Musicstyling Meets - In conversation with Martin B. Jones.
With 35yrs of international general management expertise, it’s fair to say that there’s few better placed than Martin B. Jones to understand and predict luxury consumers’ demands. A visionary hospitality leader with a track record of developing successful, trend-setting concepts around the globe, there was no better guest for Axel to sit down with for this first episode of Musicstyling Meets.
Today we're here at the Intercontinental Park Lane and I have the pleasure and honor to meet Martin B Jones, a true visionary leader. He's a passionate hospitality industry leader, innovator, disruptor. And I thank you so much for joining me today.
No problem, Axel. Thank you very much for having me here and thanks for being in one of our
Pleasure. Let's get straight to it. One thing I always wanted to ask you, why hospitality? What is it? Why did you end up here?
Actually, it's an accident. So, to be honest, I never in my life thought I'd ever work in a hotel. I didn't even know that people really worked in hotels when I was a kid, because we never often really went to hotels when I grew up around Australia, we traveled around a lot, but not necessarily in the luxury of a five star hotel.
And then one day I was actually studying at Sydney University and thought, I'd like to earn a little bit of money, get out of home and pay my own rent and rent a place away from Mum and Dad. Sorry, Mum and Dad, but we all have to do it, right? And so I had a friend who worked at the Hyatt in Sydney, Hyatt Kingsgate. This is a long, long time ago in Kings Cross, very colorful area, and I got a job washing dishes and the rest, as they say, is history.
Wow. Fantastic. What a start. So, if not hospitality, what would be your passion?
Well, my passion has always been and I guess in some ways it's sort of related to what I do as well, has been music. Right. And it's nothing to do with Musicstyling! Right? So of course it is now, but it wasn't. So I actually studied music at Sydney University. I taught piano for nearly ten years, I think when I was young and yeah, I was going to be a music teacher, pretty much. I did my studies at Sydney University and like I said, poor student, but I earned a bit of money from teaching the piano and then got directs from hospitality and that's sort of how it all happened. Like I said, it was an accident in many ways, but a very good one and I would never look back.
Fantastic. We are all very grateful you actually had that accident. Where do you feel happiest?
Actually, I'm always happy and I'm always happy at what I do. I think I'm one of the lucky ones, that I love getting up and going to work. Well, I don't love getting up so early anymore, but been there and done that. But this is a great business because when you're with people and you can imagine how many types of people I've met over the years from all walks of life, I think that's the most fascinating thing. Different cultures, different lives, different habits, different likes and dislikes and just getting to know people.
And it sounds a little bit cliche or corny, but it's actually the truth. So being around people, I believe I'm a pretty good networker. I've got a great network of both friends that I've had, some for 50 years, actually, and of colleagues and business associates, too. And that's what I love.
Fantastic. And I can only echo that from my own experience. You're very much a people person, definitely. And you were always and you're known in the industry as the one ahead of the pack, really. Is that your instinct or is there science behind it?
I would hope it is. And it's not like I'm just doing it for the sake of it. I just think that we need to progress. And like I said, a lot of things in our industry have been done the way they've been done for a long time. But the world has changed. And especially in my world of food and beverage, we have restaurants and bars. I've been a fighter against terms like 'outlet' forever, who wakes up in the morning and says, let's go to an outlet for dinner? Nobody does. So why do we call them outlets? So little things like that and their "whole all day dining". So I'm always trying to challenge the way we think. I don't want to eat in an all day dining restaurant. I want to eat in a great restaurant that has great dinner but also serves breakfast. That's fine. Right? So it's not so much of necessarily just trying to do it for me, it's just trying to get us to think differently. Because many years ago, hotels competed with hotels, especially, of course, we still do in rooms, but in food and beverage.
Nowadays, hotels are not our competitor. Freestanding entrepreneurial restaurants and bars, the high street restaurant, as you call over here in the UK, they're our competitor and they don't follow the same old standards and rules that we have had to do in hotels for a long time. And that is our competitor. And that's what we've got to look. So we've got to be forward thinking, we've got to be thinking; what would we do if we owned the business ourselves?
