Weekly Local Biography

  Patrick-Denis Finet

The general manager of the newly opened Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort is Patrick-Denis Finet. He is French, as you could probably deduce from his name. Listen to him speaking and he is so French you can practically see the Grand Palace of Versailles, in whose shadow he was born.

He came from a well-to-do and well-connected family, with his father working for UNESCO in Paris; however, he did not fit into the mould that Finet the elder imagined for his son. He had an urge to travel overseas, but Finet Senior said, “Know your own country first,” so Patrick-Denis bought a Eurail ticket and covered 15,000 km visiting Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. He also ran out of money on this trip and rang his father reverse charges to ask for subsidy, as he had to return to Paris for his studies. Pere Finet refused and it took him several days to get back and four days late.

Patrick-Denis also showed from an early age that he had a very strong artistic streak in his make-up. As a career he felt that he would like to be an art conservator, and chose the ‘Ecole de Louvre’ to study the history of art.

To counteract this, his father sent him to enrol in a boxing school in Paris, perhaps hoping that pugilism would beat it out of him. Unfortunately (for father) there was a ballet school in the same building, and 17-year-old Patrick-Denis used his father’s money to pay for ballet classes. “I was a bit too eccentric for my Versailles family. It was time for me to go,” said Patrick-Denis, who then left the security of the family home. In retrospect this was to be the turning point in his career path. However, he did say, “My parents gave me the old values - respect and pride. These values help you a lot in life.”

He continued with his study at the Ecole du Louvre, paying for his education and his ballet and jazz dancing classes by working as a part-time model in the day and working in a hotel at night.

As he progressed at the Ecole he began to look at the employment opportunities that being an art conservator offered for him. The future looked progressively bleak as there were no real jobs in the offing. He then felt that he should go into the hospitality industry, to be again met with little parental encouragement. “Do you think that being an ‘aubergist’ is fun?” said his father, but Patrick-Denis thought that it would, and went to hotel school for the next two years.

He began at the bottom, as we are all destined to do, and became an assistant manager and then manager of a small hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris, an area that spawned many artistic careers, including that of singer Charles Aznavour (more later).

It was here that he was offered a job in the Caribbean, to which his family (predictably) said no. Patrick-Denis on the other hand had already found out that if he stayed in Paris he would have to be more than 50 years old before he would be offered a good position, so he accepted the overseas posting. He did want to travel and see the world, but claimed that this was not a move to fuel ambition. “It was a French island, and I was curious, more than ambitious.”

So the curious Patrick-Denis moved away from La Belle France and began his life’s adventure. “I used to think I didn’t like adventure, but I liked the challenge.” He also believes that his training as a dancer has helped him rise to the various challenges that young hoteliers face on the way up. “Having been a dancer, you have to go ‘deeper’ and ‘higher’ and find in yourself the energy to do it.”

He continued deeper and higher, the hospitality industry being good at recognizing potential, and while working in a prestigious island resort in Mauritius was offered the posting to the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort. He took it, to meet the challenge that the new project offered him. He had already opened beach resorts, but this Chiang Mai property was something quite different.

Another challenge that he has to meet in his profession is to recognize and foster potential talent in his staff, just as he himself was fostered. “This is one of my highest joys,” said Patrick-Denis. He also has other challenges that he has to meet, or wants to meet. His life is so busy these days that he does not have the time to sculpt or paint, previous artistic hobbies, but he would like to go to photography school and immerse himself in another art. He has met many famous photographers, including the late Helmut Newton, from whom he purchased a signed original print, at a price that makes Patrick-Denis still wince.

Another challenge also undoubtedly results from his artistic ‘feeling’ nature - he does admit that he can become depressed if he were to allow it. “This is my personal challenge,” he said simply. As ways to meet this, he reads and listens to music. “Perhaps I am ready for yoga and meditation,” he said. “This is a time of change for me.” It sounds that perhaps the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort’s spa area may even have its GM as a client!

Comparisons with the previously mentioned Charles Aznavour, another well known artistic Frenchman, are in order. Aznavour once wrote, “My shortcomings are my voice, my height, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my frankness and my lack of personality.” He is the antithesis to Patrick-Denis Finet, who is tall, personable with an obvious culture and education, a soft lilting voice and the epitome of politeness. However, I did not enquire as to whether Patrick-Denis could sing! He is certainly one of France’s more interesting exports, and enjoying his stay here at Chiang Mai’s Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort.