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Tribute to The Hon. Gordon “Butch” Stewart: the visionary who changed the way the world took a vacation forever (1941 - 2021)

Posted by Caribbean World Magazine on 8 January 2021 | 0 Comments

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8 January 2021
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To his many friends, family and colleagues all over the world he was “Butch”. To the history books he will forever be remembered as The Hon. Gordon Stewart O.J, a Jamaican legend whose astute entrepreneurial skills radically altered the way in which holidays were taken. As a master marketer, Butch was undoubtedly one of the hospitality industry’s most vibrant personalities: a dynamic businessman and founder of Sandals Resorts International, the world’s leading all-inclusive resort company. As an ideas man Stewart was an an unstoppable force, a sharp-thinking high-achiever who delighted in defying the odds by exceeding expectations to single-handedly create the world’s most awarded holiday brand from one resort in Jamaica to over two dozen distinct resorts and villas Caribbean-wide. 

 

Butch Stewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica on July 6, 1941 and grew up along the island country’s North Coast, a tropical paradise that now boasts several of his Luxury Included® Sandals and Beaches Resorts and where his love of the sea, dominoes and free enterprise were sown.  Certain from the start that he wanted to run his own company, at the tender age of 12, Stewart first stepped into the hospitality industry selling fresh-caught fish to local hotels.  His success got him ‘hooked’ and his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship never waned. After completing his secondary education abroad, Stewart returned home to Jamaica where after working for Dutch-owned Curaçao Trading Company, where he rose quickly to the position of sales manager,he started his own company in1968 at the age of 27. It was a risk, as he had no collateral to cushion the venture - an enterprise that brought air conditioning to the masses. Stewart convinced American manufacturer Fedders Corporation to allow him to represent their brand in Jamaica and his foundational business - Appliance Traders Limited (ATL), was born - just one of the many companies Stewart would go on to found.

 

In 1981, Stewart seized on the opportunity to redevelop a rundown hotel in Bay Roc on a magnificent beach in Jamaica’s Montego Bay. Seven months and $4 million in renovations later, Sandals Montego Bay opened as the flagship of what is today the most popular award-winning, all-inclusive resort chain in the world. It was the beginning of an elevated holiday experience in which guests were offered an unsurpassed level of luxury for which Sandals became synonymous. Stewart perfected it, ensuring rooms were furnished with the most comfortable king size four poster beds and enjoyed the kind of warm, refined service the Caribbean has become known for close to a gorgeous palm-scattered beach. He refused to offer meals and rooms at a set rate, ensuring that Sandals Resorts’ prices included gourmet dining options (with white-glove service), premium brand drinks, gratuities, airport transfers, taxes and all land and water sport activities. Sandals Resorts was also the first Caribbean hotel company to offer whirlpools, satellite television and swim-up pool bars. More recent innovations have included a signature spa concept – Red Lane® Spa, signature luxury suites designed for privacy and ultimate pampering, complimentary WiFi, and signature partnerships with iconic organisations such as Microsoft Xbox® Play Lounge, Sesame Workshop, PADI, Mondavi® Wines, Greg Norman Signature Golf courses and the London-based Guild of Professional English Butlers. And in 2017, Stewart introduced the Caribbean’s first over-the-water accommodations, which were quickly expanded to include Over-the-Water bars and Over-the-Water wedding chapels.

 

A keen customer focus assured Butch Stewart never strayed from his steadfast principle of “we can do it better”, an ethos that won his resorts huge guest approval and loyalty.  As the undisputed “King of All-Inclusives,” he fostered an unequaled level of returning guests at over 40 percent. He loved the concept of Sandals and at the time of his passing, he was hard at work on plans for the recently announced expansions to the Dutch island of Curaçao and St. Vincent. 

 

Stewart will also be remembered for the role he has played in resurrecting Jamaica’s travel industry, which earned him the respect of his peers and the admiration of his countrymen.  In 1989 he was elected President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and was inducted into its "Hall of Fame" in 1995. He also served as a Director of the Jamaica Tourist Board for a decade and as President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association in the mid-80s. Under his guidance, airplanes became cleaner, tourism workers became better trained, and new flight routes opened in the Caribbean. He established a Montego Bay hub for flights coming from and returning to the United States and in 1992, he galvanised the admiration of Jamaicans with the “Butch Stewart Initiative,” pumping US$1 million a week into the official foreign exchange market at below prevailing rates to help halt the slide of the Jamaican dollar.

 

Stewart also supported the Caribbean region through his philanthropy, where for more than 40 years he has helped improve and shape the lives of Caribbean people via his lesser-known community initiatives.Formalised with the creation in 2009 of The Sandals Foundation, this work ranges from the building of schools and paying of teachers to bringing healthcare to those who cannot afford it. Stewart has given millions to charitable causes such as celebrating the bravery of veterans and first responders and helping those in the wake of devastating hurricanes.In 2012, Stewart founded the Sandals Corporate University to provide 230 professional training courses and developmental programmes to employees through external partnerships with 13 top-ranking local and international universities to help broaden knowledge and advance careers.

 

Aside from his 50-plus well-deserved local, regional, and international accolades and awards including Jamaica’s highest national distinctions: The Order of Jamaica (O.J.), and Commander of the Order of Distinction (C.D.).  In 2017, Stewart was honoured with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit (CHRIS), hosted by the Burba Hotel Network, marking his significant contribution to the hospitality industry.  As Gordon Butch Stewart the man, he was renowned for  his easy pace, infectious warmth and trademark striped shirt, yet was an extremely private man whose deepest devotion was to his family.

 

His greatest test came in 1989 when his beloved 24-year-old son Jonathan was killed in a car accident in Miami. Stewart recalled the incident in a 2008 interview, “For two months after he died, I was absolutely useless, and after that I was sort of running on remote control. Things were a blur. It’s every parent’s nightmare.  After a year or so, I started to see things in vivid detail. You have to get busy, be close with your family. It did a lot in terms of me getting closer. There’s a lot more satisfaction.”

  

The company Butch Stewart built remains wholly owned by the Stewart family, who, in honour of Mr. Stewart’s long-term succession plans, has named son Adam Stewart Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, extending his formidable leadership of the brands he has shepherded since he was appointed CEO in 2007.

 

Speaking on behalf of his family, Adam Stewart said, “our father was a singular personality; an unstoppable force who delighted in defying the odds by exceeding expectations and whose passion for his family was matched only by the people and possibility of the Caribbean, for whom he was a fierce champion.  Nothing, except maybe a great fishing day, could come before family to my dad.  And while the world understood him to be a phenomenal businessman – which he was, his first and most important devotion was always to us.  We will miss him terribly forever.”

 

Gordon “Butch” Stewart is survived by his wife, Cheryl, children Brian, Bobby, Adam, Jaime, Sabrina, Gordon, and Kelly; grandchildren Aston, Sloane, Camden, Penelope-Sky, Isla, Finley, Max, Ben, Zak, Sophie, Annie and Emma; and great grandchildren Jackson, Riley, Emmy and Willow.

 

Everyone at Caribbean World has fond memories of Butch and sends heartfelt condolences to the Stewart family at this sad time. Memories Or personal stories may be shared with the Sandals family at AllThatsGood@sandals.com


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