Neil Jacobs, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas
Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, is a pioneer in the wellness movement. He has hired the best and brightest minds—from sleep scientists to wellness experts—to deliver transformative experiences for guests. His story is equally compelling. He speaks six languages, went to college in Paris, studied art history in Florence, and has lived in nearly a dozen countries. It’s a storied career that led him to Four Seasons, Starwood Capital Group, and now Singapore with Six Senses. As we continue to navigate this new reality, Jacobs is focusing on love, encouraging guests to explore what it means to be mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally happy.
Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I’m here with Neil Jacobs of Six Senses. Hi Neil, how are you today?
Neil Jacobs: I’m good Stacy. How about you?
SSR: Good. Thanks for calling in from Singapore. How is life there? How are you and your team trying to deal with this new reality amid COVID-19?
NJ: Well, firstly Singapore is probably one of the better places to be quarantined and going through this. They seem to be pretty organized here. And I guess like some other countries in Asia, we had some practice with SARS years and years ago. So the government was pretty well organized, and it’s handled pretty well. In fact, our two Singapore hotels have been given to the government to house returning nationals, permanent residents while they’re doing their 14-day quarantine. So government is really looking after their people and we’re happy to have guests in our hotels here. So that part’s good.
The teams, well it’s been a challenge. We closed I think close to 16 hotels over a three-and-a-half-week period in 15 different countries. So dealing with all the stakeholders and all the challenges, be it with owners and the bankers and lenders, and obviously all our employees isn’t simple. And each country has its own labor laws and its own peculiarities. So for our team, our corporate team, a majority of whom are in Bangkok, it’s been a really, really intense time for sure in last few weeks.
SSR: So how do you stay positive with your team spread out in all these different countries, different circumstances for each one. How do you stay positive? And how are you keeping your team, all the different hotel teams and in house teams positive during this. Are you just over-communicating?
NJ: With the team in the properties, it’s really about over-communicating. I think in some ways that’s a good thing because we’ve never really communicated like this to even internally to our own people. So, we have weekly general manager calls, so we know every Friday afternoon and we go through the week and what’s happened and go through all the heartache and all the good stuff, because there is good stuff that’s coming out of all of this. So, and then during the week we’re talking individually to our GMs and marketing people and that’s just a constant. So the senior group corporately, probably you’re on the phone, 10, 12 hours a day just communicating. So that’s a huge part of it.
With the corporate team, the same, I mean the leadership group and we’re split between Bangkok, Singapore, Sweden, and London is where the executive group are based, I mean, we’re talking every day, every day in the afternoon, even if it’s half an hour or less, it’s just to check in on each other. And then we have big meetings every couple of weeks. But I mean, we got to the point where we’d spend so much time closing hotels and looking after people and putting fires out and just essentially negative stuff that about three or four weeks ago, we said we’ve got to start focusing on the positive stuff.
And took a view that it was time to kind of with all the hotels closed anyway, it was time to just really start thinking about who we wanted to be on the other side of this and how we wanted to re-engineer the brand and do some things that perhaps we’d been talking about in the past, but never managed to do. And how we wanted to be perceived and how we wanted to behave once this started to be over. I mean, Six Senses, you know better than any we based on this very strong platform of wellness and sustainability. And basically took a view that nothing really could be more relevant than that in today’s world. So I think we’re kind of blessed.
That’s our DNA and that’s what we believe in. And so the key was not to change who we are, but to really broaden and deepen those pillars of our DNA as a group, and really kind of get into other areas of wellness that we hadn’t yet kind of moved into that was even more relevant when things start to get better. So that’s been and continues to be really exciting for us because we’re going to have so much new stuff coming out in the fall probably around both those pillars and activities and just how we look at wellness in a post-COVID environment.
So we’re pretty excited about that. And the obvious things that everyone is doing and we’re all looking at housekeeping, we’re all looking at hygiene. We’re all looking at all of that stuff because we all have to, but we’re focusing on how do we create wellness programming that is geared to immune system strengthening, how do we create content that is more around energy and the heart? I mean we’re having all these kind of esoteric conversations around what does love mean, and how does that play into the new world where we were doing.
