Success begins within, and ‘we’ is the key to legacy. In this episode, we hear the remarkable story of success behind the globally renowned Montage Hotels & Resorts and Pendry Hotels, told by none other than the visionary leader himself, Alan Fuerstman. Discover how a humble beginning can lead to the creation of an iconic brand, and learn why it’s essential to focus on your own backyard before expanding your horizons. Alan uncovers the core values that drive Montage International, revealing the importance of unity, trust, and self-awareness. He also discusses valuable life lessons on leadership, balance, and the transformative power of faith. Alan emphasizes that to build a legacy, there needs to be a soulful team—and it has to be developed early on. Join us in learning the story behind Montage International’s luxurious success.
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The Power Of ‘We’: Creating A Legacy Of Business Success With Alan Fuerstman, CEO Of Montage International
We have an incredible light-being entrepreneur. This gentleman went from being a doorman to the CEO of a $3 billion empire. He’s the creator of the international brand, the resort Montage. Thank you so much, Alan Fuerstman, for being here with us and sharing your wisdom with us, your key to success, and your leadership. How are you? You look like you are blissful.
I’m great, thank you. It’s a beautiful day in Laguna Beach, California. I’m happy to speak with you.
Thank you so much for your time. The audience is a little bit higher in consciousness that you are a Mystical Maverick. They represent this being that comes here in this new world to co-create a world of equanimity, peace, wisdom, unity, freedom, and financial freedom. Those are the entrepreneurs of the new world, and you are part of that. You are a Mystical Maverick.
I have a little story to share. I was in the audience at the Convoy of Hope at your resort. I first hand experienced the tremendous gift of your resort and creation. It was amazing to see you speak that day. I was in the audience. I’m going to say something. I’m a little bit of an intuitive, as you can tell. However, I’m sitting there. You begin to speak, and I realize that this man who’s speaking is not has been corrupted by fame, money, fortune, and success.
This is why you are here in the show. It is because you sang this song into my heart. It was direct from your heart. You spoke humbly and egoless that I said to myself, “I must have this great being here. He can share with others the importance and what is meaning of true success.” Can you speak about your humble beginning, from a doorman to what’s coming next? Were you always ambitious as a child? Was it innate to you? Did you learn from somebody? Tell us.
No, I had a very idyllic childhood. I grew up in suburban New York. I have loving parents and a vibrant household. I’m fortunate. In my senior year of high school, I got a part-time job as a doorman at a Marriott hotel. I went off to college. I never planned on getting into the hotel business as a career, but I came back for summers and worked summer jobs as a bellman.
When I graduated from college, I decided I was going to take a year off before going to graduate school. It happened to coincide with the opening of a hotel in California where the general manager was a person that I had worked for in New Jersey. He said, “If you are handing out to California, which was my plan, somewhat of an adventure more than anything else, why don’t you come to work for me? I open the hotel as the bell captain, and you will have a great experience.”
When I had the opportunity to do that, I got to see the opening of a resort through the eyes of a general manager. With his mentorship, openness, and sharing the excitement and energy of a luxury resort, I caught the bug. It was exciting. I decided that was my path. I decided that what I wanted to be was an operator of great hotels, lead people, and do some amazing things in the hospitality world. That was the beginning of a journey that started many years ago. It’s hard to believe from when I first started working in a hotel.
You are still young. How is this possible?
You are as young as you feel. I am inspired every day. The work that we do and the ability to create moments, memories, and magic for guests and to enrich the lives of those that we get to serve and for those who work for us is such a great opportunity and exciting thing for us to be able to do.
You said something about having this feeling not with yourself, but when we walked into your resort ourselves and had the direct experience, every single employee didn’t feel like they were an employee. I’m telling you because I travel all over the world. That was incredible. How can it be possible that one person and leader can radiate this compassion into everybody on his team?
It’s not one person. It’s a group of leaders. Great hotels have a soul and a spirit to it. It’s the environments that we get to create. It’s done through tremendous leaders and engaged associates who share the pride in making people feel amazing. The business we are in is to create environments where we create memorable experiences where there’s warmth and compassion, and guests are made to feel extraordinarily special.
