By FELICITY INGRAHAM
I first met Beat Schlagenhauf when I was covering an event for the Rhythm and Youth Band. This Rake n’ Scrape group comprised young boys and girls and was birthed at the Gerald Cash Primary School under the direction of then music teacher, Nathaniel Adams.
I have heard sweet Rake n’ Scrape music play over and over, but Rhythm and Youth was different. You see, the band was huge - 20 or more members all beating drums, raking saws and dancing at the same time. It represented a dramatic display of Bahamian culture presented in an unconventional way. It was like amplified Rake n’ Scrape, and the obvious joy and pride on the faces of the band members gave hope in the future of an important and sometimes neglected aspect of Bahamian music and culture.
Rhythm and Youth was performing at the Sapodilla Restaurant, Cable Beach for a well-attended event held just for them. The purpose was to raise funds so that these dynamic kids could attend a number of events and even have a television appearance in New York. The event was hosted by Sapodilla; then Minister of Youth, Sports & Culture Dr. Daniel Johnson; current Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar; and Beat, who invited a host of his friends to come out and support. It featured a series of the band’s lively performances followed by an art auction. One more event brought the total to $52,000 raised and the band was able to make it to the Big Apple.
That was four years ago. Since then, I have seen Beat at events all over New Providence, even Over-the-Hill, and I have become one of his many Bahamian friends. A Swiss by birth, Beat considers education as being vitally important for the success of the youth. Since making the Bahamas his new home, he has gained a deep appreciation for Bahamian culture and is investing in the youth. He has assisted in numerous programmes and initiatives and has no qualms with literally getting his hands dirty and participating just like everyone else to bring projects to fruition.
He was at the premier of the Bahamian movie “Cargo” created by the talented Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer and Best Film Ever Ltd. where he was thanked for playing a big role in assisting to fund it. He also assisted in funding the successful launch of popular Bahamian footwear brand Bahems. He gets excited about his work with Children’s Haven of The Bahamas hosting Cinema in the Park. He sits in the small chairs with the kids and eats popcorn with them while watching positive movies for kids.
He also works with Nikita Shiel-Rolle and the Young Marine Explorers group, which gives Bahamian children a totally new perspective and appreciation for the waters that surround this country. The arts are also high on his agenda. He has supported the Charitable Arts Foundation and the Chan Pratt Foundation for Bahamian artists. Working with the National Art Gallery, Beat participated in their Over-the Hill project, rolled his sleeves up, and helped to pull and dump trash from areas like Lewis Street. Well-known Hay Street community activist Scrooge still has an active after-school programme due to sponsorship from people like Beat.
Most recently, Beat decided to launch his own project and has high aspirations that it will become a reality. While visiting in Cat Island, Beat met then BAIC (Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation) official Judith Thompson. They were at the same restaurant having breakfast when Beat was giving suggestions on how the owners could improve the service. Judy then suggested: “If you feel you can do it better, then why not give it a try!”
“She planted a seed in my head and I couldn’t get it out, and so I began to pursue it,” he said.
That resulted in his vision for the Philautia boutique hotel with the motto: “True Wellbeing”. Beat envisions a five-star wellness retreat that would be nestled in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera. He fell in love with Eleuthera from his very first visit – a pristine environment; pink, sandy beaches; the beautiful blues of the sea; Preacher’s Cave; the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve; the Glass Window Bridge; friendly residents, and so much more. Of all the islands he visited, he set his sights on Eleuthera as the potential home of his biggest intended investment in the country.
An initial meeting with Eleuthera residents to propose his project idea to them first, it seems there were more questions than answers. However, a second one was held this past weekend, and Beat came fully equipped with all the answers to the questions residents asked. This, is an important step as he has taken this proposal to government.
There will be countless steps and protocol he must meet before his project is considered for approval. If he is successful, the construction of Philautia will be entrusted to local skilled construction companies who will execute an architectural plan designed by TDG Architects under the direction of Carlos Hepburn and Marcus Laing. Conray Rolle of Transformation Landscaping Development will design a landscape for the resort that would best reflect the natural environment and landscape. Lambert Knowles of ETS (Engineering and Technical Services) will guide the team towards ensuring that environmental rules as respected, especially as the proposed site is a former naval base of the US Government. Gaydene McClain of IBP (International Business Professionals) spearheaded a town meeting where the vision of Philautia was presented. Member of Parliament for Eleuthera Hank Johnson was on hand to observe the proceedings, as were officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, including Director of Investments Candia A. P. Ferguson, Investments officer Carol Young, and Media and Communications Specialist Rocky Nesbitt. Mr. Pinder, Local Government official spearheaded the town hall meeting,and I was also on hand to witness the event.