Hotel guys don’t sit around and generally talk about love right? But it’s the kind of thing that we actually take quite seriously because it doesn’t have to mean romantic love. And it really ties into our mission, our stated mission that has been for years, this company, which is all about reconnection. Reconnection yourself, others’ world around you. And it’s the word that in the past three or four months, people are using a lot. But that has always been part of our DNA. You know, we don’t actually always talk about hotels when we talk about what the brand stands for.
So that connectivity piece from a granular level, loved ones, friends, family, but also taking it kind of across a wider spectrum, which then brings the concept of love into what we mean by connection and how we treat people, how we behave and what kind of drives people to get up in the morning and go about their lives. So we think there are concepts there that we can bring in to how wellness thinking if you like, and wellness modalities, that really will take things beyond some of the cool stuff we’ve already been doing. But that will take us one step further into some really cool, unusual offerings. So long answer to short question, I’m sorry, but that’s the kind of stuff we’re focusing on right now.
SSR: Yeah, no, and I think that’s, of all this craziness, it’s nice to find a positive light in everything, and also to take a step back and really look at who you all are. I’ve always said that you guys do wellness better than anyone. And so even to find that you guys have other layers that you can dive into, it’s pretty cool.
NJ: Well, also the sustainability side of things. I mean, when we took over Six Senses, it was about eight years ago, we had two very separate divisions. One was wellness and one was sustainability, but over the years, it’s just become more and more evident that they kind of merged together. And it’s really one subject at the end of the day. And sustainability is about environment, it’s about a well environment. I mean the convergence of the two just has become more and more evident. So we’ve kind of joined together there. And again, we’ve always been very quiet about sustainability in some ways it’s just there and we do things, we grow our own food, we’ve never had plastic.
I mean we’ve been very mindful of all this stuff for years and years, but we don’t preach it at all. But we kind of have the view that we ought to be more vocal about some of the stuff that we do in fact do and make it more evident to our guests when they are on property. Rather than having a lot of it kind of back of house and just something that we accept as part of our DNA. But I also think that given this crisis that we’re going through, the people are thinking differently about what’s happening on the planet. I think this is really going to help drive that agenda forward in an even more aggressive way than it has been coming in the last few years.
I mean, the train has certainly left the station and everyone’s talking about it, but I think it’s incumbent upon us to create opportunities for people to have more engagement in the sustainable practices that we demonstrate and activate in the properties. So, between that and the wellness stuff, we’ve got a lot going on.
SSR: Yeah. And you have a lot to talk about and enhance the experience. And I think as you said, it’s going to be so top of mind that people will be hungry for it, looking for it, and positioning yourself in that way is exciting. I mean, of everything you’ve had to go through in the last couple months, it must be great for the team to, to kind of grasp onto something, work through it.
NJ: So, I mean, we are positive about the future. I mean, there are those out there that say, okay, in six-month’s time, people will have such short memories, it’s just going to go back to where it was before. Well, we don’t believe that’s the case. We may be wrong, who knows but we don’t think so. We think there is a shift and there will be a shift. And we also think that people inherently want to travel. And the segment of the business that we’re in, where people perhaps a little more able financially to stay in our kinds of hotels, that market wants to travel.
And you’ll have those that are very fearful of it that will wait until everything is a 100 percent perfect and vaccines are there and readily available and so on. And you’ll have others who are a little more adventurous, but even those people want to know that they’re going to be safe. So it’s incumbent upon all of us in hotels to ensure that our guests are going to be safe. But people want to be back out there.
