Bittersweet journey

ANDREW Turnbull is living a life most can only dream about.

A multi-millionaire at 74, people still ask the exuberant Australian how he went from selling candies to owning a resort in Fiji. Not just any resort, but the luxurious adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort, which has held on to its TripAdvisor ranking as the number one romance hotel in Fiji for the past three years.

The Sydneysider’s success story began some 45 years ago when he decided to blaze his own trail in the confectionery trade.

He was 28 years old at the time with little money. But he had a bright idea that just needed execution.

“I started working for a family-owned company in the lolly business in Melbourne when I was 22,” he shared during an interview this week in Nadi.

“When it was sold to another company, I gave them a marketing proposition on a new product. I detailed the marketing rationale, the sales and the profit and loss analysis, and I told them I have a gut feeling that this will work.”

The company turned down the proposal and as Mr Turnbull says, “the rest is history”.

“So I just resigned. I was 28. I started my own company, importing from Spain the lolly my former employer refused to have anything to do with, and bringing it to the rest of the world.”

His insight for the lollipop in question — Chupa Chups — made him a lot of money.

Eyes on Tokoriki

About 20 years later, however, this business that he “was very good at,” started losing its flavour.

“I woke up one morning and just didn’t feel like going to work, I had lost the passion I had for my candy business.”

He was due for a holiday and for the first time in his 20 years of travel to Fiji, Mr Turnbull spent a week at Tokoriki, which was a one-star hotel at the time.

“My daughter Jenna was 12 at the time and she found out the resort was for sale.

“To cut a long story short, I went into partnership with two other people and bought the property in 1995.”

Like his earlier venture, the journey to becoming a self-made millionaire had its setbacks.

“A year later I bought my partners out because I wanted to expand and they wanted to spend their money somewhere else.”

Nonetheless, he embraced his new tourism business with an unparalleled energy, one that exuberates to this day.

Spend money to make money

The first five years was hard. Mr Turnbull came into the Mamanuca fray when the big boys in tourism — Dick Smith of Musket Cove, Castaway’s Geoff Shaw and Reginald Raffe of Plantation — were already well and truly established in the industry.

Undeterred, he poured money into the property.

“It was terrible, it was revolting. You could smell the previous guests in the pillows, but it had bones, it had the right bones.

“You have to spend money to make money. I knew that this was a venture that could be enjoyable and profitable once I was settled.

“Every year we got better because we built more bure. Our latest upgrade involves plunge pools for each of the bure. We have 28 pools so far and eight left, this is besides the communal pools.

“I have spent millions improving the property and it is now a pretty good resort.

“We were voted number 16 in the world too and that’s fantastic.

“We’re now in the top 1 per cent of all the hotels in the world and at that level, the property just markets itself.”

Hard work pays

Mr Turnbull says his family lived a simple life. He rose from humble beginnings.

“My dad died when I was 14. We were not wealthy but we never went hungry, we (two sisters and a brother) never got anything for nothing.

“I didn’t go to any special school but I did accounting. I was good with figures.

“Life has been good. If I died tomorrow there’s nothing left in my bucket list.

“People ask me how I got from selling candy to tourism. I have passion for everything that I do.

“There are three things you need to be successful.”

The three magic words, according to Mr Turnbull are common sense, hard work, and people skills.

“People say I’m lucky, but I say yeah you know what, the harder I work the luckier I get.

“We are put on this earth all equal. And there’s nothing that replaces hard work in any facet of life.

“When I started my businesses I’ve always worked 15-hour days, six-day weeks, I unloaded my own chupa chups off trucks. If you’re a leader, you don’t ask your staff to do anything you won’t do yourself.

“That’s how you build respect.”

Family involvement

The secret to success is also embedded in the Turnbull’s personal involvement in the business.

“In the candy business I travelled a lot. Through those travels I got to know what I like or don’t like when I stay at a resort.

“We love beachfronts, we love king sized beds, we love outdoor showers, we like personalised service. What you like, you know others will also like.

“People skills is also very, very important. I’m always communicating with my staff and as for my guests, I go down and shout them a beer every now and then. People remember that, they had a drink with the owner of the property.

“And my wife Yvonne has been involved in selecting all the furniture, the décor and every detail.

“There are a lot of places in the world and in Fiji that have sun, sea and sand but in Tokoriki we’re a family. We educate them and we invest in their school at the village, for those working with us, we bury their family, we welcome the birth of their children, we look after their health.

“We really get involved.”

Plans for second property

Mr Turnbull was expecting to ink a land lease deal this week to allow for the development of a second property, the Tokoriki Family Resort.

“It’s the same level, a four and a half star family resort and small enough to continue the personalised service that Tokoriki is known for.

“The main reason is to challenge my family. We can’t do anything else with Tokoriki because we were selling it as all beachfront. We’ve developed it further and now sell it with private pools and we’re nearly finished there.

“So there’s not much more the kids can do to grow it.

“My daughter has also grown up and I have grandchildren. They can’t run around the resort because it is adults-only. The honeymooners who came and had babies cannot come back once they have babies, they have to wait 16 years.

“We have a lot of returnees so this gives the honeymooners who now have children a reason to come back.”

Fiji as a second home

Recently Mr Turnbull flew in 30 family members to farewell his mother who died, aged 95.

“Fiji has become a second home. We love the Fijians. We have a professionally run resort and have professional systems but we let the Fijians be themselves.”

Jenna and her husband Joel Ross are in line to take over the resort when the Turnbulls retire.

The couple currently divide their time between Fiji, their Mosman home of 40 years and a Hunter Valley property.

“We spend about a week each month in Fiji.

“I look back at what I have created and what it has given me, and I think it was meant to be. If there’s something called karma, then this is it, this is what the rejection of my lollipop proposal has given me.”

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