps that eliminate wavelengths of light which disrupt circadian rhythms in humans, animals and plants.

Products on offer in the health- and wellness-related Rhythm Series include Good Night™, which uses spectrum-filtering technology to reduce melatonin-suppressing blue light; and Awake & Alert™, which emits a blue-enriched white light aimed at increasing energy and alertness.

Resorts already making use of the technology include Miraval Resort & Spa in the US, which has installed Good Night lamps throughout its 116 guest rooms; and, of course, Six Senses, which features Good Night lamps in all of its guest rooms and spas, and Awake & Alert lamps in its gyms and exercise rooms.

Spa-kit.net keywords: Lighting Science

 



Pegasus also owns a lighting firm which makes products to aid sleep and overall health
 


Pegasus also owns a lighting firm which makes products to aid sleep and overall health
 

Favourites
Film: The Third Man

Book: Petersburg by Andrei Bely and, in a different vein, The Little Engine That Could

Place: Yosemite national park, when not at home

Season: Spring

Treatment: Thai massage or Chinese cupping

Best advice: ‘Always believe that you can beat adversity’ and ‘pick up the phone and call her’ – both by my mother

Who you admire: Gandhi. The power of taking ideas from multiple traditions moved millions of people to accomplish so much

There are 15 Six Senses resorts in development, including a circuit of five boutique properties in Bhutan
Six Senses turns 20 this year and started out in Asia
Pegasus’ aim is for it to expand geographically – the first site in Africa will launch soon
Pegasus’ aim is for it to expand geographically – the first site in Africa will launch soon
The first crucial step was to get the right people on board, including well-known spa figures Anna Bjurstam and Neil Jacobs
The first crucial step was to get the right people on board, including well-known spa figures Anna Bjurstam and Neil Jacobs
The spas still have their rustic appeal, but design now has a more contemporary edge
Branded spa real-estate may be the next step for the hotel, resort and spa company
Cogut feels spa resorts have a great opportunity to impart their wisdom to others
Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain has just opened and it’s the group’s first property in China
 


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Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

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SELECTED ISSUE
Spa Business
2015 issue 3

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Leisure Management -



Interview – Craig Cogut


In 2012, Pegasus Capital Advisors bought the Asia-based resort and spa company Six Senses with a view to its global expansion. Three years on, the firm’s founding partner tells Rhianon Howells what they’ve achieved so far and where they go next

Rhianon Howells
Cogut has built a career in investment and is excited about Six Senses’ potential
There are 15 Six Senses resorts in development, including a circuit of five boutique properties in Bhutan
Six Senses turns 20 this year and started out in Asia
Pegasus’ aim is for it to expand geographically – the first site in Africa will launch soon
Pegasus’ aim is for it to expand geographically – the first site in Africa will launch soon
The first crucial step was to get the right people on board, including well-known spa figures Anna Bjurstam and Neil Jacobs
The first crucial step was to get the right people on board, including well-known spa figures Anna Bjurstam and Neil Jacobs
The spas still have their rustic appeal, but design now has a more contemporary edge
Branded spa real-estate may be the next step for the hotel, resort and spa company
Cogut feels spa resorts have a great opportunity to impart their wisdom to others
Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain has just opened and it’s the group’s first property in China

At first glance, Pegasus Capital Advisors’ decision to buy Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas three years ago may have seemed surprising. After all, the US-based private equity firm had no a track record of investing in spa or hospitality, while the Asia-based development and management company had built its reputation on creating intimate, slightly quirky and highly localised (albeit highly luxurious) experiences of a kind not obviously compatible with the growth expectations of most investors.

You don’t have to delve too deeply, however, to understand what attracted Pegasus to the contract management business – then including 10 Six Senses- or Evason-branded resorts and spas plus 18 Six Senses Spas in other properties – which it purchased from founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani and shareholders for an undisclosed sum in April 2012.

Since 1996 Pegasus, under the steerage of its founding partner, chair and president Craig Cogut, has made its name by specialising in sustainable and, more recently, wellness-related investments. With current assets under management of US$1.8bn (€1.6, £1.2), the firm actively seeks to partner companies “committed to overcoming global resource scarcity in the fields of health and wellness, sustainable communities, energy and zero waste”. Meanwhile, Six Senses, which turns 20 this year, has long been recognised as a pioneer of sustainability in hospitality, as well as one of the first resort brands to put spa at the heart of its offering.

