Neil Jacobs: CEO of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas

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Neil Jacobs is the chief executive officer at Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas. With over three decades of experience in the operation, development and transactional side of hotels and spas, Neil is passionate about wellness, sustainability, inventive design, food and experiential travel.

How did you get into the hospitality industry?

Prior to joining Six Senses, I spent 5 years at Starwood Capital Group as president of global hotel operations where I was responsible for the development of two innovative new brands, Baccarat Hotels and 1 Hotels, both debuting in 2014. I spent 14 years with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts most recently serving as senior vice president operations for Asia Pacific since 2003. Based in Singapore, I was responsible for the operation of 16 hotels throughout the Asia Pacific region with 10 additional properties under development in China, India, Vietnam and the Indian Ocean. In my role, I managed four regional vice presidents and was responsible for human resources, finance and sales and marketing disciplines in the region. My career prior to Four Seasons included key leadership roles with New Europe Hotels NV, IDG Resorts, Grand Champions Resort Corporation and Venture Inns of America. I began my hospitality career in Food & Beverage with Trusthouse Forte and myspirit of adventure has taken him to exciting postings around the world including London, Rome, Sardinia, Paris, Sri Lanka, Bali, Barbados and Los Angeles.

Tell us about Six Senses. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas was established in 1995 with the opening of the group’s first resort in the Maldives. Our resorts and spas represent a refreshing reinterpretation of five star travel for today’s sophisticated traveler and spa goer. Well-being combined with ethical responsibility for the world we live in forms the central tenet to Six Senses philosophy.

I joined the company in 2012 when the company was purchased by Pegasus Capital Advisors, L.P. a private equity fund manager in New York. Pegasus partners with management teams of growth companies with a focus on those that benefit from the business implications of global resource scarcity. Sectors where this trend is most pronounced are food, water, energy, health & wellness and security. Through ownership we are working with a variety of innovative companies and experts to elevate the offerings we present at our spas and resorts. 

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to the success of Six Senses?

Over the last two years a lot of work has been spent aligning with some of the top wellness and medical experts in the world.

We will be launching Sleep with Six Senses later this year. Our sleep program will include the introduction of beds by Naturalmat which are made by hand in the UK. These beds will be placed at our resorts opening at Six Senses Douro Valley opening in Portugal as well as Six Senses Zil Pasyon this year. Beds will also be replaced at all existing locations over the next few years by Naturalmat.  In order to get the best possible night’s sleep, we’ll also be expanding our fitness and F&B offerings in tandem with the launch. Dr. Michael Breus is guiding us on the program and is regarded as one of the leading sleep experts in the  world. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and both a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Currently, we’re looking at all restaurant menus and are dedicated to offering seasonal, organic and sustainable food that is prepared in a healthy manner. Our goal is to enhance the well-being of our guests in body, mind and spirit through food and drinks without compromising taste and aesthetics. In tandem with American medical doctor Steven Gundry and Patrick Wahlberg, a spa and fitness consultant based in Stockholm, all chefs will be reviewing their recipes to ensure they are cooking with the highest quality oils; grass-fed meats, butter and eggs; green leaf and root vegetables plus foods with resistant starches. All menus will offer a selection of gluten free, sugar free, soy free, low carb, low inflammation and vegetarian items as well as dishes that are a minimum 90 percent organic. And most importantly, guests are invited to select how far they wish to go with the program – it’s not mandated.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

We see a major shift taking place in the world of wellness. People are obsessed with getting fit and healthy, but the population in general has become more unhealthy. Six Senses Spas offer a wide range of holistic wellness, rejuvenation and beauty treatments administered under the guidance of expert therapists. They incorporate local healing traditions together with a menu of specialist and signature therapies in each location. Pioneering wellness by constantly exploring, learning and rethinking the typical spa model, Six Senses Spas understand that before connecting with the world around us we need to reconnect with ourselves. And we’re helping our guests to do this through guided fitness, nutrition, meditation and education.

Life Motto?

You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Christopher Columbus

Six Sense's Motto?

The vision of Six Senses is to help people reconnect with themselves, others and the world around them.

