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He's the man behind the Kogan brand which has shaken up Australia's consumer technology market with its low-cost online-only sales model and given established players like Harvey Norman a run for their money. Australian Business Traveller caught up with Ruslan Kogan between trips to the very different worlds of China and Las Vegas.
What city do you most often visit for business?
I go to Shenzhen and Shanghai about ten times a year to meet with the staff at our factories, build relationships and oversee that everything is running smoothly.
What are your best tips for travelling to China?
Always have your mobile phone with you and have the phone number of every place you want to go to. The taxi drivers often don’t understand English at all, so the best way to tell them where to go is the call your destination and hand the phone to the driver. I learned this the hard way on my first trip to China when I turned up with a print-out of the address of my hotel – in English!
What's the one thing you do (or try to do) on every trip?
I like to experience the food in all sorts of different cities so I always do a lot of googling to see what each city can offer and then try and get to some exciting and well reviewed restaurants.
On any business trip, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time usually involves hours at the spa, sauna, and gym. I like to work hard and play harder so there’s not much spare time on my trips!
What’s your favourite city to travel to?
Las Vegas. It's an amazing city with something for everyone. It’s a great place to party, have fun and meet great people – especially when you get to rub shoulders with the most exciting people in the technology industry, when 125,000 people congregate there for the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January.
You’ve got a spare day in Las Vegas: what do you do?
It would start with a spa and sauna session at the Encore/Wynn Resort Spa – it’s one of the most perfect and relaxing places on Earth. Steve Wynn doesn’t mess around when it comes to building amazing things.
Then we’d go for lunch somewhere nice followed by a shopping session for some outfits for that night. The Fashion Show Mall on Las Vegas Boulevard, just across from the Encore and Wynn, is great for this.
Come night time it’s all about Tryst nightclub at Wynn or XS at Encore, depending on how we feel at the time. The party scene in Las Vegas is in a league of its own. The next day would start with the spa and sauna once again.
When you’re overseas, what are your favourite stores to shop in?
Whenever I’m in a new city I love checking out their local supermarkets. I think this is a great way to get to feel the culture. For instance, in China you find all sorts of live fish, turtles and frogs in aquariums. In a Russian supermarket I saw the biggest array of caviar I have every seen. In Italy, the range of hams and salami is amazing.
What’s your favourite hotel?
Shangri-La Futian in Shenzhen is one of the best hotels in the world when it comes to facilities and service. Whatever the management of this hotel does to ensure their first class service is spot on. It’s not a Shangri-La thing, as I reckon the Sydney hotel is terrible. There’s just something special about their hotel in Shenzhen.
I stay at this hotel a few times a year. Each time I arrive, they greet me on a first name basis. A perfect example of their impeccable service is once when I was waiting for an elevator, a staff member walked to me and said: “Mr Kogan, are you heading outside?” I told them I was and the lady said: “Wait one moment, I’ll get you an umbrella - it is forecast to rain in 10 minutes.”
The service in this hotel is genuine and perfect. Every manager of every other hotel in the world should come and stay at this hotel a few times a year so they can learn how to improve.
Another amazing hotel is the Wynn/Encore in Las Vegas. I think that Steve Wynn is to hospitality what Bill Gates is to technology. I used to stay at a different hotel in Vegas each visit to try them all out. Since my first time at the Encore hotel I have never stayed at another place in Vegas. The facilities are spectacular. The décor is tasteful and makes the place feel warm. The service is excellent. The staff all love their job and jump at a chance to help out. Every restaurant in the hotel is rated five stars.
One of my favourite features in the hotel is the Resort Spa, which has won the five star award from Forbes for luxury. It’s one of the most relaxing places in the world.
Tell us about your best overseas dining experience.
I was travelling with some friends to a Greek Island called Kefalonia. We had just spent the day on a boat swimming, diving and relaxing. We built up quite a hunger through the day, so we went to a restaurant on the edge of a cliff with an amazing view. The seafood was the freshest, most delicious tasting I had ever had. When we complimented the waiter, the owner came out to say hello and told us how he had just caught all the fish and octopus himself an hour ago.
What are some essential carry-on items you’d never leave home without?
Two mobile phones (I always travel with a spare!), my laptop, charger and power adapters.
How do you typically spend your in-flight time?
I try to catch up on as much sleep as possible on all flights. If I can’t sleep, I’ll take my laptop out and do some work. Gmail Offline is invaluable here – my staff always know when I’ve been on a flight because they get 40-50 emails from me at the exact same time when I step off a flight and sync up.
I also love the food on flights – Qantas would have to be one of the best in the world at this, thanks to Neil Perry. While dining, I always watch some short light comedy such as The Simpsons or Two and a Half Men.
How do you beat jetlag?
I find the best way is to not sleep when you first get into the city and hold out till the evening to go to bed. Sometimes a spa or gym session just before heading to bed is a great way to relax and unwind.
What are the first things you do on a business trip after settling into your hotel?
Connect my laptop to the wireless network in the room and synchronise all my emails.
What do you like most about travelling, even though it’s for work?
I love seeing new places and meeting amazing people. Our planet is incredible and there is so much to do and see. I’ve spent a large part of the last five years travelling and I’ve still only seen a tiny portion of what’s out there. I can’t wait to keep exploring!
What advice would give airlines to improve the experience of the business traveller?
Start offering Internet access on long-haul international flights. My productivity would be through the roof if I had the Internet on the 13 hour flight to Los Angeles. I love that in the USA you can get Internet on domestic flights.
What are your biggest travel gripes?
One of my biggest gripes lately has been Qantas. I have been flying Qantas for the last five years and noticed the airline get consistently worse and worse – especially for business travellers. The staff are getting ruder. The service is declining. And it’s the only airline in the world where at check-In, the business class line seems longer than the economy line.
The only thing Qantas has done well lately is Neil Perry's food and the way Alan Joyce and his team handled the A380 issue in a very professional manner. For all other issues, Qantas is no longer competitive on a world scale. I used to prefer to fly Qantas and now my assistant has instructions to avoid Qantas wherever possible.
Considering Qantas is so Australian and I love supporting Australian businesses, I hope they can improve soon. I have provided them with a lot of detailed feedback about this – now it’s a matter of seeing if they care.
What’s your best travel advice?
Always use the lounge of the home airline when flying with an alliance such as OneWorld or Star Alliance. For instance, if you are flying Cathay Pacific from Sydney airport, use the Qantas lounge – but if you are flying Qantas from Hong Kong, use the Cathay Pacific lounge. The lounge of the home airline is always much nicer, bigger and better serviced.