I mean, we reopened last weekend hotels in Vietnam. And there’s no international travel into Vietnam yet, so it was really all domestic, which in the case of Vietnam is a lot of expatriates living in Vietnam. So combination of Vietnamese and the expats living there. Well, we’ve been full since the day we opened, like 95 percent. The likelihood is we’re going to do 90 percent occupancy for the month of May. If it’s not 90, it’s going to be 88 that’s for sure. And it’s just fascinating to see our guests arrive, we have an advantage of being either on private islands or away from the cities. So say these two are remote and not so remote, but the space there, you can breathe, there’s ocean, all our rooms or villas, so you’re not in typical hotel buildings. And they just get off boats and the first thing they want to do is rip their masks off and just kind of tear the clothes off and jump into the sea, even to the point that we had to say to guests guys please take it easy. I mean, our employees is still masked. We felt we needed to do that and we are taking temperatures of guests every day and getting very engaged with them. We don’t have social distancing problems because our properties are expansive. In restaurants, we don’t have tables packed up against each other. But just the desire of our guests is like, give it back to us, we so want this. It’s like really getting out of jail, and we want the freedom to run around and behave like children, which is very heartwarming in some ways, but it’s also encouraging as to what perhaps the future is going to bring as in when we do start reopening in other parts of the world. Because if that’s the attitude, I think we’re all going to be okay.
SSR: Yeah. No, that’s super, super exciting to hear. And I think you guys are ahead of the game, right? That I feel like there was already a little bit of a backlash in terms of technology happening in that these more experiential play resorts and destinations are already happening, like yourself and others. So maybe that is just the trend is going, I mean, obviously there’ll still be other hotels and more urban centers, but I think people will be looking for these kinds of more remote, totally immersive destinations. So that’s super positive. Yeah.
NJ: Yeah. And well, but at the same time, we were starting to open some urban hotels too. And we’ve all been waiting for our New York debut.
SSR: Yes, can that open soon please as a New Yorker? Can you dive into it a little bit, what it is and what you guys are doing there?
NJ: Well, it has two pieces to it. And one part is an extraordinary spa. It’s about a 16,00- square-foot spa, which actually sits under the High Line and you will enter it from, well it’s a few ways you can enter, but there’ll be an entrance on the corner of 17th street and 10th Avenue. And then you’ll go down and under the High Line, basically. We’ve effectively recreated a New York bathhouse into very modern, contemporary, and beautiful type of environment there. So apart from the treatment rooms, you have a whole wet circuit and different pools and different bathing that will go on there under the High Line. So that’s kind of one piece of it that you’ll be able to use the spa as a hotel guest or as a member of a club, or even from outside, you don’t have to be a member to go and use the spa.
But then on the corner of 17th and 11th Avenue is a five-story building, which will be the main club. And there’s a site called Six Senses Place. We have three floors and a rooftop there, and that’s where we’ll have a whole bunch of different food and beverage outlets, spaces, lounge space for lectures and get-togethers, and other activities. We’ll have all our wellness practitioners up there. We have a biohacking lounge, we have all our consultation rooms and visiting practitioners there. There will be a relatively small shared workspace-cum-lounge as well. IV drips. I mean a whole array of wellness activities, but really around being a social club or a place for people, I guess it’s the same thing, but a place for people to connect. So I don’t want to say it’s only about wellness, because it’s more about the human aspect of this, but everything that is done there, everything that’s cooked, every cocktail that’s made, will have some connection to our overall wellness programming. And you’ll be able to go on as a city guest, you’ll be able to go on to a variety of different programs that are short or long or detox or weight driven, or just lifestyle driven that’s kind of super exciting.
We also have a rooftop there, which is overlooking the Hudson. And initially we were asked were we going to put a pool on it, and à la Soho House or Gansevoort or one of the other rooftop pool environments, but we chose not to. We said, we wanted to do our signature kind of organic garden on the roof there. So, I know people are doing kind of urban farming in Brooklyn somewhat these days, but no one’s really done too much of that in Manhattan. So we’ll have few thousand square feet of farming, if you like now we’re going to go a vertical to maximize on the space, but it will be a great venue for a drink or a dinner or a private party, again with the water views, and basically being in that environment where we were growing a lot of vegetables and herbs, and all of which will be used obviously, and the bars, and restaurants throughout the whole facility.
