Adam Stewart – Dreaming of a bigger future for Caribbean hospitality
Adam Stewart has under his leadership portfolio 10 major companies, and with Sandals 2.0 a reality, the executive chairman of the luxury-included resort brand is dominating prime time when it comes to creative innovativeness.
The Sunday Gleaner sat down with the 41-year-old husband and father of three in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last week for a candid chat. Soon after, Stewart left that US territory and was on a plane to another Caribbean destination then another, where he is constructing, upgrading, or just visiting one of the resorts.
Stewart will tell you he was trained and equipped for his current role very early in life by the man he dubbed “larger than life”, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart – his late father.
Reminiscing on the days he accompanied his father to work as a prep schooler, Stewart said he was placed in the corner, put in situations that he really shouldn't be, but never realised how much knowledge he was gaining watching people interact, witnessing professionalism and respect at the negotiating table. Real-life lessons that can't be taught in the classroom, he notes.
Part of my strategy
Today, he is doing the same, not just with his own children, but within the Sandals Resorts International group as well as the ATL Group of Companies, which his father founded.
“Taking team members on the road, showing them a complete situation that they may not see every day and including more people in meetings is part of my strategy,” Stewart shared.
These are among the initiatives he and the leadership team of dreamers have been using to inspire the 16,000 dream catchers employed to the luxury chain of Sandals resorts across the Caribbean region.
“The aim is to dream bigger to understand the context of hospitality, what's happening in Caribbean hospitality, what's happening in aviation, what's happening with consumers, what are they looking for, and then making sure that we have the absolute best teams in each of the divisions. How we deal with our aviation partners and the whole customer experience coming together,” he said.
Stewart includes the young thinkers in talks on the function of travel agents, airlines and linkages, purchasing, and all of what he says become corporate brand standards, putting more people in the room to understand how the mechanics work – so that they can formulate their own thoughts.
BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY, SOULMATE'S STRONG WILL TO BEAT CANCER
Adam Stewart has responsibility for Sandals, Beaches, ATL Automotive, ATL Appliance Traders, the Jamaica Observer, Island Routes, AC Marriott Hotel, Enterprise Car Rental, and partners as a franchisee in Starbucks.
Asked how he balances such a demanding work schedule with family life, Stewart's response was: “They say you don't know how strong you can be until you need to be strong. I would put it through another lens and say, 'You don't know how much you can achieve until you push yourself to continue to achieve'.”
Part of his quality family time includes running with his wife, Jill, and they both love boating and travel. He takes his eldest child to work with him just like his father did, sharing with The Sunday Gleaner that the child asks very pertinent questions, learning the family business.
Stewart met his soulmate Jill in 1995, on his first day at boarding school in the United States, and said he fell in love with her that very same day.
“She didn't fall in love with me that fast, but we became very close friends. I found it fascinating that she was from The Bahamas. My family's love for The Bahamas has been long and my father basically worked to fish at the end of his life, and as a family, he would take us to The Bahamas to fish some of the best fish in the world,” he recalled.
Interestingly, the year he met Jill, Sandals Royal Bahamian opened, so the love-struck teenager started spending time there with her.
Jill's brother, sister and parents, he said, all became family to him long before they were married in 2009 and their journey has been beyond beautiful, he told The Sunday Gleaner.
That journey was rocked earlier this year when Jill – a marathon runner, who eats, sleeps and drinks healthy – was diagnosed with sarcoma, an uncommon group of cancers which affect the bones and connective tissue such as fat and muscle.
He described the earth-shattering event as an example of bad things happening to good people.
“She led by example – highly, highly disciplined and determined. And interestingly, Jill educated herself about the dos and don'ts long before she was diagnosed with cancer,” her husband shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
“It's nothing she did. There was nothing she could have prevented in her lifestyle. It was devastating to get the news because you never want that to happen. But I think Jill has very quickly picked up the pieces.”
Stewart said that following the news, he and his family went through shock and fear, but then they started doing what they needed to do and educating themselves on how to deal with their new reality.
“And there's one thing about the Jamaican society and Caribbean society at large – the blanket of love that people put around you. Not just from faith and prayers, but just for the goodwill of wanting to help. I have been so touched and blown away by how much everyone, everywhere has sent their best wishes,” he said.
Using her social media pages to journal her cancer journey, Stewart said Jill wanted to share her story, because, the truth is, neither of them had ever heard the word 'sarcoma' before the diagnosis.
He said they decided it was important to press on and make the most of every day, cognisant of how precious life is.
“In a single conversation, everything can change. So she is fighting. Unbelievably, it shows you the power of the mind. I watch her determination with her mindset to not allow this to stop her from living her best life, irrespective of the diagnosis,” Stewart said.
When Adam speaks of Jill, the love and affection is unmistakable.
He always knew she was incredible, he shared with admiration.
“Whether it is cancer, or adversity of one form or another, the power to control your thoughts and control your mind is the difference between a successful outcome and overcoming adversity. The mindset is incredible and I think above everything that Jill is sharing with the world is never forget the power is within you. You have to harness it,” he said.
BUILDING ON BUTCH'S LEGACY
Adam Stewart is no stranger to pain that hits close to home. Just under two years ago, he lost his larger-than-life dad, Butch.
“It's almost as if he was immortal to a degree. When I think back to the headlines after he died, it just seems inconceivable that he isn't here,” Stewart stated, the look of longing visible in his eyes.
His eyes lit up and his tone changed to one of adoration, speaking about his father, who he said had a big, strong personality, and what he created was unbelievable.
“He brought me in as a young son. He saw something in me, he invested time in me, and he put me in a position. It's an absolute privilege for me to be able to continue the legacy. I've seen the way his vision transformed thousands of people's lives for the better,” he stated.
The business tycoon died on Monday, January 4, 2021, and having prepared those he left behind, the show goes on.
Stewart says he gets up every day and makes sure all of the companies and dream catchers are taken care of.
“Our vision is big, bold and strong,” he said.
The future, he said, is Sandals 2.0, and that entails harnessing the power of everything that was great and reinventing it for the future.
“Not everything that you did 40 years ago is relevant today,” he explained, adding that as the only super brand to come out of the Caribbean, they know exactly who they are.
Their Caribbean-based company is run by Caribbean nationals, Stewart pointed out proudly.
“Our superpower is the Caribbean as a business. It's our belief system and we want to share the four corners of the best of the Caribbean with the world. We are massive believers in the power of hospitality,” Stewart declared.
“It's connectivity to linkages, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, entertainment, etc. And we understand clearly that we're competing on a global level.”
For him, vacationers who come to Jamaica or The Bahamas or any of their other destinations have the option to go anywhere else in the world, so it is important to convince them and win their trust.
Sandals, Stewart said, creates 10 billion media impressions a year that portray brand Jamaica, as while promoting Sandals, they are also selling the destinations.
In fact, many people see the Caribbean through Sandals' lens. If they can't afford to stay at a Sandals, Stewart said that is just fine as long as they come to Jamaica and stay somewhere.
“The future of Sandals is calculated growth – one of digging deeper with training and development, one of rising Caribbean superstars in leadership and building a hospitality company that is totally relevant to today's traveller, which is highly experiential on property,” he noted.
For that reason, Sandals announced in October 2021 the establishment of the innovative Gordon Butch Stewart International School for Hospitality and Tourism in partnership with The University of the West Indies and Florida International University, to create future leaders in the Caribbean for the sustainability of the hospitality industry.
And while he is at it, the women in his companies will play key roles, with currently just over 25 per cent in management positions. And he is bent on bringing more females to the board and meeting rooms.
Stewart highlighted Marsha-Ann Donaldson Brown, who is in charge of weddings for the resorts; Petrena Purser at ATL; and Natalie Chin at the Jamaica Observer, who are leading their respective areas with tremendous expertise.