Ask Jennifer Fox what she wanted to be when she was growing up and she doesn’t miss a beat. “A hotelier,” said the president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, whose father was a hotelier in Australia. “When I was 15, I would be doing my homework after school while I was running the front office in the evening,” she told Hotel Management.
An international career was also top of mind for Fox, who early on worked for Sheraton throughout Australia, first as a marketing specialist, then as a resident manager. When she transferred to the Sheraton Park Central in Dallas, she realized her dream of working in the United States and was also able to complete her MBA at Baylor University. For those reasons, Dallas has always held a special spot for her—also because it’s where she met her future husband.
The road called again, however, and she was assigned the role of GM at the Orchid at Mauna Lani (now a Fairmont Hotel) in Hawaii. This was an important role for Fox, who successfully rebranded the Big Island hotel from a Ritz-Carlton to a member of The Luxury Collection.
Her work paid off. It was 1998, early Starwood days, and Fox was transferred to New York to become global brand manager for the Sheraton flag.
After a successful 14-year stint with Sheraton and Starwood, Fox, in 2001, moved yet again to join InterContinental Hotels Group in Hong Kong, where, as managing director of the Regent Hong Kong, she was tasked with rebranding the hotel to the InterContinental flag.
The globetrotting element didn’t faze Fox one bit; in fact, she found it exhilarating. “My advice to young women in the industry today is to take risks. Don’t be afraid to take a challenge on. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere. I got an opportunity to go and live in Hawaii. How many people get that opportunity in their life? You’ve just got to grab those opportunities when they come,” she said.
With the rebranding of the Regent to the InterContinental considered a success, Fox moved to London in late 2003 to work on the global repositioning of the entire InterContinental brand. That role led to her promotion as COO for IHG Europe, which includes North Africa, Russia and the former CIS. With responsibility for 45 managed, owned and leased hotels and a further 17 under development, her region delivered almost $1 billion in revenues to IHG. She held that challenging role for six years before getting a call from Chris Cahill last year, who was acting president of Fairmont at the time. Cahill needed to yield the role so he could focus on his duties as COO of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, Fairmont’s parent company. Fox was appointed president of Fairmont November 1, 2011
“When I got this opportunity, I thought it was a great way to combine my marketing and my operations background,” said Fox. “But I also really wanted to get back into the global arena, because I’ve worked in Australia, in Asia, in Europe and the United States. And as much as I loved running Europe for the last six years, I thought it was a great opportunity to use all those skills from all of my experiences around the world in a global role with a brand that is on the verge of big growth internationally.”
Fairmont’s footprint in North America alone numbers more than 40 hotels, but there are further opportunities for growth in Asia, China, Europe and emerging markets, such as the CIS countries, Fox said.
“That was really the appeal for me, to be able to take a brand which is already very well known and very well positioned with a very rich and famous heritage and grow it on an international basis,” said Fox, who has spent the last three-and-a-half months transiting the globe to visit Fairmont’s global offices, its major hotels and their owners.“You’ve got to deeply understand an organization before you start to think about how you can effectively impact it. And that’s what I’ve been doing,” she said.
Growing the brand is her foremost priority; five hotels are already set to open this year in Kiev, Jaipur, Baku (Azerbaijan), Makati (Philippines) and on The Palm in Dubai. Fox said North America also remains a focus. “We’d like to be in Miami and we are very keen to grow more in California, where we could [add] more resorts,” she said. (In March, Fairmont acquired the 228-room Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, in Sonoma, Calif., a property it already was managing.)
China is also on the radar, Fox noted. So is Europe, via conversions, since there are so many unbranded hotels there. “In a down economy, owners realize that you need a brand to help drive awareness to positively impact your business,” she said.
Investments in existing properties are also of interest; in fact, Fairmont’s parent company, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, which owns the Raffles, Fairmont and Swissôtel brands, has a war chest of money to expand via mergers and acquisitions.
Right now, Fox is getting to know her new home, Toronto, where Fairmont will renovate its treasured Royal York hotel. The growing luxury hotel scene in the city excites her, and she’s looking forward to digging in. “I find moving countries is not difficult for me, because I’ve done it allof my career,” Fox said. “I get excited about learning about a new destination and settling into a new place. It’s not easy, it’s got to work for you and for your family, but the rewards are so great that I would say, don’t say, ‘no,’ too quickly. Think about it and take the opportunity. Take the risk because it really is well worth it.”
Originally published on our U.S. sister publication Hotel Management