So that will be the first Six Senses Place that we actually do. The second one that’s being built is in London, we have a hotel under construction in London. So that will probably be the, yeah, it looks like it will be the second Six Senses Place, and it’s a concept that we intend to put into all of our urban hotels around the world.
27:31 – 34:02
SSR: We just kind of touched on it, but do you think you’ll have to rethink what that is or do you think by that time hopefully there’s a vaccine and life kind of moves on, are you guys just watching. I feel like the club business might be the trickiest moving forward, but I feel like if it has that wellness, that medical side that you guys are doing it kind of negates maybe the bad.
NJ: Well, we think so. We hope so. When the virus hit, it was the first thing we went, ‘Holy shit. We’re spending all this money on a club. Is anyone ever going to go to a club again?’ But this thing just changes and move so fast, and people’s emotional reactions to it all is changing all the time. And then someone said to me, ‘Just create a virtual club. You can do all the same things, but do it all virtually. Do it all on Zoom or Teams or whatever.’ And then I thought, ‘Maybe they’re right.’ So we spent a week figuring that out. And then people are so starved of human connection that we’ve kind of come full circle again and said, ‘Okay, let’s look at maybe we don’t have to have as many restaurants seats in a room or we have to look at how many people we let in at a time.’ But honestly by the time we open, I know we will have gone through another 20 reiterations of how we should do it because it is a moving target. All right. So we built in that ability. The key is to be nimble and not to be holding onto something for too long if we think it’s really not going to work, and to be able to shift and move. But we do know that the basic fundamentals of what we want to do there are solid, and it’s something that people want. So I’m confident.
SSR: Going back, because this is not your first rodeo, you’ve been in the industry and worked with many venerable brands. Was hospitality or design something that you loved as a child growing up? If you can even love that growing up, or was it something that you had an interest in growing up? And where did you grow up?
NJ: I grew up in London. I left when I was, I don’t know, 20, 21, and I never really went back to live at any rate. All my family is still in London. Hospitality was never really a big driver for me. I studied language and literature, I speak a number of languages, and went to college in Paris for a while, and then in Florence doing history of art. So to me hospitality at the time was I knew I wanted to travel, that was the thing that was clear with me and wanted to use the languages I’d learned. And I figured, the hotel business was a good way to see the world. So that was really how I got into it. My first real job was in Portugal. And then I was in Sardinia for a few years and really all over the place. And then the bug kind of got me early on and kept on moving.
Design however was always part of the joy, if you like, even growing up I knew that I just felt good in certain places and not so good in others. So, there’s always been a great interest in design and context and architecture. I think if I hadn’t have ended up in the hotel business, I probably would have ended up in the design business, whether it be architecture or interior because it was a passion and continues to be a passion. And something certainly we as a brand care a lot about.
SSR: So, growing up in London, did your parents have any influence on you in terms of loving design and architecture or feeling good in these spaces?
NJ: No. Honestly, I’d love to tell you a whole story about that, but no they didn’t. My father, God bless him, was an accountant, which I certainly did not follow in his footsteps. And my mother was more creative. She was in hair, she was in retail. Yeah. Was definitely a bit more creative. So perhaps from my mother on the design side, but no, not really. I was just always driven by travel and cultures, and wanting to experience that which is what drew me to kind of study language.
Having lived in, I don’t know, probably nine or 10 countries in my career, just that ability to often to be able to communicate in the language of the country, it just adds a whole degree of richness to the experience. I think if I look back on it, it’s 40 years or so in the business, the stories and the people you meet, right, and the cultures. That’s truly the joy. And certainly for me personally, having lived in a lot of developing countries to work with people who have grown up with very little and to be a catalyst, to have people develop to their full capability is super rewarding when that happens and in India, some of the islands, South America, or wherever. And I think that’s kind of part of our responsibility when we work in these countries to train people and develop them as far as they can or want to go. So that’s a big part of the certainly personal satisfaction after years in the business.
SSR: To go back to your career a bit. So, your first job was in Portugal. What was kind of your first entrance into the hotel world?
