Pictured from left to right: Tony Sewell, Glen Sewell. Astra Apartments Sydney CBD
Hospitality and preventing infections in public health.
No. This isn’t a story about the current pandemic. These are the professional backgrounds of the owners of Astra Apartments in Sydney’s CBD. Together they built the location’s corporate long-stay apartment business from the ground up.
So… who are Glen & Tony?
We are brothers. We grew up on a rural property just outside of Young in NSW with our mum, dad, three other siblings, and a collection of farm animals. Like many who are brought up in the country, we loved all the freedoms and experiences that came with living on a property. But also like many, once we finished school, we were both itching to get out and explore the unknown.
Yes, each of us went on to study and start our careers in Sydney.
You didn’t start your careers accommodating business travellers. In fact, you both had very different professions to start with. Tell us a little more about that.
Glen: I started out in Banking but realised it wasn’t for me. I needed more human interaction!
At which point, I decided to dip my toe into hospitality, a move I have never looked back on. Initially, I took a role as a Concierge at the Hilton, where I combined my people skills with my passion for all things Sydney. I later decided to further spread my wings and moved to the UK, where I was in charge of airline sales for Sheraton. Over the course of the next few years, I returned to Australia, and continued to work across hotels and resorts heading up a range of divisions including Corporate Sales for the Hotel Nikko Potts Point, and at The Anchorage at Port Stephens.
In the late ’90s, I had a growing appetite to run my own business, so went on to set up a cafe in Mosman, NSW. It was at my cafe that I met Peter Davis, the founder of Astra Apartments. At this point, Astra had established a presence in Melbourne and Chatswood. I saw a great opportunity in what Peter was building and decided I wanted to be part of it. And so, I became the owner of Astra Apartments Sydney CBD. That was nearly 15 years ago!
What about you Tony?
Tony: My background is a little more left field. I studied in Sydney and entered the health care system via nursing – and had the pleasure of working with Victor Chang’s cardiac team. Sadly, after his tragic passing, the team dispersed. Having worked in such a diverse and international team I then moved to London, where over the next few years I specialised in Neonatology and managed a premature baby intensive care unit. Outside of the obvious, I was fascinated by life at this stage and the technology supporting premature infants. I was challenged and invigorated with the change in my career and excited about the pathways opening.
I later completed another degree in infectious disease and started mapping organisms across England and Europe, and then moved across to the NHS (National Health System) and commenced my masters in medical Anthropology. I started working for the Department of Health responsible for several national Government programs designed to reduce the burden of preventable infections in public health care as well as reducing the risk of new and emergent risks to public health.
It’s funny now, reflecting on my past and present capacities and seeing the intersections within my career. I feel greatly positioned with our ability to accommodate and understand the needs and behaviours of a migrating and mobile workforce. Having an in-depth understanding of pandemic preparedness and infectious diseases has given strength to our decision-making. Particularly when moderating our business to look after and care for those who have endured our Australian pandemic experience with us and preparing for those we expect to meet in the future as we return to a more normal world.
How did you come to join Astra’s Corporate Long Stay Apartment business in Sydney?
Tony: Glen and I have always been close so when I was in Australia, I made time to spend with him in Sydney. He knew all the great restaurants!
Glen: We also sometimes had overlaps, where I would be in Europe, and Tony in Australia – somewhat of a house swap. Tony would then jump in and help out with the business in these scenarios.
Tony: Which I enjoyed!! Glen was keen to grow the business. He had grown his portfolio of long stay apartments in Sydney to the point he needed another person to help him move to the next phase of the journey. For me, it was a great opportunity as I had a lot of transferable skills. Similar to the programs I ran for the national health system, there was a nice sense of putting things in order, coordinating times and events, and managing people. Most of all, I loved the energy, being on the ground, engaging with people from all over the world.
What makes this partnership work so well?
Glen: Trust! The benefit of working with your brother is how deep that trust runs. We have similar values and work ethics, and that family approach transcends positively through the corporate apartment business.
Tony: We also complement each other and push each other to the next level. Interestingly, when we started working together, we both brought unique strengths to the business. But over the years – our skills have actually morphed.
Glen: Definitely. We can run the business separately – but know how each other thinks and behaves – so we can independently make decisions, but know the other would make the same choice. It has allowed us to dream big, scale with proper processes in place and always keep our relationships with our bookers at the forefront.
Brothers and business partners. How would you describe the other person in 3 words?
Glen: Tony is organised, engaging and thorough.
Tony: Glen is incredibly supportive, always receptive/open, and approachable
What has been your champagne moment running long stay Sydney CBD Apartments?
Glen: Prior to Tony joining me, I was hovering between 25 and 30 Corporate Apartments in the CBD. Once he joined, we set a goal to reach 100. So when we not only achieved it, but surpassed it, that was definitely a champagne moment for me. Not only is it a good feeling to achieve what you set out to, but it really demonstrated the value our clients saw in our corporate apartments and the service we provide.
Tony: Similar moment! Our first year working together we doubled the inventory and simply kept going. But I want to draw attention to our ability to withstand change. The pandemic has thrown us some pretty big curveballs but if I take a step back and reflect on it, our resilience and our commitment to change and survival is definitely worth raising our glass to.
What’s ahead for Astra Apartments Sydney CBD?
Glen: Once travel kicks off again, we plan to grow. The pandemic has given us time to take stock and assess our approach going forward. We are already negotiating our entry into some exciting new buildings. Plus we are thinking about how to continually enhance the experience for both our bookers and our corporates.
Last, but not least, once we are free to move about, where in the world would you like to go?
Glen: I look forward to going back to Scotland, where my wife is from. It’s been some time since we saw her family so we look forward to seeing them again.
Tony: I’m actually really happy where I am right now! I have a property in the country and have some incredible connections in the community and the experiences are endless. Echidna searching, platypus spotting – it’s all in my normal and I love it.