Jennifer Fox interview: Fairmont’s Fox

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The new president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Jennifer Fox, tells Louise Oakley why seizing opportunities and being prepared to take a risk is essential for success.

I think it’s fair to surmise that the year 2012 started well for Australian national Jennifer Fox; she brought in the New Year celebrating her new role as president of Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and the December completion of a doctorate in Business Studies from the International School of Management in Paris.

I meet Fox in Fairmont Dubai’s 34th floor presidential suite in January during her tour of the company’s four regional head offices, of which the UAE emirate is one. Since her appointment in November — succeeding Chris Cahill,  who yields the role of president to focus on his duties as chief operating officer of parent company Fairmont Raffles Hotels International — Fox has made it her mission to meet as many of the regional vice presidents, general managers and owners as possible.

Rather than being daunted, Fox revels in the global nature of her new role — following international experience as global brand manager for Sheraton during 13 years’ with Starwood and later, as senior vice president of brand management for industry giant InterContinental — and it was this that seemed to clinch her move from InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in Europe to Fairmont’s HQ in Canada.

“I love global roles because I’ve lived and worked in Australia, Asia, Europe and the US and so a global role really fits my background and experience and to take a company that is very successful and lead it into the future, that’s what excited me about it,” says Fox, a second-generation hotelier who entered the industry 25 years ago. “I didn’t leave IHG because I was unhappy, I really had a great 10 years, and before that I was with Starwood for 13 years, so I don’t move around companies lightly or frequently,” she continues.

“In so many ways, my experience there helped position me to be able to do this role, but this was just such an exciting opportunity and I love where Fairmont is going in the future. The brand today is very heavily focused in North America but there’s a lot of growth internationally and in fact our growth internationally is what’s going to be the biggest opportunity for us moving forward, so that’s a great chance for me to utilise my skills and background, having worked in these other regions, to be able to deliver some value,” believes Fox.

Exciting expansion

As you might expect, Fox says her number one priority is to “really learn and understand the company deeply”, but secondly, her focus will be looking at Fairmont’s development and growth strategy — which involves some significant new openings in 2012 alone.

Fairmont The Palm will be the highlight for the Middle East when it opens in Dubai in September but there are also openings in Kiev, Ukraine; Baku, Azerbaijan; Jaipur, India; and Manila in the Philippines due this year.

“Then next year we have about six or seven new developments, so we’re very much taking an approach to look at developed markets as well as emerging markets,” expands Fox. “We already have a good footprint in North America so North America will have some growth for us but it won’t be to the extent we’ve got internationally. We’d like [to be in] Miami and we’d like a little bit more [presence] in California along the coast. We’ve got a lot of opportunity in Europe; we’d love to be in Rome, Milan and Paris and we’ve got a great new project in Moscow, which is the redevelopment of the Pekin Hotel.”

The Moscow Pekin hotel project will join Fairmont’s iconic hotel restorations, including The Savoy in London, The Peace Hotel in Shanghai and The Plaza Hotel New York.

“We’re very good at respecting the history, culture and heritage of these hotels and then modernising them so they resonate with today’s consumer; it’s not a renovation at all, it’s absolutely restoring these hotels to their former glory,” says Fox.

These historic hotels have the benefit of bringing Fairmont’s service standards “alive” for new customers, who “will then look to Fairmont when they travel around the globe”, she continues.

What Fox hopes will ring true for guests is each Fairmont hotel’s relation to its surroundings, coupled with the company’s service culture.

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