Worldwide

The FCSI Interview: Ian Hopper FCSI

Posted on

SHARE ON

An Australian now based in Dubai, UAE, Ian Hopper FCSI (PP) is director of KHI Technical Services LLC and a consultant of immense regard. “The role of the consultant is like a conductor. You have to be in the center of the orchestra and bring the team together,” he tells Michael Jones

Following 45-years of storied service and dedication to the hospitality industry – first on the equipment manufacturing side and, latterly, more than 30 years as a foodservice consultant – it’s a little surprising to learn that Ian Hopper FCSI (PP) once held aspirations to be a vet. But pipedreams of growing up to care for the pets and livestock of Adelaide, Australia, were never to be realized. Instead, family life as a young man “was tough” for Hopper, whose father, psychologically wounded in the Second World War, recuperated at home. “My mother held the family together,” he recalls.

Leaving school, Hopper worked in a number of clerical and sales positions. When he was 21 years old, by chance he saw an ad for a sales position, selling a new unit of equipment – the Automatic Boiling Water Unit – at Noyes Bros. “In my interview I was asked how I would sell a pedestal unit, which was in the room. My sales response was enough to be offered the position.” To gain an insight of hospitality, Hopper studied at Regency Park TAFE in Adelaide, where he gained a Diploma in Commercial Design.

Formative years, influential figures

Starting hospitality life on the sales side gave Hopper a unique insight. Ron Ratcliff, his manager at Noyes Bros. saw “every person as a potential customer even if they weren’t,” laughs Hopper. “There was no other agenda other than getting the sale.” Another colleague, national sales manager Bob Lingwood, also saw Hopper’s potential. “He believed in me and said that I would go far in the foodservice industry. His words of encouragement started back in 1977 and I still hear them now in 2022.”

Eleven years later, having gained great experience on the equipment side of the industry, Hopper joined Harley Little Foodservice Consultants as a design project manager in 1988.

“In October 1987 I had invited John Frost FCSI and Ken Sangster FCSI to lunch at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney to discuss projects that Noyes Bros. could submit tenders for. Ken asked me if I had ever considered sitting on the other side of the table and becoming a foodservice consultant.”

As luck would have it, Noyes Bros. had decided to close its kitchen contracting division in November 1987, so the timing could not have been better for Hopper.

The ensuing years saw Hopper learn much from his colleagues. “John Frost had vast experience in all areas of the foodservice industry. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and flair in dealing with situations and with people.” Although for only a short period of time, Hopper also had the pleasure of working alongside consultant Don McCartney, founder of MTD, who, through his years of experience and knowledge, was known as “the patriarch” of the foodservice consultant industry in Australia.

Hopper credits colleague MTD Group’s Stan Taylor, who possessed “a precise, calming way where I was ready to steam ahead,” he says. “Stan would pull back my reins, so to speak, and show me when putting in more effort, time and detail – be it small or large – was required. In doing so, he assisted me in producing good quality design and documentation.”

In addition, Hopper cites Sangster and Wasko Dimitroff FCSI as “playing a big part” in helping his career over the years. “I also can’t leave out Greg O’Connell [of Moffat Group]. He has always encouraged me, even if he had to speak directly. Greg never pulls any punches, even now,” he laughs.

One year after he joined Harley Little, with the firm encountering some financial troubles, Hopper joined MTD Group as the principal of MTD Qld Pty Ltd. “The MTD Group had 18 employees on the staff between three offices and became the largest kitchen consultancy company in Australia,” he recalls. Hopper’s project work was initially Australia-based, with landmark projects including work on the APIN (Army Presence In North) facility in Darwin (1990-1993), Brisbane Casino (1991- 1994), Cairns Casino (1992-1994), Wesley Hospital (1990-1992), and Cairns Hospital (1992-1994). In 2004, however, in a move that would impact the rest of his career, he began a project in the Middle East, as work commenced on the prestigious Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai, UAE (2004-2016).

“I was consulting on the redevelopment of the Palazzo Versace Hotel on the Gold Coast in Surfers Paradise in 2004 and the client advised me they were planning to develop a Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai. I was invited to a kick-off meeting with the Dubai project team in January 2005,” says Hopper. “Working in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area is a like a box of M&Ms – there are many different varieties of the good, the bad and –sometimes – the ugly, but it is never boring. It is full of interesting challenges.”

