Interview with Manoj Mehta CEO of Naked Group
Manoj Mehta, CEO of Naked Group
Manoj has served as Naked Group CEO since 2012. Prior to Naked Group, Manoj worked for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Ltd. and Ford Motor Co., Ltd. in the U.S., India and China. Manoj earned a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from The State University of New York, and an MBA in Strategy & Finance from the Chicago Booth Business School. He concurrently served as an independent director at Triangle Tyre Co., Ltd (SH 601163), one of China’s largest tire manufacturers, and a mentor and coach of Shanghai Entrepreneurial Organization at AmCham Shanghai.
Eric Liao, Head of Naked Design Studio
Eric is currently head of Naked Group’s Design Studio. He graduated from Feng Chia University, Taiwan of China, with a Bachelor’s degree in architecture and then earned a Master’s degree in landscape environmental architecture from Washington State University. With over 12-year experience in architectural design, Eric has worked with several big foreign companies such as AECOM and ATKINS in succession on various architectural projects such as super high-rise complexes, residential and commercial buildings, hotels and hospitals.
(MM=Manoj Mehta, EL=Eric Liao)
Q1: Would you please briefly introduce Naked Group? What is the Group’s business philosophy? What does naked mean? What has been integrated into the Group’s business operation?
MM: Naked Group was founded in 2007. At that time, founder Mr. Grant Horsfield lost his way in Moganshan and then ran into a small village that he fell in love with at first sight where he and his wife were provided with food and shelter by a kind-hearted granny. This is the origin of Naked Group. We call her “the one and only granny” and our first Naked Resort was her residence. At that time, almost all the young people in the village where the granny was living worked far away in search of better job opportunities. Most of the villagers were over 75 years old. At that time, it was an underdeveloped village where the left-behind elderly subsisted on very small incomes from the local bamboo forests.
We rented the granny’s house, and she improved life with rent, an extra income to her. Later, we rented more houses in that area, hired local residents to work for us, and taught them how to make western bread and western breakfast. Scale development was carried out accordingly. This was the original Naked Home.
During the development of our group, we have always adhered to the principle of sustainable development with two connotations: first, environmental sustainability. We have not destroyed the village and went in for large-scale construction. Instead, we have preserved the original beauty of the village and maintained the original appearance of nature; second, economic sustainability. With the construction of our resort project, it has attracted foreign tourists, stimulated consumption growth, and promoted local economic development. Our Naked Stables in Moganshan is one of the high-end resorts in China that have obtained LEED Platinum Certification from the USGBC. Here, I would like to emphasize that sustainable development is the principle that Naked Group has always adhered to.
In addition, Naked Group’s “DNA” can be summarized as follows: “Fresh”, “Fun”, “Green” and “Great”. Fresh refers to innovation and thinking out of the box; Fun refers to something interesting. Taking our office as an example, it is designed in a very interesting way. Green, as just mentioned, refers to sustainability; Great refers to high-quality experience.
In addition, Naked Group also insists on offering guests with unique and high-quality vacation experience, such as horse riding, hiking and wine tasting. This is the “DNA” of Naked Group I mentioned just now. We want to enrich people’s lifestyle. We established the “Naked” in China at a time when the life quality of the Chinese people was being dramatically improved. We wonder whether they got rich in their inner world, though they have bought cars and lived in big houses. What we want to do is to enrich their inner world and their life experience through our “DNA”, i.e. Fresh, Fun, Green, Great. This is our brand DNA.
Q2: What is the future plan of Naked Resort?
MM: We want to provide our guests with a “luxury” experience, where luxury doesn’t mean providing more elaborate services, but a more unique and ultimate experience, i.e. less is more. For modern people, approaching nature is a luxury, enjoying tranquility is a luxury, and the chirping of insects and birds is also a luxury.
Naked Group’s vacation program is designed to bring different lifestyle to our guests. We have Naked Farm, which allows guests to enjoy healthy food. We also have Naked Bite, which brings guests food experience from all over the world. For more than a decade, Naked Group has been actively tapping into the possibility of other lifestyles while focusing on resorts. In 2015, the co-working brand “Naked Hub” was established. In just three years, it has added over 50 co-working spaces in the Asia-Pacific region due to its advantages in sustainable design, innovative technology, systematic operation & management and outstanding experience. In April 2018, Naked Hub worked with WeWork China to jointly promote the transformation of global co-working by integrating each other’s advantages.