NJ: Well, I think I’ve gone full circle because I think as you know, you certainly know, Six Senses was bought by IHG just over a year ago, about 14 months ago. And my first job actually was working at a very fancy Holiday Inn on the Island of Madeira in Portugal. So, I kind of say that I started at Holiday Inn and likely will finish at Holiday Inn.
SSR: You can refresh that brand, bring some wellness to Holiday Inn.
NJ: There you go. We’ve offered it up, we’ve offered it up. I came up through food and beverage like many Europeans do. We were in the kitchen. I did hotel school in London, I’m not one of those fancy Swiss hotel school grads, but I did what’s now called Westminster University in London, which had a very good hospitality degree program. And it’s started in the kitchen in some pretty big hotels around Europe, and came up through F&B, and then in Portugal. In Sardinia, I was in basically in food and beverage management and worked my way up kind of over eight, 10 years or so to be a GM.
My first GM job was in the Seychelle in the mid-’70s I think. The Seychelles was a relatively new destination back then. And there were a couple of 5-Star hotels, and I got my first GM job there, I think I was 27 years old. Genuinely, I don’t know why they gave me that job because I really didn’t know what I was doing, but they did, and I had the time of my life. And it was a great training ground for me. And that’s kind of what started me as running hotels, or actually as GM, and kind of moved on from there.
In the early ’80s, I was in Venezuela running a big Sheraton in Caracas and then moved to the U.S. That’s when I came and moved to Colorado. And two or three years later I ended up creating my own little company with four or five people that I’ve met in the U.S. and went on to the development side of the business and started to try and build hotels. And that was in the mid-to-late ‘80s. And we did a really nice property in Indian Wells, California, which was all around tennis and sports back then. It still exists. I think it’s a Hyatt now.
And then moved on to develop things in Hawaii, which was where I met Four Seasons because we were the original developer of what is now the Four Seasons Wailea on the big Island of Hawaii. And spent 10 years building hotels. We hit the big recession in the early ’90s in the U.S. when all the hotel deals were being done with Japanese money back then. Japan went broke so all the hotel deals stopped. And at the time I think we had five or six Four Seasons hotels under development. So I’d built up a really strong relationship with them, but everyone pretty much went broke. So, I kind of thought, ‘How do I stay alive?’ And did some consulting gigs wherever anybody would pay me until one day, I remember it well, I was sitting in the Mandarin in Jakarta in Indonesia working a consulting job on a hotel in Jakarta. And I had a call from Four Seasons and they said, ‘We hear you’re in Indonesia.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘Well, why don’t you pop over to Bali and look at what we’re doing there. And then call me back and tell me if you’d like to run it.’ I kind of ran for the lobby as I put the phone down, went to Bali, came back and said, ‘Yeah. I absolutely want to run it.’ So I ended up moving from the Hollywood Hills in LA with a wife and two babies, went home and said, ‘We’re moving to Bali.’
SSR: How’d that go?
NJ: Not well, not well. Certainly the children were too young to react, but my wife didn’t hold back. So we moved to Bali, which was an extraordinary time in my life I have to say. I needed to take it. I loved Four Seasons. I had great relationships with them because of the years trying to develop some Four Seasons hotels, but I also hadn’t had a paycheck for about three years. I needed to go back to work. And I thought, ‘This is great. It’s an amazing hotel. We can turn it into an amazing hotel.’ It was just opening. And I figured I’d be there a couple of years. I’d sit out the recession in U.S. and ultimately move back to California and get on with my developer life. Well, two years turned into three and four and basically, I ended up doing 15 years with Four Seasons. And ultimately moved from Bali to Singapore and then was looking after Southeast Asia for Four Seasons, and then I think, six or seven years as running all of Asia for Four Seasons: opening up China, opening up India and really doing some interesting things.
