An American sailor called him 'Butch,' and the name stuck. He called Jamaica ‘home,' and he never left.
Forty years ago, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart founded Sandals® Resorts, but his love story with the Caribbean began long before that. Born in Kingston, Stewart spent his youngest years along Jamaica's north coast, where he met that American sailor who gave him the nickname we repeat with love today.
An entrepreneur from the start, a young Stewart began working at his mother's business before stepping out on his own at the age of twelve with a canoe and a fishing pole. Not yet old enough to drive a car, Stewart dug out a canoe from an old tree and began sailing out, catching fish, and selling them to the local hotels. Eventually, he upgraded his canoe to a more impressive boat and continued his business until age seventeen.
Stewart left his boat behind when he headed to England for his studies, just to return home to Jamaica with reaffirmed drive, determination, and confidence in his home island. Long before Stewart became a titan of Caribbean tourism, he sold air conditioners. And it began with a trip to New Jersey to meet with Fedders’ executive to try and corner the market for Jamaica; Stewart wouldn’t take no for an answer and would go on to build an appliance and manufacturing empire in his native Jamaica that would eclipse the competition.
In 1981, Stewart doubled down on that confidence, purchasing a Montego Bay hotel property and opening Sandals' flagship resort, Sandals Montego Bay.
Stewart's dream for Sandals felt bigger than most. Where some dreams die upon completion, others grow and change with time, continuously moving the line forward. For Sandals, a single resort was never the plan; the empire was always in reach, and Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart's legacy was sewn into the textiles of Sandals Montego Bay and every resort that came after.
The past forty years have been about more than holidays and poolside cocktails; each year has brought a new goal and vision for the hospitality industry and the Caribbean.
When we think about our founder, the mantra is simple — dream big, then dream bigger.
Since opening the doors of Sandals Montego Bay, Stewart introduced a slew of new resorts into the Sandals Resorts family, which now holds 16 all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.
In 1984, Stewart earned another badge for innovation when he built the Caribbean's first swim-up bar, now enjoyed at every resort. He channelled the couples in love, building the ultimate oasis for romance and doing it with a smile.
After all, it was Stewart who once said, "love what you do so you never have to work a day in your life."
In 1992, eleven years after opening Sandals Montego Bay, Stewart launched the Butch Stewart Initiative, which funnelled more than one million dollars per week into the foreign exchange market, revaluing the Jamaican dollar and boosting the local economy.
That same year, he was presented with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Humanitarian Award from the Jamaica-America Society, the Master Entrepreneur of the Decade (90's) award from Ernst & Young, and was voted 'Travel Man of the Millennium" at the 2000 World Travel Awards.
Stewart met recognition with grace and gratitude without ever taking his eye off the ball. Awards were gratefully accepted, but the trophy was never the dream.
In 2009, Stewart along with his son Adam launched the Sandals Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to making a difference in the Caribbean, with every dollar donated to improve education, community, and environment. The Foundation empowers lives by strengthening communities through mentorship, teacher training, literacy and health initiatives, and conservation practices.
In 2012, Stewart launched Sandals Corporate University (SCU), an adult education program for the brand's employees across the Caribbean. The SCU offers courses intended to kickstart hospitality careers, experienced by more than 1,200 team members since its inaugural year. With more than 230 courses and partnerships with 13 local and international universities, the program brings higher education into the Sandals experience.
A hospitality empire was not Stewart's only dream, nor his biggest. His greatest dream, and warmest legacy, was his family. Throughout his life, Stewart raised kind, compassionate, motivated children who've gone on to carry their father's legacy.
In 2006, Adam Stewart, one of eight children, became CEO of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, today holding the role of Executive Chairman. Before this, Stewart served as the Deputy Chairman for over a decade, following his father's footsteps, noting every move made. His leadership stands on the foundation laid by his father, and he embodies the dream of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, sowing the seeds that were planted forty years ago, in the year he was born.
"He was a marketing genius and talented showman," says Adam Stewart, "but those who knew him best recognised that he was a dreamer who could dream bigger and better than anyone. It was often said, 'the best thing for people around him to do is be dream catchers.'"
The 40th anniversary of Sandals Resorts is more than a celebration of a successful business. This year, our first without our founder, we're celebrating 40 years of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart's dream. That dream is ever-evolving, even today. Forever his dream catchers, we'll continue to expand, foster love and romance, and strengthen the Caribbean community in his name.