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Entertainment czar Dennis calls it a night

CHANGEOVER: St James Holdings CEO Dennis Foo, who plans to step down, and his son Gordon, who will take over the reins from him.


    Apr 07, 2014

    Entertainment czar Dennis calls it a night

    AFTER 35 years as a leading light in the local entertainment business, nightclub boss Dennis Foo is finally calling it a night.

    The chief executive of St James Holdings will step down once a reverse takeover deal with property developer Perennial Real Estate Holdings goes through.

    It will end what has been a fascinating journey, one that put Mr Foo in the front line, as Singapore's entertainment industry transformed itself from frumpy wallflower to one of Asia's premier party spots.

    But there is that reverse takeover to seal first.

    The deal, which was announced last month, will see Perennial's assets injected into Catalist-listed St James.

    That will in turn transform St James into a real estate developer that combines Perennial's assets in Singapore and China by the end of this year.

    The existing St James entertainment business will be divested and taken private, also by the end of this year.

    St James has 13 bars and clubs in Singapore, including Peppermint Park and Mono, both in its sprawling St James Power Station venue, and the mandopop club Shanghai Dolly at Clark Quay.

    Mr Foo, 61, said that the high saturation of players in the nightlife market, the difficulties in expanding abroad and the cost of keeping a company listed were behind the Perennial move.

    He said the move to take his business private, as well as his impending retirement, would mark the closing of a chapter in St James history.

    Mr Foo is a majority stakeholder of St James through Dennon Entertainment, a private company controlled by him and his family.

    St James had revenue of about $30 million last year.

    However, he believed the time was right to leave his executive position as he could no longer relate to the needs of such a rapidly changing market.

    "I do not think I can keep up with them at my age," he said.

    Responsibility for running St James will fall on his 32-year-old son Gordon, who has 12 years of experience in the industry and is the firm's coordinating director of operations.

    There have been massive changes over the years but some challenges that affect the sector never change.

    "There is a labour crunch in the hospitality industry," Mr Foo said.

    Rising rents are also a persistent problem.

    In addition, the 25 per cent hike in alcohol tax announced in the Budget in February has led to some suppliers increasing the price of spirits by 5 to 15 per cent, according to Mr Foo.

    Despite these issues, Mr Foo was confident that the nightlife industry would grow bigger and better on the back of increased tourism.

    He also believed that the industry would see more mid-sized clubs and bars with live music, such as Timbre and Aquanova pitched against larger dance clubs like Zouk and Fenix.

    Now, after what for many people sounds like a high life of glitz and glamour, Mr Foo is keen to change gears.

    He wants to spend more of his nights with his family and focus on his public work as a member on public councils, such as the Workforce Development Agency Council and the Pro-Enterprise Panel established by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

    However, Mr Foo does not intend to leave the nightlife business altogether.

    He is open to taking on a non-executive, advisory role in St James, and as president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association he hopes to share his expertise with newcomers to the industry.

    But the guard is changing, as he happily admitted, and the torch is being passed to the next generation.

    "For the drinks in my clubs, my son has already replaced my favourite Johnnie Walker whisky with Chivas Regal," he said with a smile.

    "Perhaps it is time that he gets to call the shots."