In nearly every airport around the country, there they are, like glowing beacons of comfort: the Hudson and Hudson News logos. Whether stopping for a bit of entertainment for the long flight or a snack to fill a grumbling stomach, many a weary traveler has seen the brands as saviors. Hudson and Hudson News are the world’s most-popular branded travel convenience stores, and they are operated by Hudson Group, one of the largest travel retailers in North America. And the brand is not done expanding. As the regional director of facilities and store development at Hudson Group, Anders Johnels has come to understand exactly what it takes to keep on growing.
Hudson Group currently operates more than 970 Hudson, Hudson News, and Hudson Booksellers locations in North America and Canada that include cafés, specialty retail, and duty-free shops—and Johnels oversees all construction operations on the East Coast. He sat down with American Builders Quarterly to discuss strategies for keeping up with rapid growth, his transition to the United States from his native Sweden, and the importance of building strong relationships.
You came to the US from Sweden for school and began working for Hudson Group in 2008. What drew you to retail in the first place?
I was working for Nova Southeastern University in construction and facilities before getting an opportunity to work in retail construction. I always enjoyed the business aspect of project management, and when the opportunity came from Hudson Group, it was just a natural progression and a great challenge. The transition from Swedish to American business culture has been interesting and very exciting. Swedish people tend to take more time to market, while the US business model is faster. This translates to a higher pace from start to finish on projects.
Did you always envision yourself in this field? How difficult was the transition from Sweden to the US, and what did that experience teach you?
No, I didn’t necessarily always envision myself in this field. My background was primarily in military and security work, which is very different from commercial construction. As for the transition from Swedish to American culture, it was fairly straightforward. All of my family is still in Sweden, but I had prior experience with Americans and American culture in Sweden. The biggest lesson I learned was to keep your eyes and ears open and not to take anything for granted.
In your industry, how vital is the art of building relationships to the process of expansion?
Extremely vital. I am a huge believer in building relationships, simply because it has proven over time to generate expertise, trust, and quality. At Hudson Group, we’ve developed long-term relationships with many of the companies we use, but we are also very cost-aware.
You are continuing to expand the business throughout North America. What sorts of challenges have you faced in that process?
Our business has grown both organically and through acquisition over the past 30 years. In the airport industry, logistical issues are ever-present. With both federal and state guidelines that come into play, along with local rules and regulations, our project scope always varies from location to location. It takes a lot of time and patience to cover all areas of the job and to make sure the finished product is delivered to everyone’s satisfaction. Post-security locations offer a great deal of planning in terms of time and cost, as an example.
What keeps you striving and pushing forward despite all the obstacles?
The people I work with make my job interesting. I enjoy the interaction with all my colleagues, the builders, providers, and airport executives.
For many years, Hudson Group has also been expanding into cobranding—particularly through partnerships with Dunkin Donuts and Victoria’s Secret. How have these partnerships influenced your role?
We work with so many luxury brands, and because of this, it’s become second nature to develop partnerships and teamwork across brand borders. I truly enjoy working with other brands to learn their processes and products. It’s a fantastic way to develop know-how in retail construction.
Your responsibilities must leave you with a lot of different things that need to be connected.
As regional director of facilities and store development, my job is to manage the architects, engineers, GCs, and material suppliers in order to make each project come to life. In many ways, I operate like a spider in a web—making sure all things are tied together. At Hudson Group, communication is a bit of a catchphrase these days, but without it we’d all just be guessing.
It must take strong leadership to build those connections. What are the key components needed for managing your experts and ensuring they’re all working toward one common goal?
I believe in a laissez-faire, hands-off management approach, which basically means you hire competent people and communicate expectations instead of micromanaging every detail. It empowers each person to bring their best selves to the table.
You manage the East Coast portfolio from New York to Miami, and your job scope stretches from hiring and managing architects to working with GCs. How do you cope with that level of multitasking? Do you enjoy working on multiple things at once?
My job sure keeps me busy, but I always enjoy a good challenge. As you know, in this industry, you’re only as good as your last project, so it is important to stay current. My area covers most of the East Coast, not all of it, but let me tell you, it’s plenty.
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on in the past?
It’s hard to pick one specifically, but since I live in the New York tristate area, I’ll go with JFK’s Terminal 4. I fly out of there often, and I’ve had many ongoing projects there. It’s great to see your projects come to life and to also see people enjoy your work.
What do you feel is the most crucial aspect of success in your job? Does it relate more to expertise or relationships?
Listening is key. Communicating expectations is just as important. Being fair with target budgets and timelines is not always the easiest thing, but again, it has to be clearly understood by all parties involved. Hiring experienced professionals certainly helps in this process.
Who you surround yourself with is crucial to your development as a person and with the business. When did you learn these life lessons?
You are right, it’s crucial to your development. I learned my most important life lessons from paying attention to my father, my coaches, my commanding officers, and my bosses, just to name a few. I like listening to older generations who speak from experience, rather than theory.
Those leaders must’ve had a lot of important wisdom to impart. Has one particular seed they planted stuck with you?
The one indelible piece of wisdom that I’ve learned is that actions speak louder than words.
You’re an avid sportsman, enjoying tennis, golf, skiing, scuba diving, and many other hobbies. How important is health and well-being when faced with as high-powered and stressful a job as yours?
Whiskey helps. [Laughs]
Surely that’s not all that helps, though. Do you find yourself picking up more hobbies the busier you get? How important is health and fitness for stress?
Having a good work-life balance is key when it comes to enjoying life outside of work. And, as important as work is and always will be, family always comes first.
Holt Construction Corp. congratulates Anders Johnels on his recognition by American Builders Quarterly. For more than 98 years, Holt has been a full-service construction-management, general contracting, and design-build firm offering an extensive range of services in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Texas metro areas. Holt thrives on its reputation as a quality construction company that maintains core values and family atmosphere while providing the best services to its clients.
Silver Star Industries has provided high-quality millwork for top airport retailers including Anders Johnels and Hudson Group for more than 30 years. Full in-house fabrication (including wood, metal, acrylic, lighting, and graphics) and hands-on project-manager control means we can outperform other domestic suppliers with excellent value at every level.
Tricarico Architecture and Design is a full-service firm that has specialized in retail, restaurant, automotive, fitness, beauty, corporate interior, and hospitality work for 30 years.We are proud to have long-standing, incredibly talented, and esteemed partners such as Anders Johnels and the Hudson Group. Congratulations on your well-deserved recognition!