You took a risk. The audience is those who are interested in success and entrepreneurship. When I speak to them, they are often blocked by fear and doubts. How would you comment on this? How did you overcome your fears and doubts and take this big risk?
In the early part of my career, I worked for large companies and corporations. I had great success within those organizations. I had worked my way up through Marriott through ITT Sheraton, where I was running The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, and to Las Vegas, where I opened and ran Bellagio for Steve Wynn. This was in the late ‘90s.
At that point, I had success with large companies, but I had an entrepreneurial spirit. I wanted to do something unique. I saw a need in the marketplace. I didn’t feel the risk that many people have attributed that I took in large part because I had confidence that the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t be successful in a new venture. It wouldn’t take away from the success I had working for large companies and running hotels in larger organizations. I knew I could always do that if I truly wanted to make a difference and follow my passion, which at that point was creating a new luxury hotel company that would be different than the traditional hotel companies.
My take on luxury hotels several years ago was that they were pretentious. They were stuffy and highly scripted but not personalized. I thought that a much more gracious and humble approach to luxury would be what the next generation of luxury travelers was looking for. Why not create a different style of luxury but still retain the incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship that are the markers of great luxury and have amazing service, but not necessarily all the formality that would be ascribed to traditional old-world luxury?
What we found when we launched Montage was that the next generation of luxury customers embraced it, but we were pleasantly surprised that the older travelers said, “We didn’t need all that either. We are happy to go to a fine dining restaurant, not having to wear a suit or to be dressed up to walk in the lobby. As long as there’s an incredible attention to detail and a more personalized service approach, we feel better.” There’s a magic that can be created. It comes from an engaged staff and people who are passionate collectively about making a guest experience memorable.There's a magic that can be created in a business and it comes from an engaged staff and people that are just passionate collectively to making an experience memorable. Click To Tweet
I’m not sure if you have written a book per se yet. Maybe it’s your next adventure because when I saw you speak, the wisdom that comes from you is unbelievable for those who are ready to take action. I’m saying this with all my heart because it’s rare that someone successful is at peace with himself as you are. It is a grace and ease that comes from you.
This is a personal between you and me. I was touched by this grace and ease that your presence is, and nothing comes out of alignment with you. You are as you are, and you are not trying to be or impress anyone. It’s remarkable in business, especially being a man. This is why it was important for you to be here to share your wisdom.
I learned this early on in my career. Early on in my career, I managed different departments of hotels. After being successful in the front office area, I had the opportunity to manage a housekeeping department. For the first time, my success would be completely in the hands of a dedicated group of associates who would do a great job or not. My success would be built on how well they were motivated and taken care of. They could perform their jobs at an extraordinary level.
I recognized leadership was important, but it was the respect for those doing the hard work and the organization and creating that environment in a hotel or any organization where there are no glamorous positions and less glamorous jobs. Everyone plays a role in defining what the experience will be for guests. That was such a wake-up moment early in my career, and the appreciation I have for those who get the job done.
We have fourteen hotels and many more to come, but I don’t get to see as many guests day in and day out as most of our associates do. Our success isn’t about how charming I may be with a guest, but it comes down to what happens at the point of contact. How are you greeted by the doorman and front desk associates? How are you made to feel as you eat in our restaurants? As you circulate a hotel, how are you greeted? All that comes from a group of people who are motivated to do a great job, who are led by strong leaders within an organization, and who have a shared vision of what success looks like.
In business, those are the ingredients to not just have limited success but a long legacy of success.
Leaders need to understand that. I get way too much credit for what happens day in and day out at the hotel. Every chance I get, I like to give credit to those who are doing the work and creating the experiences both for our associates and guests. It’s important for leaders to recognize who’s doing what and getting the work done and not bring all the attention upon themselves.It's important for leaders to recognize who's actually doing what and actually getting the work done and not bring all the attention upon themselves. Click To Tweet
We get an inordinate amount of tension by the nature of our role in an organization. Equally important is that when things don’t go the way they do, step up, own it, and not look to be pointing the finger, but look to solve problems and to be a resource and accept that if something didn’t quite go right, what could I have done better, whether it’s training within the organization or preparing for whatever happened that didn’t quite go the way it should have?
