Hon Gordon 'Butch' Stewart is congratulated by admirers at the ATL 50th Anniversary celebrations.
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
(Excerpt from Jamaica Observer column published 18 June 2018)
We were part of the happy buzz at Hope Gardens last Tuesday, when hundreds converged on Hope Gardens to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Appliance Traders Group. The Gordon 'Butch' Stewart organisation's ascent from a fledging supplier of air conditioning units in 1968 to the creation of the world-renowned Sandals brand reminds their fellow Jamaicans of our unlimited possibilities.
Little did Butch Stewart dream that his early talent at salesmanship would have sky-rocketed him to the pinnacle of the tourism world. Long before branding became a buzz word, Mr. Stewart understood its power. When he was finally able to afford a Mercedes Benz, gained from his success with the sale of Fedders air conditioners in Jamaica, he emblazoned the Fedders logo on the doors of his Benz! He told his critics that Fedders enabled him to buy his Benz, and so he was proud to promote it. ATL branding was big and bold on his ubiquitous fleet – making unfamiliar names like Hoshizaki a part of our lexicon.
In 2008, on the 40th Anniversary of ATL, this column celebrated Mr. Stewart's achievements. We noted that in his book "All That's Good", we could see the synergy of the three basic Christian principles, faith, hope and love: Only a person of faith would have invested in the run-down Bay Roc Hotel in 1981, rapidly rolling out a gold-standard hotel chain that would cop the most coveted international tourism awards.
Hope: The classy, meticulous Betty Jo Desnoes remembers the devastating blow dealt by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 to the three Sandals properties in Montego Bay as well as two others being built in Ocho Rios and Negril. She said on hearing the news, "Mr Stewart…began galvanizing. He dispatched every truck he had and bought up every piece of lumber and nails."
Hailed by travel writers as "a miracle", the resorts were rebuilt and reopened three months after Gilbert in time for the beginning of the 88/89 winter tourist season.
Love: Butch Stewart's fatherly, love for his team was reflected in the many tributes featured in the 50thAnniversary video from his long serving employees. He is probably the only boss that calls man and woman alike "darling' – and it sounds perfectly natural! They spoke of his concern for their family members and his keen interest in their professional development.
The ATL/Sandals/Jamaica Observer/ATL Motors teams reflect our National Motto, "Out of Many One People", and so it was disturbing to hear the unjust accusations levelled at the hotel chain regarding their choice of entertainment, when the only artistes I have ever enjoyed in my many years visiting Sandals are local or Caribbean.
Some criticisms descended into downright racist remarks. We have to be very careful that we do not develop a one-sided view of racism. Racism is the act of pre-judging people based on their ethnic origin, whether African, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern or European. While everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, it is never alright to be racist. We see hurtful comments flying about on social media, and a friend of European roots who was subject to this said she dared not respond as she risked being torn to bits. This is unacceptable and we in Jamaica who are miles ahead of other countries in respect of racial harmony, should protect and nurture this important aspect of our country.
Indeed the Stewart family has been exemplary: the children who were not allowed to rest on their parents' laurels but had to forge their own paths to success. The eldest, Brian Jardim has made giant steps with his Caribbean-wide business, Rainforest Seafoods, a company which contributes extensively to education and housing for the poor. Adam Stewart has earned his place as CEO of the Sandals Group and ATL Motors, introducing their award-winning eco-friendly practices to their properties and launching the philanthropic Sandals Foundation. Daughter, Jaime Stewart-McConnell is driving the "Orijins" line of natural juices as well as other innovative endeavours.
The fireworks finale was a fitting metaphor for the star-powered ATL Group, the largest private sector company in the Caribbean. Congratulations to Butch Stewart, dedicated veterans and the entire ATL Team – may you celebrate many more milestones in the years to come.