The Naked Group’s Base Camp was based in Shanghai, China. Its resort products started with 2007’s “naked Home” in Moganshan. After the initial success, Naked expanded the idea of sustainable lifestyle and resort experience into Moganshan’s “Naked Stables” (2011), and further into “Naked Castle”, also in Moganshan (2017), and “Naked Water” in Suzhou (2020). Upcoming, Naked Retreats is preparing Nanjing’s “Naked Hill” to open soon, and various other projects within the nation is also awaiting for launch. In terms of the national strategic layout of resort business, Naked Group has joined hands with a host of partners to develop various high-end resorts with different characteristics. Inspired by nature, Naked Group has always adhered to the concept of sustainable development and is well-recognized both inside and outside the industry for its creative design, quality mentality, environmental protection practice, wonderful activities and excellent experience.
Q3: What do you think of the application of wooden structures in vacation projects?
MM: Usually when we build a hotel in the mountains, we level the hill and remove the rocks to make a flat foundation. But Naked Stables did not follow the same path. Our vacation homes are built on the mountain. Although it will be a lot of trouble, it is worth doing and should be done. This will not only protect nature, but also offer guests the best experience. We use wood for construction as it is a natural product, and we will not modify wood, such as planing and removing scars, because this is the original appearance given by nature rather than manual work and each one is unique. This is also another meaning of “naked”. The so-called “naked” means “natural”, which also includes the use of natural materials.
A lot of our wood comes from Canada, and using wood to build is very helpful for us to obtain LEED Platinum Certification from the USGBC. In addition to LEED certification, we also agree from the bottom of our hearts to use wood for construction.
Q4: Naked Group has been devoted to exploring the relationship between man and nature, man and man, man and community, man and space. What’s your opinion on the relationship between man, nature and architecture so far?
MM: We at Naked Group believe that human beings did not evolve from towns, but from nature. Humans are not born to wear shoes and clothes. Although we now live in cities with easy access to material possessions, we are eager to get close to nature to some extent. Therefore, when we select the site for the project, we all choose places with natural characteristics, hoping that people who have lived in the city for a long time can return to nature, be awakened by nature, and get up close and personal with the fresh air, green trees and blue sky.
Q5: Is there any application of wooden structures in your Naked Resort project? What attracts Naked to use wooden structures in it?
EL: There are many projects in Naked that use wood structure, including Naked Stables and Naked Castle, which are already open. Many guest rooms use wood elements. Some wood structure projects will be built in the future. Most resorts use wood structure as the main building body, while there are also some projects where the main body of the building is a steel structure covered with wood veneer.
Decentralized layout is a major feature of Naked Stables. We hope that wood, a natural building material, can be used as much as possible in the natural environment, and pay more attention to structural system and beautiful appearance when designing the project.. The combination of traditional and modern construction techniques makes wooden structures stronger and more beautiful. The design concept of Naked is to pursue the concept of sustainability and environmental protection and to create lightweight and natural wooden structures, which is of great significance to the resort.
In the material selection of Naked project, the main structure of the building is generally made of wood from sustainably managed forest areas, and the decorative materials are mostly from the local area.
Q6: What do you think is special about wooden structures in resort hotels compared with other structural forms?
EL: Naked advocates natural feelings, and tries different materials according to the theme of guest rooms in material selection. For example, Naked Water in Suzhou focuses on the characteristics of “water” in design, so wood is the first choice and its experience is better.
Many projects in Naked have adopted wooden structures, and it is estimated that wooden structures would account for 60 ~ 70% in some projects. Individual wooden building is relatively lightweight with outstanding appearance, while steel structures are generally used for large-bay structures.
About Naked Group
Naked Group was found in 2007 and has since advocated the “born naked, live naked” lifestyle through its luxury resorts, shared work spaces, healthy lifestyle and various other products. It is the goal of Naked Group to bring the experience of Fresh, Fun, Green and Great to our customers. Naked Group’s Naked Stables opened in 2011 is the first high-end resort in China to obtain LEED Platinum Certification from the USGBC. In addition to being a hot vacation destination, Naked Stables has twice appeared in the New York Times and has been rated as one of the 15 must-visit tourist destinations in China except the Great Wall.
Through extensive collaborations and naturally inspired, Naked continues to strive for sustainability. With innovative designs, exceptional quality, green approaches and unique experiences, Naked Group has established itself in and out of the resort industry.