The children of travel impresario and Sandals boss Butch Stewart have grown up with Caribbean hotels in their blood. Judith Baker meets the clan

Sandals boss Butch Stewart with daughter Jaime Stewart- McConnell and son Adam Stewart

Powerful families such as the Fortes and the Marriotts are behind many successful hotel chains. But it is the Stewarts, with their broad grins, good humour and indefatigable optimism that dominate the Caribbean hotel industry.

Sandals has come a long way since it was a twinkle in the eye of the ‘daddy’ of the all-inclusive, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart. ‘The Chairman’, as he is known, is 67 and gave the task of moving the brand from the crowded middle market into the luxury sector to his son, 27-year-old chief executive Adam, and his daughter Jaime Stewart-McConnell, 29, who is managing director of boutique chain the Royal Plantation Collection.

Butch’s billion-dollar, privately owned Jamaican-based empire includes 18 Caribbean resorts, refrigeration equipment supplier Appliance Traders and The Jamaican Observer newspaper. He spearheads more than 24 diverse companies that form Jamaica’s largest private sector group. And his family has been groomed to look after it.

The family way

“Kids get bored if you don’t have organised things for them to do”, Butch said when he launched the family-friendly Beaches resorts in 1997. That must be why, some years later, he made his son Adam one of the youngest chief executives in the world.

“Kids get bored if you don’t have organised things for them to do”

“Some of the characteristics of every generation are the modern habits they bring to the table,” says Butch. “A few years ago Adam became chairman of our youth committee and he was charged with developing new and exciting products for teenagers. He and his team had grown out of that age group but were able to share a level of innovation and excitement that has shaped our product development.”

Nowadays, as chief executive, Adam is grappling with more adult quandaries – but still keeps a close eye on the family sector. Last year, $416 million was spent on
children’s facilities at the Turks and Caicos resorts, based on a decision to invest in family entertainment rather than casinos, which the company shunned after assessing
customer opinion.

The UK represents Sandals’ most profitable market, but with a downturn in tourism on both sides of the Atlantic, will the famous ‘Luxury Included’ resorts become a luxury the public will have to forego?

Not according to Adam, who claims the ‘Luxury Included’ holiday at Sandals or Beaches resorts is still popular and the general public do not want to abandon their holiday plans, and will instead lean towards ‘options that enable them to curb spending once on holiday’. 

Last year, Sandals launched its latest venture: Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts, a line of resorts for the economy segment.

“We’ve built up a reputation, and that carries you through the hard times,” says Adam’s sister Jaime.

Sandals will always be Butch’s baby, but the three of his children who are involved in the business have their own ideas. Butch’s son Brian Jardim, now 47, went his own way in 1995 after spending the early part of his working life with Sandals Resorts International in Kingston, Jamaica, and Miami, US.

He may not be working for Sandals but he is still making a mark on tourism in the Caribbean with his successful Margaritaville chain, with no help from his father, he says.

“Dad never sat us down and said: ‘This is how you do it,’” says Adam, “but he leads with vigour. He is the founder, leader and the ambassador of the whole company.”

Adam’s brother Bobby took over the UK-based operations in 2006 after working in the company for 12 years. These days he is a key executive in the company and, specialising in its IT operations, he has spearheaded the introduction of wi-fi throughout the resorts.

Tragically, another of Butch’s sons, Jonathan, was killed in a car accident in 1990. Butch also has three young children with his current partner, including twins – one of whom is a boy called Gordon – born in 2002.

Clear conscience

Although acquiring an international reputation as a savvy businessman, Adam Stewart has not lost his boyish enthusiasm and is firmly behind the Sandals Foundation, which aims to make Sandals a socially responsible entity.

“No one else is doing this at this level,” he claims, adding that there has been a staggering response to the initiative since it was launched last year.

Created in response to an overwhelming desire from guests to contribute more to the local communities, and now an official charity, the Sandals Foundation provides guests and key corporate partners with an opportunity to get more involved by making donations.

The Foundation aims to increase contributions from $11 million to $30 million per year by 2011.

“I learnt from an early age that we all have a responsibility as individuals, companies, communities and nations, to do what we can to help each other, no matter where we are in life,” says Adam.

Learning the ropes

Adam first visited World Travel Market when he was 13 years old. “Hard to understand why” he says now, but all the Stewarts were introduced to the ins and outs of the travel industry at a tender age and, attired in their Sunday best, they were taught by example the importance of the big smile and the firm handshake.

“Do we take family vacations? Sure, but only at Sandals”

Butch says: “For children growing up, the home is always part of their natural education. They listen to conversations at an early age and sometimes don’t even realise how much they have learnt. 

“So, alongside learning to walk and talk, they learnt this business. If there’s one thing I would single out, it is to anticipate the needs of our guests and then exceed their expectations. That’s our philosophy and it extends to every aspect of our operation.”

 Jaime spent much of her childhood within the Sandals Resorts organisation assisting in the mail room, also accompanying her father to travel trade shows and working at communications companies in Europe.

She introduced the Royal Plantation Collection brand in February 2004, with the relaunch of Royal Plantation Ocho Rios. “Tourism and hospitality have always been a part of how I live and everything that I do,” says Jaime.

None of the Stewart children is given special treatment – Butch is keen to stress that they have to serve their apprenticeships in the com-pany, as would anyone else. And he is just as involved as ever. “He’s on the phone six or seven times a day,” says Adam.

We are family

“Family is behind everything we do and we actually like each other,” says Adam. “Do we take family vacations? Sure, but only at Sandals. Christmas and Easter sees us all together. Family is the foundation of the whole business.”

“There’s no better way to create a product for families than to have my own family share in the process,”  Butch says. “For me, it has been and continues to be an incredible experience to see my children play lead roles in the day-to-day running of Sandals, Beaches, Grand Pineapple and Royal Plantation resorts.”

“They absolutely grew up with the organisation and it, in turn, grew with them. I am proud to see the interest they’ve taken in the growth of the business.” 

Does ‘the Chairman’ envisage the day when he will hand over Sandals to them? 

“Frankly, life is a process and so is our policy,” says Butch. “As we as a group continue to evolve, so too will everything else.”

The Stewart empire

Hotel brands:

  • Sandals Resorts, consisting of 12 properties located in Jamaica, Antigua, St Lucia and the Bahamas
  • Beaches family-oriented resorts in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos
  • The Royal Plantation Collection, consisting of a hotel, private island and exclusive villas
  • Two Grand Pineapple value brand resorts

Butch Stewart owns:

  • Caribbean resorts
  • Appliance Traders
  • The Jamaican Observer

He spearheads more than 24 diverse companies – Jamaica’s largest private sector group, the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner, and its largest non-government employer.