Home and away Markus Thesleff is the man behind Okku, the new sushi venue at The Monarch in Dubai, and Panagea, a private member's lounge club in London, Marbella, New York and Miami.
'I believe in karma'
I was born in Finland, but raised in several countries including Belgium, England, Sweden, Argentina, Spain and the US. Both my parents were Finnish. My father moved around a lot. He was employed by a bank in Finland, then worked for big consumer goods companies like Kelloggs and Proctor & Gamble. He then set up a bunch of his own companies which he sold on. I think I get my flair for business from him.
If I had to name one country which was dominant in my childhood I would say Sweden. We lived 15 miles from the Arctic Circle and it was like living in a Christmas card. There were reindeer and dogs and sleds and people hunting moose and elk. In the winter we built the most incredible snow caves. In the summer it never got dark so we camped in the forest. Unfortunately it's not a reality for children any more. For kids today, the reality is the X-Box and computers?
Although I had a good upbringing, it was hard not having roots. You learn to relate to different cultures, people and religions and you become pretty tolerant, but the question is who do you cheer for when there's Olympic Games or a World Cup match? Being Scandinavian, family is important to me. It's something I missed when I lived in the US and England, but I like the fact that it's valued in a similar way in the UAE
I used to hate school. I went to boarding school in England but only started enjoying school when I changed to one that used the American curriculum. I did pretty well. The American system taught me that education is about learning how to learn. It encouraged me to think for myself, as opposed to having information drummed into me. When I graduated from London I went to the US on a sports scholarship. I specialised in ice hockey and went pretty far up the ranks. I'd been a professional in the UK from the age of 16. I also played rugby and American football. I graduated in Economics, specialising in marketing.
I learnt my approach to dealing with people from living in the US. I find that in Europe people tend to get jealous and look for you to fail, whereas in America there's nothing like a success story. I think they're quite spiritual people, not in a Bible-belt fashion, but in their principles. I like the idea of treating people as I want to be treated. A lot of my business principles come from that thinking .
Before working in the hospitality business, I launched a number of different ventures. I worked with my father and on my own. I've learnt many of my business skills from him. He's hyper-intelligent. He's always thinking ahead of everyone else... Dubai is home to me now and I love this city. I've been coming and going for the last five years. I chose not to buy a property during that time so I've lived in a number of hotels. These days I'm staying at The Monarch where Okku is based.
There's so much positive energy in Dubai. I actually think that what's happening here right now [with the recession] is possibly the best thing for it because Dubai grew so fast that it never had time to set the foundations strongly enough. It's still another generation away in terms of establishing those pillars. I love to build and create things and that's what motivates me. Apart from wanting to build a diverse company, I have a project which will empower people. For example a lot of people I hire are from deprived backgrounds. At Okku we're constantly training our staff and improving their skills and standard of living. When they go home they have skills they can use to their advantage.
There are still a lot of things that I want to do. I haven't even touched the surface yet. I'm very competitive and some people think it's arrogance, but it's not. However because of that I'm a bad loser. I'll work harder than anyone else and I'll do that last bit to achieve, but I won't cheat. I believe in Karma - that everything you do comes back to you.