SSR: That’s amazing. Were there any times through all this travel and starting at a Holiday Inn Portugal and traveling the world. I’m tired listening to how many places you lived and then also at the same time kind of jealous. Were there any first-time hotelier mistakes that stick with you? That you’re like, ‘Okay, I should never do that again.’ And I can tell you the one edit mistake that I’ve made that lives with me for the rest of my life, but is there one time or thing or lesson? Because sometimes we always say, at least on this pod that, you learn more from your mistakes than you do your successes. So, is there one time that stands out in your past? Or all your different travels?
NJ: Well, the answer is yes. And I’ve never really told this story to too many people. But I was living in, as I told you, in Venezuela and it was the time of the Falklands War and the UK was fighting over it with Argentina, right? Who actually owned the Falklands and so there was this little war going on, which was not a good time to be living in South America with the British passport. You wished you had something else. And I had to go to immigration a couple of times to get my work permit and sort it out. And every time I would go, they would make me sit there for a couple of hours. And then they’d call me in and say something was wrong and I hadn’t filled something out right and I should go home and come back tomorrow. And this went on for three or four days, where in the end it was just very clear that they were messing with me, right? And I didn’t take that too well. So, ended up making a few phone calls and managing to go higher up. And the people at immigration and showed up the following day and was invited immediately into the office, got all my papers stamped and away you go it was all over.
And then on the way out, rather than look at the guy who’d been screwing with me for four days and say, ‘Thank you very much.’ I made a huge mistake and got out my passport and started saying things to him in Spanish, which for sure I shouldn’t have said but basically ‘You jerk, I managed to get this done’ and really making a huge pass of it, which is a big mistake and I should have known better because they’re very proud and I’m a guest in the country and I had a British passport. So within seconds, I’m on the ground with submachine gun in my back and someone’s throat on my head and so on. Long story short and I was with my girlfriend at the time who jumped on the back of the guy with the gun. I’m thinking that I’m on the floor going, ‘I wish she hadn’t done that.’ She gets tossed out of the way. Anyway, I’m dragged into this room and basically there’s a guy in the room who takes a razor blade out and cuts his lip. And they then charge me for grievous bodily harm. And in essence, throw me into a jail in Caracas, which is where I stayed for, I don’t know, probably eight or nine days actually. And my girlfriend—nothing happened—she went back to the hotel and started to try and get things moving. And the British Embassy were not helpful at all and said, ‘Oh dear, what a shame.’ It was just before Christmas and all that. So, that didn’t go well.
It was pretty horrific. I mean, I was in a jail with 40 other people in the cell and no toilets, no nothing. It was pretty bad, but it took about four days to get the system moving and then ultimately I moved out. And I was put into a cell with one other guy who had it all organized with a TV and a sofa and everything else. And I said to him, ‘Why are you here?’ And he told that it was a crime of passion and he’d gone home one night and found his wife in bed with somebody else, so he just shot the guy and that was that. So I go, ‘Okay.” So, I’m thinking, here’s this nice Jewish boy from Northwest London in a jail in Caracas with a guy who had just killed his wife’s lover. And I’m going, ‘Okay.’
Ultimately, I was released. The hotel I was in were able to pull strings and it went very high. And on the way out, the guy who arrested me called me in and said, ‘Clearly Mr. Jacobs you know people in high places and so we’re going to let you go. But just want to let you know that, should you choose to stay in Venezuela that sadly we can’t guarantee your personal safety.’ So, I went back to the hotel, I worked New Year’s Eve, but literally it was the 29th of December I was led out. I worked for three or four days, I didn’t leave the hotel. And then the first week in January I left the country and moved to Colorado.
That’s my big story and that did teach me to control emotion a little bit and be respectful where you are, and it was a really stupid thing to do. And it makes for a good story not that, as I say, I don’t tell too many people. But that’s the biggest mistake ever.
SSR: Yeah. And those were probably the longest eight or nine days of your life in that jail. You’ve worked with so many great designers in your career, you mentioned INC Architecture, AvroKO, you’re working on in London. There’s BIG who’s doing the architecture for Six Senses in New York. What do you look for in a collaborator? And how do you find the right people to partner with, especially for Six Senses, which is a brand that really takes this understanding, and it’s a fine line, right? It’s wellness luxury, but it also has this authenticity to it. It’s not an easy thing to pull off correctly. So how do you find the right collaborator to do that?
