It’s no wonder Chris Laval has a spring in his step. His career has sent him island hopping from Noumea to French Polynesia to the Whitsundays. Although he’s now switched his sarong for a business suit, Kate Bastable discovers that the Principal of the Ray White City Office in the city heart at 21 Wood Street has not lost his fun-loving attitude to life.
Chris Lava’s laissez-Faire attitude to life has been cast in a world of sun and sandcastles. It’s obvious the Bordeaux-born entrepreneur, whose island hopping existence has stretched as far as the New Caledonian beaches he windsurfed as a child, knows how to live.
Chris claims he works for fun rather than to achieve recognition as a big business man. However, good times don’t get in the way of hard yakka – Chris’s stint in hospitality rewarded him with a knack for getting things done while instilling joy in those around him.
Although his earliest memories were of climbing apricot trees and visiting the guarded fort near his French childhood home, Chris took to island life like a crab to the beach. When he moved to Noumea, New Caledonia, as a seven-year-old, Chris spent his free time windsurfing and, later, sailing his father’s self-built yacht.
At 15, he announced his plans for the future, declaring he would earn a living out of making people happy. True to his word, Chris entered the hospitality industry at 19, working as a deckhand on a Chinese junk in Noumea. “We used to take Japanese couples cruising in the harbour and serve them a massive seafood platter at tables set up under the stars – they loved it,” recalls Chris, who quickly realised a career in the hospitality industry would require him to speak English.
After passing a flight attendant course in France, 20-year-old Chris took the ferry across the channel to England, determined to learn its language. Armed with a suitcase and guitar, and unable to speak a word of English, he caught a taxi to his new home, where he was welcomed by an amazing old Irish woman soon to be affectionately called “Mum”. “I was a Frenchman from New Caledonia who was working for an Indian Restaurant and living with an Irish family in England,” Chris laughs as he describes his pommy life. “It took me three months to work out who belonged to who in my host family and I had stickers on everything telling me what they were – walls, windows, doors and door handles!”
Mission accomplished, Chris returned home to work for a Noumea hotel chain an was soon transferred to Moorea, a tiny island near Tahiti. “I had this image of Tahiti – white beaches, floral shirts and ukuleles. When my plane landed there was a truck driver wearing white pants, white shoes and a red and white floral shirt. And there were leis! I felt like the clock stopped,” explains Chris, comically demonstrating the driver’s sloth-paced walk. “There was Hawaiian music like you wouldn’t believe in Moorea – it was the most beautiful resort!”
As it happened, the resort wasn’t the only beautiful thing in Moorea. While orgainising guests’ travel arrangements, Chris met the love of his life, Tammy, who worked at the desk across from him. “she had the best job in the world, organising excursions and taking people like Marlon Brando to islands, shark feeding and scuba diving. She wasn’t there very much – she was always off having fun – but romance soon blossomed.”
When Chris was called back to Noumea, he and Tammy, who is half Thai, half Australian, embarked on a two-year battle against immigration laws, which saw them migrate from New Caledonia to Australia to Thailand. The two were forced to spend a lot of time apart, so there was much celebration when an Australian visa allowed them to be reunited in the Whitsundays.
After three magical years at Hamilton Island, Chris and Tammy were married at the Gold Coast, where Chris worked in hotel management for 12 years before joining the real estate industry in Mackay. The move to the mainland has not dampened Chris’ appreciation for the small things in life – especially his two beautiful bambinos, Olivia – six, and Ethan – three. And although he has little time to windsurf these days, Chris is delighted with the cards his working life has dealt him. “I come to work to have fun and to achieve something. Each day I ask myself how I can achieve something better for the people around me, whether it be mentoring my team or helping a desperate client sell their house.”
Chris and his highly infectious positive attitude have achieved his long-held dreams to make people happy and build his own business. Now he’s turned his attention to the dreams of others, encouraging his team members to display their dream in their workspace. “If you have a dream, achieving it is easy. It’s important to look at the big picture and stay positive! At the end of the day you can’t change the weather. If it’s raining it’s raining. The only thing you can change is your mindset”. CL
June 2007 – City Life – Kate Bastable