Jamaican entrepreneur and founder of Sandals Resorts International Gordon "Butch" Stewart has died at the age of 79.
Stewart was responsible for a Jamaican-based empire that includes two dozen companies collectively representing Jamaica's largest private sector group, the country's biggest foreign exchange earner and its largest non-government employer. At the time of his passing, he was hard at work on plans for the recently announced expansions to Curaçao and St. Vincent.
The company Butch Stewart built remains wholly owned by the Stewart family, who, in honor of Butch Stewart's long-term succession plans, has named Adam Stewart chairman of Sandals Resorts International, extending his leadership of the brands 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."
A son of Jamaica, Butch Stewart was born in Kingston on July 6, 1941 and grew up along the island country's North Coast. At the age of 12, Stewart would sell fresh-caught fish to local hotels and, after completing his secondary education abroad, Stewart returned to Jamaica where he worked at the Curaçao Trading Company, rising to the position of sales manager. In 1968, Stewart convinced American manufacturer Fedders Corporation to allow him to represent the brand in Jamaica. With that, Stewart's foundational business, Appliance Traders Limited, was born.
In 1981, Stewart invested seven months and $4 million in a rundown hotel on a beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica; it would become Sandals Montego Bay and the flagship of the all-inclusive resort chain. According to the press announcement, Sandals Resorts was the first Caribbean hotel company to offer whirlpools and satellite television service, the first with swim-up pool bars and the first to guarantee that every room is fitted with a king-size bed and a hair dryer. Recent innovations have included a signature spa concept and partnerships with organizations 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. In 2017, Stewart introduced the Caribbean's first over-water accommodations, which were quickly expanded to include over-water bars and over-water wedding chapels.
Stewart as Statesman
Stewart's leadership, according to the press statement, helped resurrect Jamaica's travel industry. He was elected president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica in 1989 and was inducted into its "Hall of Fame" in 1995. He 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.
In 1994, Stewart led a group of investors to take leadership of Air Jamaica, the Caribbean's largest regionally based carrier. When Stewart stepped in, he touted on-time service, reduced waiting lines, increased training for all personnel and signature free champagne on flights to accompany an emphasis on better food. He also opened new routes in the Caribbean, brought on new Airbus jets and established a Montego Bay hub for flights coming from and returning to the United States. In 2004, Stewart gave the airline back to the government with an increase in revenue of over $250 million.
It was not the first time Stewart would come to the aid of his country, Sandals says. In 1992, he launched the "Butch Stewart Initiative," pumping $1 million a week into the official foreign exchange market at below prevailing rates to help halt the slide of the Jamaican dollar. His philanthropy, formalized with the creation in 2009 of The Sandals Foundation, offers support ranging from the building of schools and paying of teachers to bringing healthcare to those who cannot afford it. Beyond the work of the foundation, Stewart has given millions to charitable causes, such as celebrating the bravery of veterans and first responders and helping those in the wake of hurricanes.
In 2012, Stewart founded the Sandals Corporate University, aimed at providing professional development for employees through reputable education and training programs. With access to more than 230 courses and external partnerships with 13 top-ranking local and international universities, every staff member can apply, broaden their knowledge and advance their career.
Stewart's successes in business and in life have earned him more than 50 local, regional and international accolades and awards, including Jamaica's highest national distinctions: The Order of Jamaica and Commander of the Order of Distinction. In 2017, Stewart was honored with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit, hosted by the Burba Hotel Network.
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.
A private funeral service will be held. Those wishing to share memories, condolences or personal stories may do so at [email protected]