There are many human interactions that mistakes happen, and things can go wrong, but how do you react to them? How do you recover? What things get done? If you can create an organization, whether it’s in a hotel environment or any business, you will have a group of people who will buy into the notion of extraordinary service and provide the experiences that guests will pay a premium for.
When you talk about the experience, that led me to what I felt. I’m somebody who doesn’t see directly through physical eyes. I see through the divine eye. That’s what I saw in you. I’m sure it is because that’s how you see things. You see through the divine eye. I don’t know you personally, but it stood out to me that there must be faith within this organization to have this expression and this experience because, for someone like me, I can’t say that for sure. I travel all over the world. It is not everywhere that you feel the presence of faith. That must come from you.
It’s a responsibility we have. We, as leaders, can instill that within an organization and support the organization. There’s a paternalistic role we have. There’s a role model relationship, and it’s a huge responsibility. When I talk to our teams, I talk more in terms of its aspirational. I can’t go out and say we are always this because we are human. We make mistakes. Things don’t go the way, but we do aspire to do things in a manner that’s exceptional and in a manner that is of the utmost respect and dignity for all who work with us.
That intention by itself raises consciousness. I wasn’t sure if anyone told you that before, but to have this talk with your team or have this as an intention that you speak about, that alone raises everybody’s consciousness and the whole resort. Everybody raised their consciousness. I’m not sure if you know that, but I’m saying this because it is the truth. The truth is that you raise your consciousness by having this pure intention that aspiring hire.
I’m a believer in self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe in things and you work hard to make them happen, they can happen. That works in the business world, where we may set tremendous goals. We may strive to do things at a high level. The belief and the power in believing is a big part of that.If you believe in things and you work very hard to make them happen, they can happen. Click To Tweet
In the world of informvisity, technology, and data, I can imagine the thousands of phone calls, texts, and emails that you must receive. I’m sure it’s overwhelming. How do you cope with this in informvisity, data, and information that keeps coming at you from the world in all directions? How do you cope with this? Do you ignore it? Do you have a practice? How do you stay peaceful?
No, we don’t ignore it. The information coming at us is invaluable. What we strive to do is have connectivity with our guests and for those who choose to experience one of our Montage Hotels or Pendry Hotels. We put quite a bit of resources, people, and technology towards being able to communicate promptly and humanely with our guests.
We are in a people business service to service. The information or the technology needs to be a tool to assist us in connecting with people, not an obstacle to connecting. Being able to connect and build relationships is the key element of long-term success. We want our guests to feel connected to us. There are many ways to be connected. Technology plays an important role in that.
It builds that culture of trust. It’s important to talk about this because business owners are overwhelmed by this technology. It is easy to get lost in it. It cuts off the human relationship, the truly defined success. This is why I was asking you the question. On a personal level, if you don’t mind sharing, it’s important because you must have to balance your professional life with your personal life. You have a family. You are in happiness. Anything that you can share, perhaps you take a long walk on the beach. I’m not sure what it is for you. Perhaps, it’s meditation. I’m not sure, but it’s something you can share.
Balance is incredibly important. I get out of balance quite often. It’s easy to get consumed with work. I love it, but I try to stay balanced. My family does a great job of trying to keep me more balanced. I have 4 children and 5 grandchildren. It’s a big part of my life. I like incorporating the family into my work life. It’s not uncommon for my wife, kids, and grandkids to be present at our hotels and be part of the experience. By integrating the two, I have found a way for me that works to help balance my work and family lives.