Are there any tips that you could give someone to stay ahead of the time and see the emerging trends?
Well, I would say keep challenging yourself. Right? I developed, as you know, many up to 100 more concepts just for Starwood. We're talking 20 years ago, and they grew into thousands of restaurants around the world. And that was right for that time. Starwood was on a massive development growth. Opportunities were everywhere, so we had to have solutions. That doesn't mean that one always fits all and actually one doesn't fit all, but you can have certain things that can be adapted.
But you know what? I feel a bit flattered in many ways, because I remember after a few years, I'd done restaurant concepts and I'll see somebody from another hotel company that perhaps worked with me before and I'd read the concept and I said, I think I wrote that concept or something. And they said, yeah, you did. I said, but that was ten years ago, don't use it now. If it doesn't fit, we have to keep rethinking. So I don't think that once something is done, it's done forever, necessarily.
So we have to keep ahead, we have to keep innovating and we've got to keep challenging ourselves and that's one of the most important things. Don't think we've done it and it's finished because the world is changing.
Absolutely brilliant and I can only echo that for our own business, we always try to stay in front of the curve and it's something that is very important for us and challenging ourselves as well in our business.
Coming to something more serious the last two and a half years really a test for society, but especially for the hospitality industry. I would like to get your insight in how did you deal with that situation on a personal level, but then also on a professional level?
I always think that I'm one of the fortunate ones, right? And there's always a lot of people worse off. However, that said, I was leaving Acore and I was joining IHG and at that time COVID came along sort of in between, put a spanner in the works and everything went on hold. Well, many people's lives went on hold, I have to admit, first time in my life that I haven't worked for a while.
But that didn't mean that I just sat there and cried or waited. As you know, I formed Captivate Hospitality Partners as well and I kept in touch, I spoke on lots of webinars and zoom meetings, we went out together and we got business. I got some work from IHG, which was very nice and very grateful for, lucky I did the right thing because I'm inheriting those projects now anyway. And we got work from other hotel companies, from companies like Nespresso and did a big project for them and not necessarily hotel or restaurant related, so I always kept myself busy and active.
Financially, it was a struggle definitely, even though, like I said, there's always people worse off than you, you're in a certain situation. And I lived in Switzerland, and even though the income wasn't coming in as it normally would, the bills kept coming in. So it was a challenge. And I do feel blessed that I'm lucky enough to obviously now be where I am and I didn't suffer too much because there really were a lot of people, especially in our industry, that were really hurt and terrible situation. Hope it never happens again.
I think the most important thing, of course, and the thing that I thought for me, and of course it's different for everybody, was keep motivated, keep positive, keep busy and keep connected. And I've got to say, that's one of the things that paid off for me because my connections were amazing, the amount of people that knew that I was sort of in a bit of a gap that came to me and said, can you do some work for us? Would you like to work with us and do some things? It was very touching. It was really nice and I'm very grateful for that. And the people that reached out to me, colleagues, people from my own industry, people from connected businesses that I'd worked with before. So it was really great.
But you had to keep motivated and keep connected and keep up to date with what's happening because lots of things changed in that period of time. Right? Especially in food and beverage.
Absolutely. And that brings me to my next question. What did COVID do to the industry? Did the industry learn something from it? If I look at our business, it helped us insofar that we actually connected more with our colleagues out in the field via Zoom, Microsoft Teams. And we as a team grew far closer together and had more interaction nowadays.
Yes. No, I think we learned lots of things, even how to manage our business, because obviously, the less traffic, the less business you've got coming in, the more you've got to watch things. We had to learn how to control and manage costs and expenses without losing quality and without losing our focus. I think it also taught us that in everybody's business, the Zoom and teams and the likes taught us a lot that we can do without being face to face. I mean, for example, when I finished with the Call, I was traveling every year, 280 days a year. And you know what? It became normal. It was like getting on a bus. But it's a hell of a toll. And quite frankly, right now, I don't do too much travel and I actually don't want to and in many ways don't need to.
