“We are grateful for what we have achieved in our first decade. Grateful, in part, because so much of life is an accident. You stumble on something, you react to the opportunity, and sometimes you don’t always know where it’s going to lead you….”
– Adrian Zecha, Hong Kong, 1997. Excerpt from his forward to A Portrait of Amanresorts by Basil Pao.
I’m still reeling from the excitement of attending the birthday celebrations for Adrian Zecha, founder of iconic hospitality brands Aman Resorts, Regent Hotels, Rafael Hotels, GHM Hotels, and now Azerai Resorts.
To share this celebratory weekend with many ex-Aman colleagues was a treat, gathering to honour the man who had profoundly shaped us, both professionally and personally. We will always laud his vision, celebrating what Amanpuri achieved when it first opened in 1987 – the birth of a new kind of luxury resort that included a sense of place, a ‘less is more’ design and an informal but warm service filled with surprise.
As I reflected on our time together at Aman I realised, more than ever that, besides being a visionary, Adrian was in a league of his own as a leader. In fact, his enduring power of leadership is his ability to imbue passion in others, to bring them on the journey, and then let the collective group shape the outcome. AZ understood that simply leading others into the future wouldn’t bring about the results he desired. Rather, it was about inviting those around him to co-create that future alongside him. To do this, he hired people with diverse expertise and experience (some without any in hospitality) who were eager to try new things, learn as much as possible, and most importantly, collaborate.
Our mission at Aman was simple; treat every guest and staff member as you would in your own home. No other instructions. No procedures. No standards. And once the stage had been set, what followed was a trying of new things, a diversity of thought, resilience, innovation – and definitely some fun. And, of course, extraordinary loyalty. Loyalty because there was collective ownership. Throughout the organisation, from guest-contact to senior managers, the mindset was that everyone was an integral part of Aman and therefore wholeheartedly participated in the evolution of the company.
After a wonderful weekend of laughter, friendship and inspiration, this was my lingering thought about Adrian’s success as a leader. It was never about him. The closing sentence of that same foreword said:
“I would like to express my admiration for, and my heartfelt gratitude to, our staff. They number in the many hundreds, and most of them have been with us from the beginning, as hotel managers, as chambermaids and drivers and guides, as cooks and cleaners and waiters and in so many other unseen, and invaluable, roles. In the end, they are Amanresorts.”
It was a beautiful reminder of the core tenets that I still believe in as I collaborate with clients around the world to this day. Only when entire teams collectively take ownership and truly care, can one ascend to that spirt of hospitality started so magnificently by Adrian Zecha.