A brighter view of care homes

Avnish Goyal focuses on good facilities and buoyant staff morale
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The Independent Online

Avnish Goyal had his first exposure to the world of commerce through his father's newsagents. At 11, he worked in the shop and - along with his brothers and sisters - did paper rounds.

Now, nearly 30 years later, he has just been named Newcomer of the Year in the 10th Eastern Eye Asian Business Awards announced last week. The awards honouring the leading figures in Asian enterprise and business were accompanied by the launch of the annual publication Success Magazine, which provides insights into the experiences of Goyal, his fellow award winners and many other people in this increasingly important section of the British business community.

Although Goyal became an accountant with Coopers & Lybrand in the 1980s, his interest in the family business continued and in 1991 he left accountancy to work with his two elder brothers on developing the family's portfolio of residential and commercial properties in Essex and London.

Fittingly, he got into his current business - of running care homes - through his wife's family. Having looked enviously at their care home business in South Wales, he decided to make the leap for himself. "I felt it was more exciting and represented more of a challenge," he says. He also realised that in an industry that characteristically makes headlines for the wrong reasons he could differentiate his business from the competition through having high standards of care and of staff morale. In the less than 10 years since Goyal acquired his first care home in 1997, Hallmark Healthcare has grown into an organisation of 1,100 employees. It has plans to increase the number of beds in its homes from the current 1,100 to around 5,000 by 2010. Nor are the homes just stacked with beds. Goyal takes pride in creating state-of-the-art facilities, such as cinemas and hydrotherapy pools.

Goyal realises, however, that it isn't just about creating good facilities. He is a passionate believer in the idea of inspiring and motivating staff to do good work. Though aware that his enthusiasm for personal development through such concepts as the "fire walk" made famous by motivational speaking guru Anthony Robbins is regarded sceptically by some, he has introduced it throughout the company and attributes much of the success to the approach. "We have a success rate of 95 per cent of people saying they had an amazing experience," he says.

As the expansion plans indicate, Goyal is ambitious for the company. But he is not keen to grow at any cost. For the moment, he says he has no plans to bring in outside investors through a stock market listing or - as many in the sector have done - selling to venture capitalists. "It's a family business and we can run it how we want to," he says.

In particular, he is conscious that if Hallmark were a business with outside investors it would be difficult to justify the expenditure on staff development, for instance. "Sometimes you can't put a number on something. You just know it's the right thing to do and you see the benefits down the line," he says. "We want to be regarded as the leading care provider not necessarily the largest."

As for the idea that he is typical of Asian business people, Goyal is sceptical. There are so many different types of Asian business it is hard to say. But he does admit to having been inspired to go into business by seeing what his brothers were doing and to have had instilled in him "from a very young age" his parents' values of honesty and integrity.

Now, he says, the biggest thrill he gets is being told by relatives how happy residents are.