In addition to that, it’s important to be healthy and work towards that end. I am in an environment where it would be easy to eat unhealthy, but I push myself not to eat to excess and try to stay healthy. Similarly, exercise is incredibly important to be fit enough that I can do all the things that I aspire to do. We are in the early stages of a company, although we have been open for many years now in Laguna Beach. It seems I’m energized by the opportunity to create and continue to move forward. Keeping a healthy lifestyle is an important part of the business’s success.Keeping a healthy lifestyle is an important part of the business success as well. Click To Tweet
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If you have tried it in your life, it is a beautiful way to recalibrate your balance and be present, which I’m not sure you needed because when I saw you were sitting there talking. I’m thinking, “This man must be meditating every day.” You were graceful and at ease. It was incredible. You said you were working on developing the brand. Where are you now as a leader and founder of this company? You said you are getting started. I’m like, “Wow.”
We have fourteen hotels that are open. There are 7 Montage Hotels and 7 Pendry Hotels. Those are the two brands that we have. We have another dozen hotels that are in various stages of development. The next one is going to open will be in Newport Beach. We are opening a Pendry Newport Beach in September 2023. It’s right around the corner.
We have some tremendous international development in front of us. We have one hotel in Mexico, but we are adding another three hotels in Mexico over the next few years. We have got Montage in The Bahamas that’s under construction. It is a little private outlet development called Montage Cay. It’s going to be spectacular. We are doing a Pendry Hotel in Barbados. It’s another international hotel. We have announced a couple of hotels in the Middle East, and we are going to continue to expand around the globe.
We view the opportunities in front of us. It is incredible, but the real success and where these opportunities come from happens because of what happens in our hotels day in and day out and the experiences we create for our guests, and it’s made the brands desirable. We will continue to grow because we have been delivering on the promise when guests stay with us.
Maybe one in Paris.
We would love to be there. I have looked there on a number of occasions. The interesting thing is being in a destination is important, but not unless it’s the absolute right hotel or the right property in the right location within a destination. My promise has been that we will stay laser-focused on keeping the portfolio of properties at the same level and not compromise to grow for the sake of growth. We can continue to have a consistent brand promise as we continue to grow and develop.
Let me ask you this. You are a big part of creating your marketing from the beginning and your vision. I am French-Moroccan. I’m from Europe. I was born in the South of France. Montage means, in French, to assemble like a puzzle. Montage could be a painting. Intuitively, it made sense to you. How did you come up with this name?
When I started the company, I called my hotel the Platinum Hotel Group. It was a placeholder name because I thought I’d be acquiring an existing hotel. I would build a brand around whatever we acquired. What happened was I found this opportunity in Laguna Beach for a new hotel to be developed. I needed a consumer brand for that. I started thinking of what brands would make the most sense.
I went to my advertising agency. They gave me hundreds of names, and I rejected them all. I didn’t find anything that hit the spot. I’m looking for the name of both a hotel and a company. I went to the PR company that I had hired, and I said, “I need a name. Whoever comes up with the name, I will give them $10,000.” They gave me lots of names, but nothing was quite right. I needed to come up with a name.
Laguna Beach had started as an artist colony, and that’s where our first hotel was going to be. I went to an art reference guide on the internet. I went through the As, Bs, and Cs. I got to the letter M. I saw the word montage. It said, “Artful compilation and collection.” I said, “That’s what I want to create. A collection of hotels and people coming together to do extraordinary things.” I said to myself, “I’m staying at the Ritz. I’m staying at the Montage. I’m staying at the Four Seasons.” It sounded good off the tongue. I looked it up. It wasn’t being used. I had our lawyers lock the name up. That’s how Montage became the name for our company and our brand.
Many are struggling with that alone. What color is it going to be? What is this? What is going to be that? You said something powerful. You said it has talked to you. It was something about it. That was it. You can’t even define this. It’s either it is or not. It didn’t come from your logical mind. That’s my whole point.
It jumped right out at me. It was clear and right.
That is intuition, and it seeks you. A lot of times, entrepreneurs and creators go after the things they want to go. We want to go after things, but they are always seeking. My point to them is always be and let it seek you the way it did to you. It seeks you. This vision is almost manifested. I know you had a hard time. You come from such a humble beginning. There is something that you said. I wrote it down because I’m also going to write an article about you and your story. You said that your attitude is focused on your backyard first. You talked about this, but it stood up to me. Your attitude focuses on your backyard first.
I was asked the question, how do you develop this international reputation? It would be easy to focus on the globe or the world initially, but I knew for us to have the authenticity of being special, it started with our backyard. In that case, the community in which we were in Laguna Beach. Getting the hotel built here was controversial.
The most important thing to me initially was to win back all the locals who were afraid of new development or a new hotel coming into town. Let’s become the living room for the community as a great hotel can be. We focused on making sure that we didn’t ignore the local community in hopes of a strong international following and the building blocks of a local community. We were incredibly popular in the State of California, throughout the country, and now much more internationally. It is all built upon the foundation of starting in your backyard. It was an important part of the story as we launched.
It’s an important part of teaching for business owners that they are focused on outside. We are going to have this success and following. It brings them misery and attachment.
You have to build upon, in our case, the local community first.
Your time is valuable, and I know you probably have another meeting. From your heart and soul, any words of wisdom that you can give and share with those co-creators and those Mystical Mavericks? Is there anything that you’d like to share to wrap it up into this essence that is your essence?
I have been incredibly fortunate, and it’s the relationships you build along the way that are incredibly important in your long-term success. When we launched the company, and I was looking to recruit people, I was able to recruit extraordinary talent because of a reputation I had built from how I performed early in my career.
The things that you want to do long-term, you better start early on. You can’t all of a sudden decide to be compassionate or warm and expect an organization to be that way. Early in your career, you have to build relationships and, most importantly, trust that people have faith in you, and you should exhibit it through the years. When it’s time to rely on others and their support, it’s amazing how much support you will get if you have had a career or a history of doing the right things and trying to take care of people. We try hard to do that and have success in an organization collectively as a group.
I have noticed and it doesn’t surprise me at all. Never once during this short hour, you said I don’t think you even realize because it’s such an embodiment habit for you to talk about we, as a unity, that never once it occurred to you to talk from the mind and say, “I did. I have. I do.” Do you know this?
It takes more than an I to accomplish what we are trying to accomplish.
That’s what makes you who you are and this great leader and light being that you are. You are changing the world with your light. I am grateful that I have spent this moment with you. Thank you so much. We will be able to share this in a beautiful way with many. Hopefully, we can keep connecting. Who knows? The universe conspires. We will see. Much love, gratitude, and blessings to you, your family, your team, your treasure, and your gift. Thank you so much.
Thank you. It was a pleasure to spend time with you.
What a blessing and many more. Bye. Thank you.
We had the pleasure to speak to this incredible person who took my breath away because many of us are focused on external behavior and desire to achieve the next thing. When you read about someone like Alan Fuerstman, who created his vision and this American dream upon the fate in himself first and belief and never gave up on his dream, himself, and belief, you can see the importance of that.
If you have a purpose, which you do, you come here, and you have a purpose. You must be moved by this passion. I call it passion. This passion will evolve in devotion and faith. It must be the desire in yourself to believe in yourself. Planting that seed first and not so much having this several years goal or being here now. This gentleman was the embodiment of being present.
I don’t even like to call them interviews because they are an investigation and the search for happiness, success, self-empowerment, and self-realization. They are not interviews. They are in here now. When someone like Alan comes into the show, I do not prepare in a linear way for whatever is going to happen. I have a clear intention about the vibe that is going to be revealed, and the wisdom is a clear intention.
It is not in preparation in a linear way that is formatted and rigid because if I were to do it in that way and prepare all the questions, it would be from a thinking-only place. I call it the monkey mind. Instead, it is sharing a connection and invitation to perhaps and hopefully a trust that it inspires you to take on this attitude of being here now and not focused on the future.
When we are focused on the future, it is an illusion. It is not real. The past and present are not here because when you hear the present, it goes into the past right away. We can’t even say the present is real, but you always hear now. Create and manifest your reality from here now. That is not being activated out there in the world. It activates from your self and light.