So what we've learned is we can keep connected. However, we are a people business. And I wouldn't say you can always replace a trip and a meeting with a Zoom or Teams because it's not the way it is. And you know, that face to face, that interaction, understanding people's emotions and reactions to things. And actually physically, especially for us, if we're creating restaurants and concepts and hotels to physically see the properties, it's important. So it hasn't replaced everything, but it has taught us that there are alternatives. And it also, I think it brought to the front of the hospitality industry how important food and beverage actually really is, because people weren't staying in the rooms, but they were still eating, whether we were delivering or they were coming to pick up or some restaurants were open. Food and beverage in many cases, in many companies, saved the business.
And I hope we don't forget that as well, because often food and beverage restaurants and bars, whatever you want to call it, is just seen as a facility, and hence my hate of the word outlet, because we're not outlets, we're restaurants and bars that are inside a hotel. So I think that became more prominent and that's one of the good things anyway.
Absolutely. That's amazing. I feel for you. I have done the same. I cut down my travel from 200 days to hopefully under 100 days this year. And I am in the firm belief that the face to face is still important, but you can do other things as well via Teams.
Next question would be leading on question from there. So I'm really excited about seeing your next concepts because I know it will be really cool and exciting, but in the next 20 to 30 years down the line, what do you see the most important factors for the hospitality industry or food and beverage in particular?
Yeah, 20 or 30 years, it'll be here in no time at all. I'm not sure whether I'll be around in it that long, but who knows? You never know. As long as we're strong and happy and healthy, then for sure. I think the way we're going is what we've realized is that and again, I go back to who our competitor is now and how people are changing in their thinking and their dietary habits and their intolerances. And whether they're intolerances or just dislikes or whatever it may be, it's not important. I think the fact is that we in the past, in hotels, in hospital, in restaurants and bars, in hotels have been too expensive, too rigid, right, too formal in our attitude and everything like that. And what we have to do, we've got to be a lot more flexible.
Why can't you have breakfast at 06:00 p.m.? Why can't you have your dinner at 06:00 A.m.? And why do we not allow people to flex? So, for instance, I always say this thing, we have a menu and it's got pizzas on it, and we prescribe that you can have a margarita or a cabinet or whatever it may be. Why not just say, hey, we've got the dough, we've got all these ingredients, tell us what you want, rather than telling us what you don't want on one of these and mixing it and little things like that and building your own dishes and salads and sandwiches. So allowing a lot more flexibility.
I think for me, the term I like is â€œplanet positiveâ€ as well. We have probably done a lot of damage well, definitely done a lot of damage in the world. Not just hospitality, but we are big wasters in many ways. So controlling waste, increasing productivity, looking at energy consumptions, water, sustainability in general, seafood, whatever it may be. I mean, I have to say Starwood was pioneering in that for many years ago. I was on their sustainability committee globally, and a lot of places are still not thinking that. But we have to be planet positive. We've got to be as local as we can. And then it obviously comes to that joint in with ingredients and everything. I think the days of us being so fine dining and fussy and drops and drizzles and micro herbs with tweezers and espooomers and all this good, honest food that tastes good, that's responsibly sourced and as locally sourced as possible, I think are the important things.
And all that goes together with the overall ambience that we want to create for hotels. We've got to be friendly and efficient. We don't need formalities surfing the right clear from the left. I think a lot of people I wouldn't say it's like eating at home, because why would you pay so much money if you're going to eat at home? Right? But I do think we have to have a more relaxed, friendly, service, attitude, focused type of service. I think we have to be sensible and value for money and price reasonably and sensibly. And then, like I said, create an atmosphere that people enjoy, not the formalities that we've had for a long, long time. Because these fine dining restaurants, things, they're few and far between. There is a time and a place for it. But I think we have to have an overall change. And I think the future really will be everybody. The generations now last. The next one definitely focused on the world and the planet and keeping it or making it a good place again. And I think friendliness and value for money and great tastes, that's going to be the focus. Not too complicated.
