Monday, December 18, 2017

Gordon Gannon risking everything to build a community

Encuentro beach“I believe in Cabarete. I want the town to grow and I’m happy to have played a part in its development. I fell in love with Cabarete the same way most of us have when we come here, because it’s a very special place”.

Gordon Gannon’s departing words as we wrapped up his interview still lingered in my mind as I woke the following day, in the little strip of sand most of us reading this will call home.

It takes a special kind of man to wether life’s storms far away from their native land and Canadian- born Gordon seems to have endured his share with dignified aplomb and humour.

Hailing from McCreary, a small town outside of Winnipeg, Gordon’s upbringing was a quirky mixture of traditional family values and bohemian freedom. His father, a London born entrepreneur, imprinted on Gordon from a very young age the importance of hard work. Aged 11, the athletic and jovial boy started working alongside his father across all his businesses, which ranged from buying and turning around bankrupt restaurants, through to related aspects of the hospitality trade.

By the age of 12 his parents had sadly separated, leaving Gordon essentially raising himself whilst living with his father. Both of his younger sisters remained with their mother, and a sensitive Gordon elected to stay with his dad, as he would have “felt bad about leaving him on his own.”

Working as a cleaner, cook, general run around and any other position that was available in his father’s restaurants began to shape Gordon’s future. He learned some very useful life lessons at a tender age, being privy to the conversations of waitresses and chefs as they expressed relationship woes openly with the impressionable boy. He learned the art of being charming and people pleasing…two key assets in his upcoming life adventures.

Gordon Gannon

Taking a gap year aged 17, Gordon and some friends took jobs in the ski town of Banff, falling in love with the international resort lifestyle, which was still in its relative infancy. The global communities and their different languages were something exciting that further helped Gordon develop, who was then very much a “jock with social sensibilities”. The adrenaline sports on offer were the proverbial cream on the cake.  

Post Banff, Gordon’s wanderlust was fully engaged. Working his way as a chef across hotels, resorts, boats and anywhere else he could apply his epicurean skills to, Gordon travelled extensively across Australasia and the South Pacific.  His youth and enthusiasm provided ample opportunities to work his way up and through luxury environments, ensuring his hard work provided a healthy salary.

Three years of life changing experiences came to an end and still only 21, Gordon made the decision to go back to school and study for his degree. Choosing Liberal Arts, he still didn’t really have any idea of what he wanted to do long term, simply that he wanted to get into “business”.  In the first three summers of university he filled his time working for his father’s friends’ company, essentially helping to sell building products door to door. This is where Gordon learned not to be afraid of the word “no”. Through charm and tenacity he made $75,000 in the first summer, trebling that amount by the time he quit school three summers later, one year ahead of finishing his degree. This is Gordon’s only regret.

Playa Grande

With the profits of his work, Gordon bought his first business- the bankrupt Malibu bar and Grill in Winnipeg. His father acted as a mentor and eventually took over the business as Gordon entered into the property world as a Resort developer in Toronto.

A 1989 family vacation bought the Gannon clan to Cabarete. In a surprise move, his father- who had never traveled outside of Canada- bought a piece of land on the beach three days after having landed on the island.  Gordon tried his best to convince his father that there were far better islands in other parts of the world, however his father’s wise words were “this place is perfect because it has nothing”

His father then spent the next 6 years simultaneously developing property in Gaspar Hernandez and other parts of the North Coast, just as Gordon was making great money and living it up working in Lake Erie, Ohio, complete with fancy car, boat house and access to his company’s private jet. He was still just 24.  Working hard and playing hard were to be an ongoing feature in Gordon’s life.

By 1996  -restless and looking for a new adventure- Gordon decided to move to Cabarete with “$10k to pay for a business and my surfboard”. His father had found the Wind Surf Resort, which had gone bankrupt and needed a bail out. This had been the first apartment complex in Cabarete and was only 8yrs old, however because the owner was living in Canada, the lack of hands-on management had caused a demise in its fortunes.  

Gordon Gannon Surfing
Gordon Gannon Surfing

The beauty of youth is that you are not yet jaded by life’s set backs, and Gordon recalls nothing but good times in spite of having to manage renovations, builders and suppliers with no Spanish whatsoever. He loved working with the Dominicans and felt very lucky to have met a great architect and team, with whom he subsequently worked on other projects. “Feeling” his way around the language, culture and with negligible experience in renovations, once Gordon took over the resort became the first modern construction in Cabarete, installing windows (as opposed to shutter blinds), cable, hot water and air conditioning.

