It’s no small feat to be voted the best hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure not just one, but two years in a row. However, for J. Christopher Burch and his Nihi Resort on the Indonesian island of Sumba, it’s business as usual. Despite having purchased the property in 2012 and reopening the hotel in 2015, Burch is no stranger to the world of hospitality or to the fickle alchemy of consumer tastes. Indeed, he is the brains behind a host of fashion and lifestyle labels, and over the course of his nearly 40-year career, he has helped more than 50 companies get off the ground. Burch is a strong believer in disruptive brands and businesses that have a long-lasting impact, and that change the rules of the game for both consumers and entrepreneurs. The stunning Nihi Resort is a testament to his philosophy of what disruptive business can do when it is combined with a human touch.
Burch didn’t start out as a wunderkind of business or industry; indeed, his teachers warned his parents that he might be a slow learner’ and that they should adjust their expectations for his future. As a student in Pennsylvania, he was restless and often struggled to focus in class. What we now call Attention Deficit Disorder was in those days written off as being a ‘bad student’, ‘rambunctious’, or a ‘daydreamer’. Against the advice of his teachers, Burch’s parents saw his creative spark, and he was sent to private school to get more attention and encouragement. It wasn’t an easy ride though: Mandated by his father, Burch worked summers on construction sites until getting into Ithaca College in New York. It was here that his restless energy found its first outlet: he began selling sweaters door-to-door to college students on campus. What began as a lark designed to capture the attention of comely coeds turned into a serious venture when, along with his brother and a $2,000 investment, the Eagle’s Eye clothing brand was born. The brothers expanded their operation until it was sold to a group that valued the business at $60 million. Not bad for a ‘daydreamer’.
From there, Burch began to amass a portfolio that included luxury apparel labels like that of his then wife Tory Burch along with healthcare, fitness and consumer products like the Bluetooth technology that has revolutionized personal communications and entertainment. This wide range of interests reflects Burch’s approach to business, as he is a believer in the disruptive side of the business as well as in the human side. When he looks at a project or a potential investment, it is about more than the bottom line or the revenue stream. Burch believes that going into business with someone means sharing his time and energy with them, and unlike many people in his position, his time and energy seem to mean more than his financial status. His main contribution to a partnership is that creative, restless spirit that allows him to turn obstacles into unique selling points, and to engage consumers in new and exciting ways.
This intuition is nowhere more obvious than in the path that led Burch to Sumba Island in Indonesia. When he first set foot on the island in 2012 on holiday with his sons, and the island was a surfing village with a collection of small guest houses. When hotelier James McBride told him to come back to Sumba, Burch knew that it was more than just a pit stop, and decided to purchase the land along with a surf retreat owned by a couple from New Jersey. From there, the two partners set about transforming this relatively unknown island into a world class destination. He bought the property with the intention of giving something both to his children and to the community, and so far, he has taken admirable steps to do both of those things. Nihi is the largest local employer on the island, and a portion of the profits are donated to the Sumba Foundation, a non-profit organization that develops programs to help support the local community.
The hotel, which formally opened in 2015 after a $30 million renovation by Burch and McBride, is a stunning mix of solitude and elegance that raised the bar for luxury hotels around the world. It’s 27 villas have private pools and are decorated with Sumbanese antiques, local wood, and textiles. There is a three-villa treehouse on the property, with rooms connected to each other by a bamboo bridge and which share a living area and a private infinity pool. For those who really want to see what drew Burch to the island, his private residence is also available for rent and has a main house with four additional villas, plus a plunge pool looking out over the Indian ocean and a large indoor/outdoor entertaining space. A night in one of the villas starts at $750, and Burch’s private residence goes for an eye-watering $14,000 a night.
For guests of Nihi Sumba Island, there is no shortage of amenities and a seemingly endless list of services available. Guests can take private surfing lessons on a legendary beach that does not allow more than 10 surfers at a time, arrange nature hikes or horseback riding along the beach and into the rainforest. For those who need a little more relaxation, there is a beach spa, or you can arrange for a private treatment in your villa. Nihi Sumba is also home to the open air Ombak restaurant, where guests can sample local Indonesian delicacies (with just a touch of gourmet flair added in) and reserve a romantic table at The Nest, a private dining area perched on the crest of the ocean.
Chris Burch has always believed that success lies on the nexus between innovation and implementation, and his intuitive understanding of consumer behavior has helped to catapult him to one of the world’s most influential investors. However, it has always been about more than money for Burch: he takes risks that many others in his position might not even consider because of his faith in the human beings behind the ideas. His goal is to have a direct, positive and lasting impact on consumers’ lives, and to leave places better than when he found them. As any visitor or resident of Nihi Sumba will tell you, Chris Burch’s disruptive vision is doing incredible things, and he’s just getting started.
Check out Burch Creative Capital to learn more.