The “Blue Hens of a Feather” series highlights students and alumni of the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics who “flock together” with fellow Blue Hens to launch successful business ventures. Read on for the story of one Double Del couple and their top-ranked bed-and-breakfast in New Zealand:
During her first UD MBA class, Jinya (Catherine) Ren took the only remaining seat in the classroom, which was next to Haowei (Andy) Xu, and asked him if she could borrow a pen. Neither of them would ever have guessed that within a few years’ time, they would be married and co-owners of the No. 1 B&B in Rotorua, New Zealand.
“It was not a ‘love at first sight’ story,” Xu joked. “However, as time went by and we got to know each other better, things changed.
“For the next two years, we went to some classes together, cheered for the Blue Hens, studied late at Morris Library for finals, had fun with our friends, traveled and learned during our study abroad program and sometimes just enjoyed wandering around our beautiful campus,” he continued. “These are all valuable memories we have with each other, friends and UD.”
Ren and Xu graduated in the Class of 2014, both with MBA degrees and Ren with a dual degree in organizational effectiveness development and change. During their time as UD students, the pair vacationed in New Zealand and loved the country. So when Xu was offered a job in Rotorua, New Zealand, they jumped at the opportunity to move Down Under.
Rotorua is famous for being a vibrant center of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture and for its geothermal activity, with bubbling mud pools and the 100-foot tall Pohutu Geyser. After moving to the area, the Double Dels said that they became the owners of the aptly named Springs Luxury Bed & Breakfast “by accident.” Ren spotted a property on the market that came with a B&B business, and the former owners wanted any new owners to keep the business going.
“We had never heard of or stayed in any B&Bs before,” Xu said. “This was really a new concept for us.”
Further, Xu said, the couple would be opening the first and only Chinese-owned B&B in the area: “As young Chinese UD graduates, we were excited to give it a try and make some changes in the field. Dare to be first: This is one of the most important things we learned as Blue Hens.”
Ren then left her job and spent six weeks learning the ins and outs of running a B&B from the previous owners before taking over the role of hostess. She said that by now, the B&B feels like home.
“Most of time, I feel like I am sharing my lovely home with guests from all over the world,” she said. “As a people person, I love this job so much since I am able to stay with and talk with guests.”
Ren explained that owning and operating a B&B in New Zealand is seasonal work. This can mean working for several weeks without a day off during the busy season.
A typical day, she said, looks like this: “My work starts early in the morning. Cooking breakfast. Chatting with guests. Cleaning the rooms. Waiting for new check-ins. Planning trips. Making dinner reservations, etc. This is a job with high commitment, but I really enjoy meeting guests from all over the world.
“I am lucky to have so many lovely guests who are willing to share their stories with me,” Ren continued. “It is a big reward for me to read the comments from guests, knowing that they had a wonderful holiday here in Rotorua.”
As an added bonus, during the offseason, Ren and Xu enjoy two months off. The couple uses this time to visit their families in China; they also travel the world, learning about other cultures, which they said helps them to be better hosts to international guests. After these breaks, Ren said, the couple is “fully charged” and “ready for the next busy season.”
This cycle of hard work and global research has certainly paid off, as TripAdvisor now lists The Springs Luxury Bed & Breakfast as the No. 1 B&B in Rotorua. Xu said that the couple is proud of this ranking, and that their UD MBA degrees have “helped a lot” in building this success.
“This is a business,” Xu said, that incorporates accounting, marketing and more, putting all of the couple’s MBA-honed skills to the test. “Besides, what we learned most from graduate school was communication… with professors during classes, and with classmates during group projects.”
The strong communication skills Ren and Xu built during their time at UD, Xu said, are “crucial for running a successful B&B.” Further, the couple credits the UD MBA program with helping them to learn more about cultural diversity.
“Being born and raised in China, having earned MBA degrees in the U.S. helps us connect with guests more easily,” Xu explained. “The benefits we got from the UD MBA are not only academic; it is more about how we think in different perspectives.”
Recently, Xu has begun studying carpentry, something that was always a dream of his, to further support the business. He builds furniture for the B&B, and he hopes to do increasingly larger projects as time goes on.
All of this is with the goal of making their business the best that it can be, Xu said: “We will never stop, and we will keep providing warm welcomes to guests from all over the world.”