NJ: Well, a couple of, I mean, you take the groups that you just talked about. I mean, when we got involved in the New York hotel, Bjarke [Ingels] was already the appointed architect. But that was also part of why we were so interested in it. I always remember the first time I ever met him was probably 20 years ago and it was before he was famous. And he was a speaker at the TEDGlobal Conference, which was in Oxford in the UK. And I’m kind of an old TED-ster, I guess we call them from way back and would diligently go to the international one every year. And it was just riveting to listen to him. I mean, we talked a lot afterwards and over the years have looked at kind of doing some work together, but over the years, he also became very famous and became a star architect. But back then he was all about sustainability and planning and town planning and his vision of the city of the future. I mean, he just was just astounding the impact that he had at that TED conference, so I always wanted to work with him.
When this possibility of New York came up, the fact that they were, that BIG were the architects was a huge driver for me and we were pretty much prepared to do anything to get that deal right with Gilles Boissier. You know, we had stayed close to them over the years after having done Baccarat. And a lot of time was spent with them and INC and AvroKO, who also did the 1 Hotel in Central Park. So we’d work with them as well.
Just talk about the brand and not necessarily to talk about their abilities, I knew they had abilities because they’re great designers because we work with them, but it would just talk about what the brand meant to us and the emotion behind the brand and the value set and the passion and the integrity behind what we need to do. And another one of those designers was also Clodagh, who I kind of actually never worked with but had talked about working with for years and years. So, it was those multitude of conversations that went on over perhaps weeks before actually hiring them for us to be convinced that they really understood the ethos of the brand and not only understood it, but really cared about the ethos of the brand. It had to resonate with them on a personal level.
You know, every designer will tell you, ‘Yeah, sure. We can do that. We can do this, we can do that.’ But to us, it’s just so important to have people that genuinely care about what we care about, because if that’s in place, we’ll get it to work, right. We will get it to work. And with all those people mentioned, there’s an interesting, none of them are prima donnas. They not only were very respectful of the brand and cared about what we cared about, but they were also people and individuals who were willing to listen and work with us and our technical and design group through the process and not be offended if there was something we didn’t like or we felt wasn’t quite right or so on. So that lack of, ‘No, this is the way I’m going to do it.’ Or attitude, if you like, which does exist with some in the design community, can’t be there.
It’s not that we want to second guess everything. And we don’t want to do the design but we need to be part of a process and we need to be able to say confidently, if it’s something we think perhaps needs to be adjusted. And in all of those cases that has happened, in the case of Gilles & Boissier, both Dorothy and Patrick and their children religiously go to six senses properties for their summer vacations and they’ve wanted to do that. And, and that’s also been meaningful because when you experience it, even though New York is unlike anything else we have anywhere in the world, the important thing was them to experience the value set and see that value set in action.
And in their case, to interpret it into an urban environment, not only urban, a New York environment, which is unforgiving, but, I mean, it was like, ‘Guys, we got one chance to get this, right. It can’t be like another cool, New York hotel. No polished concrete, no steel, it needs to be an urban version of what you saw on the beach in Thailand that works perfectly in New York City and that is different to anything else.’ So, I mean, it’s a hell of a demand because in the case of New York, we really didn’t know what it should look like either. We kind of knew conceptually, but how do you manifest what I just said? It should be like, into an actual design was damn hard. It really was. And they’ve been amazing because we’ve gone through so many renditions of it until we got it right. And we think we got it right. And you know, like it or don’t like it, it will be different to most any other luxury hotel in New York.