Your greatest success as CEO of Six Senses? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

So far my greatest success at Six Senses has been putting a group of world-class leaders together and allowing them to do what they do best – innovate, create, succeed and be happy!

In terms of difficult times, I can’t say there have been any that stand out so far. But I do struggle with having enough time in my day to do everything I need to do. It’s always a balance. 

Your advice to an aspiring hotelier?

Get as much operational experience as you can. Understand how things work internally and stay focused on your guests. Early on I learned to treat guests like they were coming into my own home and to this day I have the same mind set. Manners and kindness are important and of course, a sense of humor.

Describe the ideal experience at your hotels.

If I am able to craft the perfect vacation for someone, it would be a time that a guest gets away from it all with someone they love and care about. Time is a precious commodity and giving a guest the opportunity to savor moments and simply enjoy the beauty of nature, good design and an activity that makes them feel happy and restored is what’s important to Six Senses. We try to create moments that are crafted and bespoke. From private dinners, challenging hikes, amazing diving experiences to paragliding, yoga and meditation, we want guests to discover a new side of themselves when staying with us or rediscovering an old self that has been lost. 

How important are architecture/design to the success of your hotels?

Good design is extremely important to us. Six Senses resorts are designed and built to ensure they complement the natural environment. We do not set out to be obtrusive, but rather to blend into the contours of the landscape. Our resorts strive to be discreet, offering guests an environment in which they can retreat, reenergize and reestablish relations with loved ones. Six Senses dares to be the best, but never at the sacrifice of the greater environment. Committed to protecting and preserving the environment, we believe that we can design and build sublime experiences without subtracting from or diminishing the natural world. Each Six Senses resort, hotel or spa adapts to the environment in which they are based.

We set out to avoid barriers and structures that do not complement the natural environment and culture.  The use of organic materials is key to our design and we will not compromise on the quality and textures found within property. The holistic senses that make up the Six Senses foundation are considered at every stage of the development, design and building phases.

The design and construction of our properties remain unique and make use of the natural land topography. Our technical and creative teams share the common goal of ensuring that Six Senses manages properties that are sustainable and sensitive to the community in which they co-exist. Creating destinations in virgin territories and new markets has always been encouraged within the company and is indeed one of the key signatures for which we are internationally recognized.

How do you motivate your employees?

I try to be a good listener, compassionate and care for people’s well-being. Ultimately I want people to reach their highest potential and I do all I can to help them get there.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

It would have to be a delicious pizza from Naples with grass-fed mozzarella, ripe red tomatoes, basil fresh from the garden, and the thinnest crust imaginable cooked over oak wood fire logs. A Montrachet from Burgundy would be a great complement.

What literature is on your bed stand?

10% happier by Dan Harris and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Role model - business and personal?

Business - Richard Branson for his fun and unorthodox approach to business and Chris Blackwell founder of Island Records and Island Outpost.

Personal - Leonardo da Vinci; Billie Holiday and Indian poet Mirabai because I like strong, determined, smart women.

Current passion?

I am back to playing the guitar. 

Favorite travel destination?

There are few places I do not love, but Tunisia is top of my travel list. I’m crazy about the country’s culture and food. You have not lived until you taste harissa, a delicious hot chili pepper paste. Tunisians are wonderful hosts and some of the best educated and interesting people around. I also find the light in Tunisia to be quite special. It’s also home to one of the oldest synagogues in the world, El Ghriba on the island of Djerba. Magical!

What's next for Six Senses?

Aside from this being a year of wellness for the group, we gearing up for major expansion. The first Six Senses resort will premiere this summer in China outside of Chengdu. Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain will be followed by a resort on the Douro River in Portugal, Six Senses Douro Valley and then by a private island hideaway in the Seychelles which will open late 2015. In 2016 and beyond, Six Senses will launch five trekking lodges in Bhutan; a resort in Taiwan designed by Kengo Kuma and properties in Bali, Indonesia and Gammarth, Tunisia. We are focused on remote resort as well as urban destinations in Europe, the Americas and Asia. I cannot name all the exciting places we looking at, but Six Senses loyalists will be excited to see where we are going!