Jens Liebhauser is a natural-born contrarian. His mother, an interior designer, liked Laura Ashley florals. Liebhauser, on the other hand, favors the stripped-down opposite. One wonders if this difference can be put down to simple preference, until Liebhauser goes deeper to reveal how his adulthood has been defined by rebelling against his mother’s strong influence.
“She was scared of everything,” says Liebhauser. “When I was a child she put so much sun cream on my face I looked shiny, like a mirror. She wanted me to be safe; I was an only son. But when I hit 18, I realized I could live my life differently. It’s interesting—to have a strong anti-risk mother. I’ve responded to that presence with very little fear of anything. Perhaps I’ve become more conservative about risking money in recent years, but I’m not completely attached to it.” I ask what he means exactly when he’s dressed head to toe in Tom Ford, Dior, and Saint Laurent Paris. “I like to think I could live without money,” he says. “Maybe I could be happy living in a hut in a forest. With the right person, that is. No; it would need to be a hut beside the sea. Beside the Mediterranean.”
If the mother-love story even partly explains his extraordinary get-up-and-go energy, then Liebhauser has much to thank her for. At last count, his prodigious successes number some 24 companies. He is Founder and Chairman of East West Real Estate, which since 2002 has progressed from acquiring German residential portfolios to shaping an international luxury development organization. Other business interests include high-end fashion, sports retail, and clothing production. What he’s best known for, however, are the well-loved properties that make up the Zhero Hotel Group, including his latest hotel in Kappl, Tyrol. Nearly all of these projects feature pieces from his own furniture collection, Liebhauser Home.
It is Liebhauser’s tenacity that is his most obvious characteristic. He is entirely self-made, coming from a suburban town in Gochsheim, Germany. Liebhauser had to rely on his own ambitious instincts, starting with a snowboard shop in Ischgl when he was 18. By 26 he was beginning to buy property—cheap apartments for rental income. With this money, he went on to buy land, and then construct his own houses. Then penthouses. That was in 2000, says Liebhauser, when he also started to get into interior design more formally. Aside from a disastrous investment in a company producing electric scooters—a problem with the manufacturing standards in China—the rest, as they say, is history.
Liebhauser knows what he wants. He has a straight-talking, down-to-earth manner, which others find inspirational. “I’ve always been very candid,” he says. “If I’m asked for my opinion, I give it. In business perhaps I have to be more of a politician, but my natural way has always been to say exactly what I think. I’m also a complete optimist,” says Liebhauser. “It’s hard to scare me.” Ever? I ask. “Well maybe once,” he concedes. “I was kiteboarding in Formentera. The offshore wind was picking up like hell, and for a while, I couldn’t get in or out. That was frightening,” he says, “but not enough to stop me from coming back for more.”
So what’s next, I ask? “Formentera,” he replies as quick as a whip. “This is where I want to open the next Zhero hotel, on Formentera. Don’t you just love the Balearics?”