At that point Cabarete had 4,000 rooms, so his investment in the property paid off. People would go there just for a hot shower! There were times however, that the initial $10k investment did not cover the lack of clientele at the property. Punta Cana was on the rise and eventually all but killed off the roaring tourism of Cabarete.

“On more than one occasion I had to go into the casino and gamble my last pesos to raise enough money to pay my services and employees” he recalls with cheeky humour.  This is certainly the mark of a man that does not give up in the face of adversity.

By his second winter Gordon met some oil professionals who were holidaying in his resort. Gordon’s intuition was that Cabarete was going to boom in the same way that the resorts he visited in his elongated gap year had done.  Around the same time he had met and was courting his now wife, the elegant and stylish Begona, whom he had literally fallen head over heels in love with when he tripped up outside New Wave (now Jose O’Shea’s), as he gazed at her polished beauty.

“Begona was a stewardess with Air Plus, and seeing her and her colleagues at the bar was like seeing aliens. They had heels and amazing dresses- up until then all the girls in Cabarete were strictly surfer chicks- not glamorous like Begona” The day after he met her he told the then owners at the EZE bar that he had “met the girl I’m going to marry”.


A couple of years of long distance love prior to their subsequent wedding, plus the fortuitous meeting with investors, created the perfect recipe to grow his property business. Gordon gives full credit to his dynamic wife for the inspiration to build Ocean Point, finding the site and creating the aesthetic design.

“ Ninety per cent of the construction was based on her first sketch. Her design ideas were grander and based on Balinese architecture, which is where we spent our honeymoon. We fired three architects before we found one who would deliver her creative!” His smile of pride lit up the room.  

Ocean Point was delivered on time and on budget and was inaugurated in 2004, the majority of owners having been sourced from Gordon’s still-running Windsurf Resort (as it had been rebranded after expansion). Gordon had by 2001 taken up kitesurfing on a two-line kite, and absolutely fell in love. Kite beach didn’t even exist then so he must have been the first to start kiting off this point, although Gordon credits Stefan from Kite Exite and Markus from Take off 123 as the pioneers of kiting in Cabarete.

Kite beach

His next project was far more ambitious- a $40m, 280-room hotel and resort complex just East of EZE. With 75% of the units sold off plan, this would have been the largest development on the beach. Unfortunately this was the worst timing imaginable. The 2008 global collapse took another victim.

“ I worked out that if even if 50% of buyers didn’t pay their next installments we would have still been ok. Unfortunately 90% ended up defaulting which I had not expected”

The economics were brutal- of $2m receivables he only recovered $100,000- but undeterred and with a young family to think of, Gordon put all his own money and borrowed more from the bank to keep the project alive. He negotiated with every one of his buyers and suppliers, not wanting to give up, but this proved futile.

Show me any developer that didn’t lose everything or was seriously wounded in that colossal crash, and I will show you someone who was not a developer.

To compound this terrible period, Gordon’s father’s brutal and untimely death happened almost simultaneously as his financial world had collapsed. The only thing that kept him going was his incredible wife, who was there to pick him up at his lowest points. Others would have walked away from Cabarete, but Gordon’s love for his adopted home, and the kindness shown to him by the community built stronger, unbreakable bonds.

Gordons family

“I feel lucky.  I came here with nothing and now have more than nothing. How could I complain about anything in my life when the people around me have $800 to live on? I have had an extremely privileged life. Life has been overwhelmingly good to me”

Gordon is now consulting for the developers of La Boca, a tech savvy group of people led by Fabrice Grinda, a French-born Princeton graduate who wants to invest in Cabarete and create a ‘silicon valley’ in the area. They hope that the Internet startup will certainly act as incubator for new businesses and attract leading entrepreneurs and engineers to the area.  

“La Boca will create the rebirth of Cabarete, and Fabrice will be here as mentor and investor. It’s an exciting time for our town”

If there is one person who genuinely loves Cabarete and its community it’s Gordon Gannon. He has seen and survived the changes of the last 20 years and will undoubtedly continue to help support his beloved home through the next 20 and more.

Gordon SurfingGordon and friends

Photos by Gordon Gannon, Copyright 2015


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