“[We felt] the brand was uniquely positioned but hadn’t been fully fleshed out or grown,” explains Cogut, who co-founded Apollo Global Management prior to setting up Pegasus. “Our belief, which we’ve found reinforced, was this was an absolutely tremendous platform.”

In addition to Six Senses’ environmental and wellness credentials, Cogut cites its highly evocative name – “you couldn’t ask for a better name” – as well as the properties themselves as key factors in the decision to buy. “The existing properties were absolutely spectacular.”

He saw a real opportunity for the Asia-based company to become a global leader. Since then, the firm has further strengthened its spa and wellness portfolio with the acquisition in 2013 of Raison d’Etre Spas, the globally renowned, Stockholm-based spa consultancy and management company. But three years on from the Six Senses acquisition, how close is Pegasus to realising its goals? And as an equity company whose first obligation is to its investors, what will be its next move?

Global expansion
In contrast with many private equity firms, Pegasus “is focused on long-term business building and working with our management teams [to create] something of fundamental value, rather than just to have a play with the markets,” says Cogut. “If we’re making money, [we want it to be because] the company’s gone some place… a better place than where we started.”

With Six Senses, the first crucial step was to get the right people on board. Starting with Wolf Hengst, former president of Four Seasons, as new executive chair, a dream team was recruited. Appointments included Neil Jacobs, former president of Starwood Capital Hotels and senior vice president for Four Seasons in Asia, as CEO; Bernard Bohnenberger, previously the group’s managing director, as president; and Anna Bjurstam, the former owner and CEO of Raison d’Etre Spas, as vice president of spas. Bjurstam, who is still a managing partner of Raison d’Etre, divides her time between the two businesses.

Cogut says: “Neil is a visionary; he’s got tonnes of experience and he knows how to get stuff done. The people he’s brought in around him, and some of people we had before, are really superb.”

He adds that now the focus is firmly on refining the product and global expansion. “When we bought the business it was largely based [in south-east Asia]… but if you believe in doing things environmentally right, with tremendous service and an emphasis on wellness, that’s not geographically confined. Clearly part of our investment thesis was to expand geographically: Africa, South America, and selectively in North America and Europe, and we’re starting to do that.”

According to Cogut, Six Senses has “a very, very big development pipeline,” and while there’s a lot he can’t talk about, there are 15 resort openings confirmed for the next three years, including five in Bhutan, three in China and one each in Bali, Taiwan, France, Portugal, the Seychelles (its first African resort), Tunisia and St Lucia. The group also has seven spas in other properties in the pipeline: one each in Oman, Qatar, Greece, Spain and the US, and two in India.

Growth strategy
In such pristine rural settings, getting the architecture and design of the properties right is “absolutely crucial” says Cogut. In a previous interview with Spa Business in 2013 (see SB13/2 p30), Neil Jacobs said the Six Senses design philosophy would be evolving somewhat, “to lose a bit of the Robinson Crusoe feel and add some modernity.” Cogut confirms this, but stresses that the change will only involve a subtle shift of emphasis in a few select properties rather than a complete overhaul.

Another strategy under consideration is the development of Six Senses hotels in urban locations, both to help build the brand and to cater for the needs of its city-dwelling and visiting customer base. “I often look for an urban retreat and they’re hard to find,” says Cogut. “I think there’s a certain segment of guests who would welcome that – I think that’s incredibly appealing in the world we live in, where we’re so disconnected from nature, from our sixth sense.”

The company is also looking at investing in Six Senses-branded real estate. “We’re looking at owning or investing in certain properties through a number of structures,” he says.

A more immediate focus for Six Senses is to refine and expand its spa and wellness offering under Jacobs and Bjurstam’s leadership. “Neil and Anna can talk better about it than I can, but we’re trying to aggressively position the spa business to offer many new services, taking advantage of science and knowledge on the wellness side.”