First and foremost, see and go within. This is why I say, “Go within to win.” The happiness from the outside is going to be short. It is not happiness. It goes up and down, comes and goes but it is not what you are looking for. It is not lasting happiness. Everybody can make money. Anybody can buy a home if you want to. Anybody can have the stuff. It doesn’t require big abilities and be self-aware.
When you develop your sense of self-awareness, you are beginning to create an inner world. This is where your success will come from because you will become this magnet. Like this great person, Mr. Fuerstman, the Creator of the resort Montage, he became the magnet. Wherever you go in his resort, you will feel a little bit of his soul in it because it radiates this. You become more pulling attention into within, not outside. The outside will come automatically. When you create something, it is going to be manifested outside.
I do not recommend you to create from outside because it’s like a snake bite. It’s going to bite you, and you are going to suffer. What I suggest is that you always find time for yourself to quiet and steal the mind. You can create an inner vision with beauty, love, compassion, light, peace, bliss, and awareness. This is what you are. Don’t go outside. Stay inside and have this firm conviction about your self. This is where you go to find answers, build a brand, have relationships, bring culture, and lead from your heart.
I am happy that you are here reading this direct knowledge and wisdom. Never once he said, “I did. I created.” In the entire time, it was we as a team. He never said I. This is the proof that he is a great leader. We should aspire to be that in terms of we and avoid the I am this, I have that and I became this because there’s a suffering that comes with that I have and I am this.
I encourage you to be present in whatever it is that you aspire to do and know that there’s also a background, a magic that you must trust, and a mystical awareness that is in the background. You must trust the process of this that doesn’t have a name. Call it God, creation, source, or self. He has many names. I invite you to pause and rest in that which is that peace. This is your name. It is peace, bliss, purity, and awareness. This is what you are. It doesn’t make sense to look for it outside, but instead, go within, and you will see all the light, the answers to all of your questions, and you will know what you are.
Thank you for being present here. We will gather soon in the next episode. We will continue this connection by raising consciousness and making sure that we serve others in the process. That is what makes it happy and powerful. You serve the self, and you serve others because there is no self in others. You serve because you serve in unity. With that being said, I will send you love and light. Take care of yourself in that way. Be intentional with the self. Much love and respect and I will see you soon.
About Alan Fuerstman
Alan Fuerstman is Founder, Chairman & CEO of Montage International, a luxury hospitality management company encompassing Montage Hotels & Resorts and Pendry Hotels & Resorts. Montage Hotels & Resorts is a collection of ultra-luxury hotels, resorts and residences including Montage Laguna Beach, Montage Healdsburg, Montage Deer Valley, Montage Kapalua Bay, Montage Palmetto Bluff, Montage Los Cabos, Montage Big Sky, and Montage Cay (opening 2024). Pendry Hotels & Resorts, a new-luxury brand from Montage International, includes Pendry San Diego, Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, Pendry West Hollywood, Pendry Chicago, Pendry Manhattan West, Pendry Park City, Pendry D.C. at the Wharf, and the future openings of Pendry Newport Beach (opening late 2023), as well as Pendry Natirar and Pendry Tampa in 2024. Prior to founding Montage in 2002.
Mr. Fuerstman was the opening vice president of hotel operations at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Previously, he served as president and managing director of The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he also oversaw The St. Regis Aspen and The St. Regis Houston, as well as all ITT Sheraton properties in Arizona. He began his distinguished career with Marriott International. Mr. Fuerstman has been recognized with many industry accolades, including: Orange County Business Journal’s “Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award” 2020, Environmental Media Association’s “Corporate Responsibility Award” 2017, Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” 2013, “The Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Award” 2013, “2011 Distinguished Achievement Award” from B’nai B’rith, “One to Watch” from Virtuoso Life Magazine, “Leaders in Luxury” award from Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine and “Resort Executive of the Year” from Ypartnership.
Mr. Fuerstman currently serves on the Board of Directors for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), the Board of Directors for Environmental Media Association’s Corporate Sustainability Board, as Board of Trustees Emeritus for Gettysburg College, and the Northern Arizona University School of Hotel and Restaurant Management Advisory Board. A native of New Milford, New Jersey, Mr. Fuerstman graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.