IBP presented a plan for Philautia – a five-star, 20 room boutique hotel with 15 stand-alone villas. There are plans for a 1,720 square foot wellness facility, a 2,000 square foot medical facility, a 1,700 square foot restaurant and a spa, all perched on the waterfront. The hotel would provide some 120 initial staff for construction, followed by the hiring of about 155 permanent employees– all Bahamians. There would be a training facility to nurture skills to a five-star status, and an after school care programme, not only for the children of the employees, but for the children in neighbouring areas.
An organic farm would be initiated for the resort, but IBP advised Eleutherans that every entrepreneur with a great product would have opportunities for them to be utilised by the resort and sold on the property. In addition, the following are earmarked for investment: the re-development of Cupid’s Cay, a police funding program, environmental clean-ups, and the implementation of additional street lighting, with government approval. This time around, the residents responded favourably, and Beat also took the time to meet as many of them as he could on a personal level. Whether or not he is granted approval, he intends to invest in assisting to clean up the base, which is filled with dilapidated buildings and disintegrating water catchment.
But I wanted to know more about the man himself – where he came from and why he chose The Bahamas. Beat comes from a municipal area in the north of Switzerland near the border for Germany called Schaffhausen. It’s a picturesque medieval city on the river Rhine.
“My childhood days were spent walking up the banks and swimming in the river, and hiking in the woods,” Beat recalled.
“My father used to take us hiking in the adjacent hills. We enjoyed hiking and picking berries but at the time, my father would point out so many plants and their medicinal uses, and we didn’t like that part as much. But now, I realize how important it was – the knowledge he was passing to us, and I appreciate it even more as I am learning about Bahamian bush medicine and their uses.
“My grandfather was a farmer, so we always had an appreciation for fruit and vegetables and they made up a big part of our diet. Like every good Swiss in the area, I also had a German grandmother. In Schaffhausen, we have a beautiful fortress called Munot, which is a big tourist attraction, as well as the amazing museum Allerheigen.
“Growing up, we were allowed to go home for lunch. School would come out at 1pm and resume at 2pm. My father would also come home from work for lunch. This way, the family had a chance to be home together and communicate more. My mother would cook delicious dishes like Rosti and we would sit around the table and laugh and talk. I think they should do something like that here because nowadays, families hardly ever get to communicate with one another.”
After graduating high school, Beat did an apprenticeship in banking. In his home land, apprenticeships are well-respected, just as much as university degrees. During this time, he also worked and saved money to finance his own education, as his parents, Albert and Hedi Schlagenhauf, were a modest, middle-class couple with four children and could not afford to send him.
Initially, Beat took off for Paris to learn French for a year, and then he went to Oxford in England for a year to learn to speak English. In Switzerland, one was required to attend military school until age 30. So, he participated in the ground course (three months) and returned several times for additional training until he reached the rank of captain and was responsible for 200 soldiers.
Zurich, Switzerland was next in high sights and he attended university while working. He worked as a waiter and was so good at it that he received high recommendations for his excellent level of service. He also worked as an employee at the post office to continue to pay for his education. While his fellow classmates could lodge at the school, Beat had to take a one-hour train back home to Schaffhausen every evening and sleep at home, because the funds were simply not there.
After graduating, Beat was offered a position at one of the most illustrious banks in the country – Rothschild Bank. He moved up the ranks but says he remained humble.
“It was a very tough experience, but I learned a lot,” he shared.
“I was honest, hard working and trustworthy. Where I come from, people said what they meant and they could be trusted for their word. But as I began to face the real world when I started working, I learned that not everyone is honest. They were hard life lessons but I maintained that I would keep my word and never consider myself better than anyone.”
He told me that from a very young age, he learned to respect all races, because his father would often bring home friends and business colleagues from other races and cultures. They would eat dinner with his family and it was engrained in him that all human beings should be respected.
After nine years at Rothschild, Beat felt compelled to open his own company – Schlagenhauf and Partners Portfolio Management – a company which is still in existence today. But the slew of laws that changed the financial landscape around the world about a decade ago affected his business as well. He downsized and faced a decision – should he go to Dubai or The Bahamas? He chose to come here.
“I was very fortunate to travel to the best places in the world in my life,” he said.
“I have seen so many beautiful spots; but none of them I felt like I wanted to stay in more than four or five days. I decided that I want to create a place where persons like me – well travelled – would visit and not want to leave. They would want to stay two or three weeks. I want them to become fascinated, as I am, by the beauty of the island of Eleuthera and the people.”