In certain areas, such as sleep health and digestive disorders, Pegasus is able to help directly by contributing ideas and expertise from its other wellness-related companies – such as the Lighting Science Group, a firm developing LED lighting to aid sleep and improve health (see opposite), or PanTheryx, a medical nutrition company specialising in intestinal problems.

Alongside Six Senses, Pegasus is also focused on expanding and adding value to Raison d’Etre, particularly its educational platform (the company runs online spa management programmes) and its LivNordic brand, which combines Scandinavian design, fitness, bathing, treatments and products in a single concept (see p32). “The interest in Nordic wellness and the LivNordic brand has been incredible,” says Cogut. “In addition to the original LivNordic spa in Stockholm, we’ve now entered the cruise industry with a LivNordic Spa on the Viking Star; and we have another two cruise ship spas planned for next year, plus another five on land.”

Value creation
A spa-lover himself, Cogut refutes the belief that properly managed spas can’t make money. “My view of the spa business is that people really do care about how they look and how they feel and I think the future of the industry generally is a very bright one.

“In many properties, the spa can be a significant contributor, but it’s under-exploited. I’ve heard people say, ‘Yeah, we have to do it’, but I think [that the expectation that it won’t be profitable] becomes self-fulfilling… It’s why we often get spas from other people’s hotels: because we’re focused on it, it matters to the brand and we think it’s really important. Obviously, in a good hotel, the economics will be better than just the spa. But spas can and do make money, and we’re very excited about the spa business.”

Aside from making money, Cogut believes resort and spa operators have a fantastic opportunity to be thought-leaders and educators, imparting learning to guests who in turn impart it to others. An example might be an employer who experiences meditation at Six Senses and then implements a meditation programme for their staff. “In the resort industry, where we have people in a captive setting, we can really influence people so they come back changed. We have the capability of doing that at Six Senses.”

For now, Pegasus has no plans to acquire any other spa or hospitality businesses – “Six Senses and Raison d’Etre are our focus and our vehicles” – nor is it ready to let go of the investments any time soon. “We’re in no hurry to sell because we think there’s tremendous value creation happening… We think there’s a lot to do to build out both brands. Obviously we’re a fund and we have to sell for our investors, but certainly not in the short term.”

Such is Cogut’s enthusiasm for Six Senses, in particular, you get the impression that when the time does come to sell it will be with some regret. “I love Six Senses,” he admits. “I vacation there, and it’s because my family and I love what they do – whether it’s the spas, the wellness programmes, the beauty of the setting or the sense of place.”

Lighting Science Group

Lighting Science Group is a Pegasus portfolio company developing LED lighting that’s not only energy efficient but that also addresses environmental and health concerns. Its products are specifically designed to support natural melatonin production, improve sleep, boost alertness, accelerate plant growth and protect wildlife.

Using patented technology originally developed for the International Space Station and the US South Pole Station, the company has created a range of LED bulbs and lamps that eliminate wavelengths of light which disrupt circadian rhythms in humans, animals and plants.

Products on offer in the health- and wellness-related Rhythm Series include Good Night™, which uses spectrum-filtering technology to reduce melatonin-suppressing blue light; and Awake & Alert™, which emits a blue-enriched white light aimed at increasing energy and alertness.

Resorts already making use of the technology include Miraval Resort & Spa in the US, which has installed Good Night lamps throughout its 116 guest rooms; and, of course, Six Senses, which features Good Night lamps in all of its guest rooms and spas, and Awake & Alert lamps in its gyms and exercise rooms.

Spa-kit.net keywords: Lighting Science

 



Pegasus also owns a lighting firm which makes products to aid sleep and overall health
 


Pegasus also owns a lighting firm which makes products to aid sleep and overall health
 

Favourites
Film: The Third Man

Book: Petersburg by Andrei Bely and, in a different vein, The Little Engine That Could

Place: Yosemite national park, when not at home

Season: Spring

Treatment: Thai massage or Chinese cupping

Best advice: ‘Always believe that you can beat adversity’ and ‘pick up the phone and call her’ – both by my mother

Who you admire: Gandhi. The power of taking ideas from multiple traditions moved millions of people to accomplish so much


Originally published in Spa Business 2015 issue 3

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd