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Brian Roper a passion for service

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor

To hear him tell it is to quickly learn that service to people is Brian Roper's passion. After brief stints at Negril Beach Village, New Kingston Hotel, Trelawny and Mallard's Beach hotels, the now Sandals Grande Ocho Rios general manager received a telephone call from Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, head of the Sandals hotel chain, inviting him to take up a job.

"It came with what was then a whopping $25,000 a year, representing a massive increase over my previous salary. But even before then, I thought I had died and gone to heaven," Roper told Outlook in an interview.

The St Mary son of deceased cattle farmers happily recalled working in an atmosphere of near naked women and non-stop partying. But, he said, it did not take him long to realise that he would be 100 per cent good at the job.

"I started at a time when the contract was a handshake and a promise that when the company got a health scheme, I would be entitled to join it," he said. Today, he is in his 29th year and looking forward to the next decade. He has moved up the ranks from food and beverage, resident, hotel and general manager and covered properties in Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean as well as at the company's corporate offices where he spent 12 years before returning to his present post.

He calls every employee by name and has an automatic and familiar word of greeting for each. His days start at 6:30 a.m. (first meeting for the day is at 7 a.m.), and they are likely to go on until anytime between five and six or 10 and 11 p.m. But, "I have to lead by example," he quips, citing his three guiding principles as total guest satisfaction, making a profit and having fun.

To achieve his main goal of total guest satisfaction, Roper said management staff is encouraged to periodically stay in the hotel to experience the service and find shortcomings for themselves. "They have to dine, swim, sleep in the beds, be served at the bar and find out what we need to do to improve," he added.

Roper noted that particularly at a time of economic crisis when many guests are taking their dream vacation, the hospitality sector has to be on its toes. For his part, he reads both daily newspapers, major foreign papers and guest comments online every morning.

Another major element in his passion to deliver excellent service is staff retention. He ensures that everyone gets at least 120 hours of on-the-job training annually and is only happy if someone is leaving for upward mobility.

Heart attack

But it is not all work for Roper who suffered a major heart attack last year. At age 51, the combination of stress and being overweight took their toll. "I weighed 440 pounds prior to the attack, and since then I have lost 130 pounds and I am still on a path to lose more," he said. His daily regimen includes exercise and better eating habits.

"I am not on a diet, it is a lifestyle change for me. Now instead of sodas, I drink lots of water (Christmas was an exception, lots of sorrel and cake), but I work out four times a week and my New Year's resolution is that starting at 6 a.m. tomorrow, I will be in the gym. I am encouraging other members of staff to join me."

Married with three children, Roper, who describes himself as a proud Jamaican, spends his spare time watching television, reading practical books and enjoying all kinds of sports.