Yeah, but fantastic. I think there are real good outlook on where we need to be and totally agree Saying that you working with so many different concepts, new upcoming artists, really, in the food and beverage world. Anyone that sticks out that you would share?
I've never been a big, not a fan of no believer of us having to have Michelin stars or celebrity chefs. I think we should celebrate our own talent. We should grow our own people, grow our own talent and really create stars out of the people that we have. And some of the things that I'm working on is really focused on getting the best out of our people and giving them the chance to grow and bloom as well. So I really think focusing on the talent that we have and helping people grow and celebrating them is one of the key things for us.
Fantastic. I'm looking forward to that. I'm sure you can't share more insight in that, but there will be more to come?
I'm not saying that the celebrity chefs and other brands and have a place, but we have a duty, I think, to our own people and ourselves, because when we outsource restaurants, we're outsourcing our own business, right? Because that's what we do. So we shouldn't necessarily be giving it away. We partner when it makes sense. But healthy partnerships, I think, are important.
Very good. Understood. Is there any restaurant or place where you think, okay, that's on my bucket list. I definitely have to go there and enjoy a meal?
That's a very tough question. People always ask me, what's your favorite restaurant? Honestly, I'm a big street food guy, right. I just had lunch at Borough Markets as well. And honestly, I just like to know what the locals eat, how they eat it, how they prepare it, and what it means to them. And I think getting flavors and being original, as original as we can when we're taking something out of another country is a great thing to do.
But I just want to go where I haven't been. And I've done over 100 hotels, over 100 countries, nearly 130, I think. And there's still a few that I do want to go to. And that's how I work out - I cut off like four or five countries a year when I travel minimum, because I've done a lot now anyway. But just finding new food and looking at what's perhaps not as well known as it could be if you go to Asia, Korean food was probably one of its great cuisine, having lived there for so many years, right. But it was never as popular as probably as Japanese or Thai or something like that. And then you look at even Filipino food or something. And now look at with the movement towards vegan and vegetarian food, look at what great food. You don't need to eat meat anymore. I eat meat, but I don't need to if I go to Turkey or if you go to Lebanon or somewhere and you have the mezzas and that or many countries.
So I think also, for me, finding cuisines that are probably less meat focused and not because I'm anti meat or anything, just because I think there's a great movement towards that and I need to know more about that as well. And usually it tastes great, too.
Brilliant. I'm very happy that we are part of your culinary journey as well. I think we introduced Henderson's Relish to you.
Yeah, indeed you did. Yes. Absolutely!
Brilliant. So, going away from locality and really regional expertise, you mentioned yourself you traveled 130 countries. You lived in probably about 20 by now, 15 almost. In your heart, where's home?
That's a good question. Right. Obviously, Australia is my home, and my family are there, and that's a super important thing. But you know what? The thing is? 15 countries I've lived in, I actually love nearly all of them. And again, I'm fortunate enough to have a couple of places of residence.
Kuala Lumpur has been my home, and I've got my house and a cat there as well. And I love it. It's a great country with great food and wonderful people with the three different cultures mixing. So KL is sort of a home australia is a beautiful country, right. Family there. It's a great country. But will it be where I go back to? Not sure. And right now, I really don't know. And I live in Zurich and that's Switzerland is a fantastic country. So organized and clean and nice and everything. So I don't know. I can't answer. I'm torn.
I'm torn. If I could afford it, I'd just keep a few. But that's a luxury that not many people can have. But I'll keep working hard and see if I can have that luxury of moving across to a few.
Wow. I will visit you and make sure. Exciting times. For me, it's very similar. I lived in five countries only, and I call England my home now, despite the fact I'm German. But I would never go back to live in Germany. It's just my personal preference.
It's sort of like been there, done that, right? Yeah, exactly.
