UltraVilla founder, the holiday property entrepreneur, Ileana von Hirsch, reveals how Chinese calligraphy, trampolining and ignoring her mobile phone have helped her maintain business focus
UltraVilla’s offices are Dropbox, Skype and a weekly meeting at one of the directors’ houses over biscuits and coffee at the moment. We only launched last summer. Starting a business at the kitchen table is exciting – it means the people who work for you are all self-motivated.
Mixing work and pleasure can be difficult. Renting out my Greek villa started my first company, Five Star Greece, in the 1990s, but staying there is a complete busman’s holiday. I’m constantly thinking, ‘Do staff really do that when guests are there? Why hasn’t that lightbulb been fixed?’
I’m a passionate collector. My father was a well-known book collector, famous at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, so I grew up knowing how to collect. The thrill of adding to your collection is what drives me. At UltraVilla, we have Japanese ski chalets and Rwandan safari lodges.
My own hideaway is a tiny ski hut in the Dolomites. The locals don’t step outside unless it’s sunny, and then don’t go further than a coffee shop. So you have the mountains to yourself.
I’m more of a blackberry picker than antelope hunter. In hunter-gatherer times, the men were the hunters going after antelopes. The women took a basket and went where the blackberries were. I’m not goals-oriented, going out with the menu in mind – I’ll cook what I find.
Bargain. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from the wealthy businesspeople who stay at UltraVilla properties. They don’t make money by saying, ‘The details don’t matter.’ They work hard for their money and pay attention to pennies rather than pounds.
I never get sick of looking at photos of infinity pools. I’m eager to see the next one – will this be the perfect villa? The perfect shot? There are so many styles.
I get most of my ideas while walking. I walk very fast and don’t like anybody in front of me – I have to overtake. This shows in my businesses – I’d rather have a little path on my own with nobody ahead.
I never answer my mobile phone. I’m possibly missing out on business but if I took a call when out, I wouldn’t know what to say, what facts to give. Ringing me on my landline is fine – I like to access information and marshal the facts before saying anything.
I used to study Chinese calligraphy. Flow is a concrete concept for the Chinese; you allow your pen to be the servant – that’s difficult for control freaks like me. My master was always trying to get me drunk, saying, ‘You’d be much better if you drank a couple of beers before a lesson.’ I’d say, ‘No, I’d lose control!’ He’d reply, ‘Exactly!’
When I get too stiff at my desk, I head to the garden to jump up and down on my trampoline. A shot of fresh air gets the blood running.
My business strategy is just putting one step in front of the other… We’re reacting to whatever fruits and fungi we find in the woods. It all comes down to hunter-gathering.
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