British entrepreneur Mark Weingard has encountered more tragedy in his life than most but that has not stopped him from creating a luxury global hotel brand and his own charitable foundation.
Depending on which way you look at it, Mark Weingard is either the unluckiest man in the world or the luckiest. The former city trader and philanthropist narrowly escaped the September 11 attacks in New York, followed by the Bali bombings in 2002 and the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand in 2004.
Weingard, 49, the founder of the Bali-based charitable foundation Inspirasia, prefers to look at it from a positive perspective. “Focus on what you can do, not what has happened,” he says from his home in Malta.
His ill-fated story began on September 11, 2001 when Weingard—a former trader at Chemical Bank in London, now JP Morgan Chase— was due to attend a business meeting in Manhattan in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. Running late that day saved his life as Weingard just missed the second plane hitting the tower in the terrorist attack, which killed 23 employees in the office he was due to visit.
Just a year later, Weingard again found himself inadvertently caught up in another terrorist attack—the Bali nightclub bombing. At the time he was living in Singapore and it was an argument with his fiancee Annika Linden that prevented him from travelling with her to Bali, ultimately saving his life. Linden died in the blast, together with her group of friends celebrating a wedding. Only the bride Polly Brookes survived when terrorists bombed the Sari nightclub in Bali.
Still reeling from his fiancee’s death, Weingard again confronted his own mortality in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which claimed more than 230,000 lives. At the time Weingard was living in Phuket, Thailand and was at home with friends when the wave hit. They managed to take refuge on the roof of his house and survived. While some might have suffered the after-effects of so much tragedy in such a short space of time, Weingard chose to fight back.
“They are either going to make you or break you,” he says. “Luckily I bounced back. I don’t know why. I think maybe because my father died when I was 10 years old so I learned to deal with crisis in a strange way and try not to think backwards.”
Since then, Weingard has not looked back. To this day, he refuses to watch any footage of the disasters. Instead, he has used the tragedies as fuel for expanding his business and creating his own charitable foundation. The loss of his fiancee inspired him to create the Bali-based Annika Linden Foundation – since renamed Inspirasia – to help children of the city’s bombing victims. “The mission at the outset was to recognise Annika’s spirit and to do something with my life,” he says. “It has all been one interesting adventure.”
Weingard’s new appreciation for life transpires through his work. After the tsunami destroyed his home in Phuket, he decided to rebuild using world-class designers but this time created a luxury hotel in its place and named it Iniala.
“The whole idea was absolute madness,” he says. “I love hotels and I wanted to create something different and exciting. It is a beautiful project that is full of life and vitality.”
Since then, the property has become one of Thailand’s most sought-after hotels, with celebrities including the Kardashians flocking to stay in one of its four private villas, which costs on average up to $2,000 per night. Although Iniala is a business venture for Weingard, it has a charitable arm which extends to helping fund projects in education, health and rehabilitation. Five per cent of revenue from Iniala (amounting to approximately $1 million per year) is donated to the Inspirasia foundation.
“The foundation is the thing I am most proud of in my life,” he says. “Philanthropy is a strange word. It is about helping and looking for the root of problems rather than just giving. I want to teach people and be an inspiration. I want people to understand that if they give just one per cent of their revenue direct to charity, it would be a fortune.”
The foundation is dedicated to funding and supporting projects in health and education for marginalised communities in Thailand, Indonesia, India and Malta. It supports organisations financially and offers advice on how to make communities become more sustainable. Some of its latest projects have included helping children with cerebral palsy, elderly stroke victims and those in need of prosthetic limbs.
Weingard says he never imagined being in a position to help people. “I did not come from a wealthy family. My father was a cab driver. I was a fairly normal kid who had fun with his friends. At the age of 18, I had never even opened a champagne bottle,” he says.
Weingard left his home in the UK at the age of 20 and is confident he will never return permanently. Today home is in the city of Valletta in Malta, where he hopes to become a citizen. He says he is on a mission to make Valletta “a world-class destination within the next seven years”.
Admitting he is a serial risk-taker and likes nothing more than a challenge, Weingard says he wants to become “part of a movement”.
“I want to make a change and do projects that make a difference. I am 50 this year and by the time I am 57, I want to stop doing active investment and go into passive investment, where I am a board member and just direct projects.”
However, he is not throwing in the towel just yet and has several ventures in the pipeline, one of which is building three luxury houses in Barcelona worth between $11 million and $16 million each, with five per cent of the money being donated to charity. Weingard’s latest projects include opening a second Iniala hotel next year. While still focusing on the “small and personal aspect” and exclusivity that Iniala has become known for, he says the new resort will be more affordable, with rates ranging from $200 to $2,250 per night. Other projects include building residential apartments, an office block, multiple restaurants, shops and luxury homes.
“I have enjoyed travelling the world. I am a nomad,” says Weingard. “I hope to live until I am 76 because that means I am three-quarters through my life. The first quarter of my life I was at school, the second I built my businesses, the third quarter I built a foundation and did some fantastic projects. Hopefully the last quarter I can [use to] travel the world teaching charitable causes and just enjoy the last lap.”
For Weingard, it is not about being lucky or unlucky, it is about not giving up. “If someone throws a ball at you, hard, the best thing you can do is hold out a bat and that ball will go back a long way,” he says. “But some of it is luck.”
“I want people to understand that if they give just one per cent of their revenue direct to charity, it would be a fortune”