In 2010, Fergus Stewart was promoted to the position of regional general manager, greater Tokyo area, for the ANA InterContinental Tokyo after joining the international hotels group three years earlier. Prior to that, Stewart held general manager positions for the Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort and Spa, the Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt and the Hyatt Regency La Manga Spain. Originally from Scotland, this world-traveling executive has also put in stints in London, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing.
What was your first impression of Japan?
Extremely positive! I have had the great opportunity to work in nine different countries, and never the same one twice. Each presents its own challenges, but I am often aghast when I hear from other expatriates that Japan is difficult to work in. Japan is relatively simple to adjust to. People are polite, well dressed, pollution is low, public transport is fantastic, food is great, and it is spotlessly clean. Yes, the language for many of us is a huge challenge, but that’s what makes it interesting. I am from Scotland and often can’t understand other Scottish people!
How did you start working at the ANA InterContinental?
I joined the hotel almost three years ago, shortly after InterContinental Hotels formed a partnership with ANA. I was previously working in Thailand, opening some resort properties for another International brand. The opportunity to manage a huge hotel that was attempting to change from a more traditional hotel to one that was more international was a challenge that I could not resist.
What have been your greatest successes here?
One of my biggest joys, on a personal level, is watching my two daughters growing and developing in a multicultural way. I honestly believe that they do not see creed or color as they are so used to being in different countries with different nationalities. Japan has been great for them, and the oldest, who is 9, now travels to school by herself, which would be unheard of in most Western countries. On a business level, it has been the total transformation of the hotel. We have undergone huge renovations having introduced new bedrooms, bars and restaurants. Seeing this work recognized with the receiving of three Michelin stars in November was a great reward for the team.
What’s been the greatest obstacle you have encountered?
Trying to get a tee time at 9 am on a Saturday morning.
‘… those that are passionate about their employees and customers will prosper.
Those that rest on past laurels will not’
The past couple years appear to have been hard for the travel and hospitality industries, how is the ANA InterContinental’s business doing?
There is no doubt that business is challenging and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Those that recognize and pursue opportunities, those that can act quickly, adapt and prioritize and those that are passionate about their employees and customers will prosper. Those that rest on past laurels will not. I am fortunate to be surrounded by the best team I have ever worked with — fingers crossed, but I think we are in a very good place.
Does the hotel business in Japan differ from elsewhere?
It’s the same — great hotels are anyway. It’s all about people. If you hire the right people, spend time with them, encourage, support and provide the best levels of training, they in turn will provide fantastic service to our guests. Guests that receive that service are happy, willing to return and tell other people about their experiences. It sounds very simple (and it should be), but it’s not. Not many people working in the service industry in London or Paris have that desire to learn or provide great service. That’s where Japan has a great advantage.
Working in a hotel, you must have some great stories. Any you care to share?
I have dozens, but unfortunately I could never mention any names! Like the time when a very famous actor ended up in the hallway naked with his door locked behind him. He thought he was entering the washroom but took the wrong door; or the prime minister’s wife who left without paying her very extensive bill — and she still hasn’t. I could write a book.
What could the West learn from Japan in the hotel business?
Watching chef Pierre Gagnaire working with our Japanese team is a joy, and we were recently rewarded with two Michelin stars. There is total silence in the kitchen, everyone is trained to do a job, and they do it with precision and passion. I am always astonished by television documentaries from the UK showing apparently talented chefs screaming at young apprentices. To my mind, there is nothing talented in bullying young people, and it has greatly harmed our industry.
ANA InterContinental Tokyo