Observer Business Leader Award gets new home

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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THE AC Marriott Hotel will be the new home for the Jamaica Observer Business Leader Award presentation and banquet, replacing the Jamaica Pegasus hotel which has hosted the annual gala event for all but two of its 21 iterations.

Originally scheduled to climax this month with the naming of the Business Leader, the 22nd renewal of the award has been pushed back to the first half of 2019 as the Observer awaits the completion and opening of the hotel, which is now at an advanced stage of construction on Lady Musgrave Road in St Andrew.

The AC Marriott is an initiative of the Gordon “Butch” Stewart family enterprise and represents the family's first major tourism venture outside of its Sandals/Beaches hotel trademark. The capital city project, a departure from the resort-centric Sandals brand, is being spearheaded by the group's Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart.

Stewart says he is looking forward to hosting the Business Leader Award presentation, a programme that has emerged over the past two decades as the country's foremost celebration of entrepreneurism.

“It is an honour to host the top-brass corporate event in Jamaica,” he notes. “This will perhaps be our first major event to showcase one of our investments in the island and the family's continued commitment to driving the country's economic growth and development.”

With the AC Marriott as the new venue for the yearly gala, the Stewarts are aligning two important corporate interests: the family owns the Jamaica Observer of which Adam is deputy chairman, and it is the newspaper that is the promoter of the award.

Stewart says that guests at the banquet and other clients will be seduced by the building's avant-garde architecture and the keen attention to ergonomics and other design details. The ballroom where the Business Leader Award presentation will take place will seat over 500 comfortably — an important factor for an event that regularly attracts close to 600 guests.

The banquet hall seating capacity seems, on the face of it, out of scale with the property's 220-room count, suggesting that the operators are seeking to expand the banqueting and conference options for corporate events within the city as a key component of their business plan.

“As a family we wanted to build a city hotel that took Kingston to a certain level, while offering a facility that is still affordable and still within the price point of the competition,” Stewart explains. “We will hit the market with a high-level design. We will be able to seat over 500 people in the banquet room and offer multiple break-out rooms for meetings. It will be ideal for conferences.”

The hotel's architecture and floor plan — the high ceiling and cosmopolitan-style lobby with its seamless flow to the pool area — will enhance an important feature of the Business Leader event. It will enable the easy hobnobbing of guests and provide an idyllic backdrop for copious photo shooting during the cocktail reception that precedes the formal dinner.

The photos not just capture, but memorialise this unique event with several dozens of them displayed in the annual supplement that is published by the Observer newspaper a week following the award presentation.

The Observer plans to announce the theme of the Business Leader programme within the coming days. The chairman of the award, Moses Jackson, says that the focus will be corporate rather than individual entrepreneurism, and that this will fit snuggly with the corporate character of the hotel that will be the venue of the gala presentation.

“We are hoping to match last year's project which generated significant public interest by focusing our next award on an area of business that directly affects thousands of Jamaicans,” declares Jackson. “My expectation is that it will be among our most coveted awards.”

Last year the Observer newspaper leveraged the Business Leader Award programme to sharpen public awareness of the vital yet often underappreciated role that CEOs play as fiduciary custodians of the companies they run on behalf of shareholders. Richard Byles, the retired CEO and now chairman of Sagicor Jamaica, clipped Patrick Hylton, CEO of NCB Group, to be named 'Business Leader Corporate Steward'.

The AC Marriott will operate as an exclusive franchise within a defined geographical radius. Its European plan arrangement stands in contrast to the all-inclusive offering that the family patriarch “Butch” Stewart virtually pioneered with his Sandals and later Beaches brands across the Caribbean.

This hotel is a distinct brand from the Marriott Courtyard, though they both share common parent. A branch of the latter was opened in New Kingston in November 2015 by the Pan Jamaican Group.

AC is one of several recent projects that Adam, as an executive factotum of the Stewart family enterprise, has been tasked with bringing to fruition. It runs on parallel track with the building of the upscale showrooms for BMW and Mini cars that share contiguous land space with the hotel. The buildings that house the showrooms got a head start on the hotel and were officially opened earlier this year.

“I am in charge of the development,” is how Adam Stewart sums up his role. “This means securing the franchise; working with the Marriott to design the building on the land in conjunction with BMW. My job is to make sure it works.”

A general manager, Koen Hietbrink, has already been brought on board.

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