The hotel fraternity sniggered when they heard that Joe Issa, son of the chairman of the SuperClubs group, John Issa was to head the money–losing San Souci hotel in Ocho Rios. Up until then, 27-year-old Joe had no track record as a turn-around manager.
What’s more, not only was he leap-frogging over experienced managers in the industry, but also over seasoned managers within the Superclubs Group. “He’s out of his depth and will fail,” was the view of some insiders. “He’s wet behind the ears and is bound to fail”, suggested others, otherwise: “The cocky young upstart will make a fool of himself’.
But, to the consternation of detractors, young Joe pulled off what appeared to be an impossible feat, turning a profit and earning the respect of the hotel fraternity in the process.
Three years later, Issa, now 30, may have won the respect, but is yet to earn the admiration of his peers. His early reputation as being a ‘brash, aggressive and overbearing upstart’ continues to dog Issa.
“He’s bright, but too aggressive,” says a former manager in the group. “Anything he wants, he wants it now,” he added.
“I could agree,” concedes Joe Issa when I spoke to him in -his modestly furnished office, at the Superclubs Group headquarters in Ocho Rios, “that in my early days in the business, I could have been a bit more diplomatic. But, nowadays, I’m different. The way people felt about me four or five years ago may have been justified. But, like everybody you grow, mature and from time to time seek advice from – more experienced and wiser heads in the business”, he said.
Industry analysts are also predicting that Issa will have little or no time to listen, let alone respond to charges by detractors in the future because of his new responsibilities as senior VP to co-ordinate all special projects within the group as well as to oversee the development of strategies to guide the group into the next phase of development and expansion.
The new responsibilities are all part of young Joe Issa’s grooming. He, Young Hotelier of the year in 1994, is to, assume the mantle of chairman of the Group when Issa senior steps aside. “To be frank, I have given very little, thought as to who is going to take over and when. There is so much to do, to ensure that as a group we are better at what we are doing,” says Joe Issa.
The young Issa will be more than equal to the task. Besides academic achievements, he will also bring to the job of chairman, experience gained working in all areas of the hotel business including, bellhop, chambermaid, dish washer and maintenance worker.
“It’s true”, concedes Issa, “that I worked in all areas of the business. It’s the only way to learn and I am glad that I had the roll-up sleeve type of training. It has helped me tremendously. I know when a bed is made properly and when it is not. I know the problems that people working in maintenance can and do face,” he adds. Looking to the future, the heir apparent to the SuperClubs empire says that the challenges ahead will be ‘formidable’. If we can first make the environment right for ourselves, then it will be right for the visitors, he says, leaning forward in his executive chair. Issa is clear in his own mind where the country needs to start. “It’s going to require strong leadership from present and future governments,” he says.
“It will have to start with the acceptance that the tourism industry is the lifeline of the country and start treating it as such,” he believes. “For instance,” he says, “when we have projects like the sewerage line in Ocho Rios, we shouldn’t be doing construction during the day, when there’s maximum traffic and inconvenience to everyone including visitors, but at nights when minimum disruption would be caused.”
“The way we deal with our cruise ship ports also needs to be addressed,” he believes. “We have close to 700,000 cruise ship passengers coming to our country each year. But when they leave they usually leave with a negative impression. We have to correct this, as these 700,000 visitors can ‘all become sales people for the country, increasing the amount of stopover visitors we now get.
“The problem in our country is not with the masses, but with the leadership. If the leadership is there, the people in the various sectors will do the rest.”
Source: The Observer