MTD (Qld) traded until 2013 when Hopper formed a new company, KHI International Pty. Ltd., In 2018 he founded KHI Technical Services LLC, specifically for the GCC market. KHI International continues to actively work globally in regions other than the GCC.

Moving for opportunities

“From 2004-17 I was operating on a fly in/fly out approach with our projects, but in 2018 I was in a meeting with a Dubai- based architect who mentioned that if KHI had a permanent presence in Dubai there would be more opportunities to be engaged on projects. Later that year I was introduced to my local Emirati partner and together we formulated KHI technical services LLC. We established the office in Dubai and the local presence has really increased our project opportunities,” says Hopper.

For Hopper, whatever the location, the business model “has never changed”, dating back to when he first joined Harley Little. “It is to carry out totally independent service to ensure our clients are provided with the best outcomes for their projects,” he says. He credits the most important business lesson he has learned as simply, “Be ethical. Know beyond doubt that you have done the best that you can to ensure that your client’s interests and requirements are achieved.”

The prestige and respect Hopper has built up in the industry, globally, saw him announced as Worldwide President for FCSI in 2010 (see box on opposite page). While he greatly treasures that honor, for Hopper, the act of receiving thanks from a client “for the effort and time that my company and I have invested in their project to achieve the outcome that they were requiring,” ranks just as highly. “I acknowledge that I am learning on every project, but I try to be considerate to my staff and know my success is due to their assistance in my business.”

The ‘Australian Cattle Dog’ approach

Hopper puts his longevity down to his “genuine enjoyment” of the foodservice industry. “It is never boring. I still love what I do and would not want to be in another industry. I have always had the ‘Australian Cattle Dog’ approach. Those dogs nip at the cattle’s hooves to keep them moving. Sometimes the dog gets kicked in the mouth and may lose a tooth or two, but they shake their head and start nipping at the hooves again. I never give up,” he says.

Hopper also likens his role of that of a conductor, considering his brother-in- law as senior lecturer at the University of Queensland’s School of Music conducted the orchestra for more than 25 years and was also principal cello in the Tasmanian and Canberra Symphony Orchestras. “You have to be in the center of the orchestra, working together to produce a successful outcome,” he says.

For Hopper, the sheer joy of seeing a project take shape – from conception to completion, is what continues to drive him. “There is an amazing feeling when you take a vision in your mind, then produce that as a free-hand sketch on a piece of yellow trace paper. The drawing is passed over to the AutoCAD or Revit technician and then, when you walk into kitchen, bar, laundry or waste management area, you see the completed installation, you feel a sense of pride in what has been completed,” he says.

Despite Hopper having undergone two heart operations five years ago, retirement plans are not on the cards, not when he’s having this much fun. “Consulting is in a fantastically vibrant period here in the GCC,” he says.

That said, he is conscious of not letting his professional life take over his personal life. “I have a wife and two beautiful daughters, and I look forward to sharing in their lives in the future. I enjoy playing sports that do not have a major impact on my knees,” he laughs. “I’d like to take scuba diving and painting up again. I enjoy cooking and watching a good movie. When our dogs were alive, I used to enjoy taking them for long walks.”

Finding the balance between business and pleasure is never easy though, and Hopper admits he remains in love with his work. “I like the relentless chase of it all – the fact that there’s always another project to go and win. I enjoy that.”

Hopper might not have realized his childhood dream of becoming a vet but adopting the Australian Cattle Dog approach in his consultancy life has served him well over the years.

 

IN HIS OWN WORDS: IAN HOPPER ON FCSI AND ITS ROLE

“I served on the APD Board before becoming Worldwide president. It was a turbulent period for the Society, which required firm decisions to be made and to bring various factions together as one. Over the 27 months I was president, the Worldwide board did become one voice.

To get through my term as president I was assisted in a significant way by John Radchenko FCSI (PP) and Scott Legge FFCSI (PP), who gave such amazing support, time and effort even though we lived on opposite sides of the globe. There were many conference calls and telephone calls in the early hours of the morning back in Brisbane. During that period, Ken Winch FFCSI (PP)’s words, knowledge, encouragement and humor will also never be forgotten.

What the Worldwide board achieved then is the foundation to where FCSI is today. I believe without hesitation that FCSI will become the giant within the foodservice industry that I know it can be. All members need to believe what FCSI stands for – that there is a point of difference being a FCSI professional member. It means something. We must remain true to those values.”

Michael Jones