For me, it's home. Feels like Majorca. That's when I get out of the plane and my heartâ€¦
â€¦well, you can go to the Kimpton Majorca because it opened last week! So there you go.
Right. And we are happy to be their partner as well.
Speaking of countries and different regions, and I think you answered parts of it already, do you think there's a specific region or country that really stands out in terms of luxury, hospitality, where they always get it right and they're just ahead of the pack?
It's also a tough question. Let's face it, Europe is the home of hospitality. It's where it all happens. However, Asia has redefined it. I mean, look at the standards. Like, look at Hong Kong, the region, Hong Kong, and look at Singapore and other key Bangkok, the most amazing hotels that really reset the standard of what hospitality is.
So I think traditionally here in Europe, absolutely. there's some amazing hotels, as we know. But I think Asia is really defined at the service, the style, the quality. And I couldn't pinpoint one place in particular because I think there's fantastic hotels in Bangkok. There are incredibly good value and beautiful hotels in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore has amazing hotels. So does Hong Kong. Or most cities. And then you've got resorts as well. So tough one to pinpoint. But definitely Asia certainly redefines, I guess, the excellence and the quality in many ways.
I totally agree. Great answer, by the way. Talking about service, when did you last experience impeccable? Service?
Not even when I serve myself dinner. Oh boy. Oh boy. That one I'd have to really have a good think about. I mean, I have it's happened. I've been to some great restaurants. I mean, I've been to some fantastic restaurant in Spain. I've had great restaurants with culinary, with the cuisine because itâ€™s a great country for food and everything. And service depends on what you mean by impeccable, I suppose. For me, impeccable is extremely friendly, knowledgeable and efficient and that sort of thing.
And that's one thing I think I still get quite a bit. It's not consistent across the world or across the region or even in the country, but so it doesn't sound too negative. That's my style of impeccable services. Not necessarily micro detail and micro service and the right and the left and all that sort of thing, but it still exists, it's still around. There's some great spots.
That's good to know. And I know that you been to the right spaces and places in your working life. What was your happiest day?
Oohâ€¦ there have been many!
I think one of the best experiences was when I was fortunate enough well, there's probably two. I'll go back a little bit. One would be the day that the President and Senior Vice President of Starwood said, we're going to create the role of VP Food and Beverage for Asia Pacific. We've never had it before and we want you to do it. And we're creating. We want you. And that was amazing day for me, and a great opportunity, which I'm internally grateful for. And I did it for ten years. Right. So must have done something right there.
And the other one would be probably when I opened the W in Seoul. So we brought the brand from the US to Asia, and this was the first one, the W in Seoul. And I was lucky to be the opening GM. And I had the most incredible team, and opening that hotel was definitely a milestone. There are others, and a lot of it comes down to who you're working with and the people you had. I've been very lucky to have great people and in my working career, I'm probably being selfish when I said that, actually. I think it's often when I see somebody that worked with me that was maybe a lot more junior worked with me and has grown, and it even become in a position higher than me, perhaps. Right. That is a sense of achievement and success, seeing people grow, because it's not a one thing, it's happening all the time. And that's an amazing thing.
That's brilliant. And I heard them from several people that you are the mentor for them and they had a fantastic career because of you. So well done.
It's never because of one person, it's because of everyone. Right. You have to participate equally.
Definitely. So if money and time wouldn't be an object right now, what would be the journey? The country? A place where you want to travel to? Right now?
I want to go to Greenland.
What will be your musical playlist for that?
Oh, now you know me and my musical playlist is pretty much the same! I'm an 80â€™s guy. Right. So I'd have a look to see who are the artists from that part of the world, if there are or close by and see what we could get. Certainly. But definitely, you know my playlist, 80â€™s. I grew up in the 80â€™s, it's the best music in the world, so it'll always be that.
And I'll bring my music styling playlist with me.
You should. And it would be a fun journey. Martin B. Jones. Thank you so much.
Thanks, Axel. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
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