James Simkins, who was until recently Benchmark’s Chief Operating Officer for Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels and instrumental in the successful launch of the Personal Luxury brand, passed away peacefully on January 16th. He had been engaged in a heroic struggle with cancer.
James was a legend and a giant within the hospitality industry, and a person for whom every day held a unique adventure. A consummate world-class hotelier, he mused at the completion of his career on how fortunate he had been to be mentored by many of the world’s finest hoteliers, and to have had the opportunity to work with exceptional hotels in remarkable destinations staffed by extraordinary hospitality teams. “How lucky I’ve been in my career and in my life,” James stated last year. “I am lucky to have a family that grasped the opportunities of living in multiple countries on multiple continents and who used this global platform to demonstrate and actualize their own unique and special talents. This was essential to our common sense of personal and professional well-being and happiness.”
A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, James Simkins launched his hospitality career with Westin Hotels & Resorts, eventually serving in a number of senior leadership assignments across the globe. These included The Carlton in South Africa, Kowloon Shangri-La in Hong Kong, and The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, as well as The Westin Tokyo, where he was invited to open the property as Managing Director and to assume corporate responsibilities as Vice President Operations for Westin International Asia Pacific. He completed a 28-year tenure with Westin in Australia, building and opening the Westin Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.
James next exercised his entrepreneurial gifts when he took a partnership position with MTM Luxury Lodging, a creative hotel management company specializing in the operation of luxury boutique properties. James helped build a distinctive portfolio that included such jewels as Willows Lodge, Hotel 1000, Alderbrook, the historic Sorrento Hotel, the LEED Platinum Bardessono in Yountville, Napa Valley, and Boston’s Liberty Hotel. James joined Benchmark Hospitality International upon the company’s purchase of MTM Luxury Lodging in 2011, immediately assuming a leadership position on Benchmark’s executive team and the company’s Board of Directors.
The outpouring of emotion within the hospitality community globally following James’ passing underscored how beloved and admired he was at every level. Alex Cabañas, president & CEO of Benchmark Hospitality International, said, “In James’ short time as a part of the Benchmark family he made a profound impact on our people and our business. An impact that will last well beyond his years on earth. We miss him dearly and are supporting his family and each other in remembering James' extraordinary life.” Jim Treadway, James’ long-time friend, partner in MTM Luxury Lodging and the general manager of Bardessono shared, “James and I started working together 43 years ago in South Africa. We became fast friends and enjoyed parallel and wonderful careers with Westin. He was a brilliant hotelier – one of the very best – and a wonderful husband, father, and friend to many. He made people and organizations better, wherever he went. I miss him and I think of him often. His family and the many world-class hotels he had a hand in are his legacies on earth.”
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