So, it’s so much about the relationship and the connectivity between brand and us, right. And, and their willingness to shift and change and be, and do. And, I mean, it’s hard and it’s hard to do in the city. And we’re also experiencing it in London because in London the project that AvroKO is on was an old department store from, I guess from the ‘30s or ‘40s that’s been there forever. I grew up around the corner from it. And it was historic, only parts of it were protected and it’s being turned into, well I mean, it’s basically being knocked down apart from one huge facade and a staircase and domes, a few domes. So some of it was protected, but Foster + Partner are the design architects and AvroKO is doing the interiors. So to find that balance of respect for the historic somewhat deco building and integrate the values of Six Senses into London, which is quite different to New York and get all those pieces into it and not have it look like a minestrone, it’s not simple. It’s really not simple. Even the use of materials. Because we only want natural materials. We’ve got a whole bunch of standards about what can be used, what can’t be used, and where it comes from, and wood that’s used, and not everyone will put up with that stuff. Right. I mean, a lot of designers will go, ‘You guys are just, these are just too difficult.’ But they’ve all been great. I mean, all of them. And I think that’s because what we care about just resonates.
SSR: Yeah. And how did you, yeah. And what did you find that you needed to do for New York for an urban location? Is there any kind of sneak peek you can give us or insight to, how did you translate that design for an urban space, especially such a dramatic building that will be the home base for Six Senses?
NJ: Well, we’ve got great light to the rooms, you know? And, and so how that light is brought in, we’re also facing the water and facing the backside is touching the High Line. So we have both. So between the water and the High Line it’s like, how do we bring that in? Because that is sustainability. You know, it’s water. The High Line speaks for itself. So, the use of materials, how can they reflect our surroundings. So, we have a lot of timber that is used in the rooms. What you see more and more and New York hotels, they’re quite masculine, they’re quite strong, the materials that are being used today but I think there’s a softness, there’s a naturalness to the rooms.
And yet there’s a softness to them. Now, part of that perhaps comes a little bit from the French aesthetic of Gilles & Boissier. I mean, they do very beautiful sensual design and it’s got a touch of that. French aesthetic without being too French because we’re not in France but there’s a softness to it that’s there and even though the materials, I guess the difference between doing it in a resort and doing it in New York, even though there’s some similarity in the materials used, how the materials are finished and how they’re designed is way more sophisticated than how we would use them in a resort on a beach in Vietnam or whatever. So it’s not rustic, you know, but it is using very natural materials that are highly designed, so it has a degree of sophistication, it has a degree of elegance, but without being elegant in the traditional term, it’s just beautifully designed and it’s very tactile and you kind of want to rub up against the vanity and stroke the daybed and so on.
SSR: For this podcast, we always end on one question, what I’ve learned? What has been your greatest lesson learned through your amazing career and all your travels, what has been the lesson that has stuck with you throughout it all?
NJ: Oh, just listen, listen to people, give people the time of day, we all have our opinions. We all think we know, but you learn things and just to be open to other points of view, it’s so easy to get set and to get stuck into a belief set that, you know, has served you well for years and years. But I think as my career has formed and as I’ve kind of taken on more and more, it just has become very apparent that lots of great people have lots of great ideas and there’s really no such thing as a terrible idea, that doesn’t mean that every idea works in every instance. But we owe it to people to listen and hear what they have to say.
It sounds cliché because I’m not the first person to say it but to empower people to do what they do well because that’s what creates great organizations and great loyalty. If people feel they’re valued and you just learned so much and I think that’s my greatest lesson. I always go back to it when I get impatient. As you get older, you do get more impatient. But I have to, when that happens, it’s like, ‘stop
because who knows what you’re going to learn, and the likelihood is it could be better. I don’t know. So I believe in that very strongly.
SSR: And I think it’s so timely for right now, too, it’s just, I feel like people are going to come out of this a little more understanding, hopefully, and a little more kind, just because everyone has realized, there are so many different situations for everyone sheltering in place, so I think that’s not only something to take with us but also something that’s very pertinent to right now. Thank you as always Neil for you being you.
NJ: Thank you.
SSR: And this was just so lovely and can’t wait to see you in real life sometime soon.
NJ: Okay my dear. All right you take care.
SSR: Thank you so much.
NJ: Talk to you soon, all right. Bye Stacy. Bye.