There is a new man at the helm of The Maslow Hotel in Sandton. A self-proclaimed minimalist, Herman Swart says he loved The Maslow more than any other Sun International Hotel from the minute he laid eyes on it because its décor and design ethos just resonated with him.
Hailing from Sasolburg where this new General Manager says he grew up barefoot in the polluted air in the late 60s and early 70s, he says that this career path really started as a child when he had to choose between rugby and the piano.
“For Afrikaans boys in the Free State, rugby would always win. Later in life, I realized that the music never left me and found our industry the ideal environment to explore my passion for aesthetics both in relationships and artistic expression.”
Herman says that running operations in the hospitality industry requires a lot more conducting than managing. “I am thankful for both rugby and the arts because it stretched my range. Leadership in this industry requires a significant width of perspective and skill.”
After school Herman joined the military where he served for six years, ending his career as a Captain. He joined Sun International 30 years ago and started his career at Morula Sun as a “bouncer”. With a great sense of humor, he tells that those early days were like the Wild West.
“We can write books about those times. Needless to say, I saw more action in my first three months with Sun International than what I saw in all my time as a soldier.”
With an initial interest in the casino side of things, Herman, like most people, never thought he would end up doing what he is. “When I left the military, all I was qualified to do was security work, but the magic of our business just grew on me. Being naturally hyperactive and a bit ADD, I found the constant change of rhythm in the industry quite appealing.”
He says that people like Sol Kerzner and Peter Bacon remain role models to him because their courage, passion and vision were a constant reminder that we are all a part of something great. He says that the hospitality industry found him and that the first time he saw a Sun International dessert table he just knew he had to work there. “In those days, Sol was still involved and “carb clever” meant a Koeksister with brains,” he jokes.
Light years away from what Herman was exposed to growing up in a little industrial town, he found himself employed and exploring at various properties in Southern Africa and in various portfolios on both gaming and hospitality projects. He also had the opportunity to work in both back of house and front of house departments developing appreciation for the unsung heroes of the hospitality world, and this is perhaps the most admirable thing about Herman.
Whilst appreciative of the great heights he had reached in his career, including being a part of the team that opened the Carousel in 1992 and a one year hotel internship at Sun City in 2006, he did what few people have done and ever will do, he decided at age 41 to start over. Despite a wealth of experience, he left his job as a Surveillance Manager and re-launched his career as a Porter at The Palace of the Lost City. For a year he worked in every aspect of hospitality. “I was driven by an enthusiastic inquisitiveness and just had to feel the business “under my nails”.
Consequently, the title of waitron, housekeeper and porter took on a complete new meaning to me. I met the most beautiful humans on that expedition and experienced the true magic of the hidden people who work tirelessly to make our customers return.” He says that those junior staff members who coached him during that time were the most influential people in shaping his career. “We so often look for inspiration from the big people that we forget to look around us. I will remain forever thankful.”
Despite his high profile role, unbeatable knowledge of the industry and elite preferences based on extensive travels, this remarkable man remains an astonishingly grounded family man.
“Heaven is my dog, Happy, and I alone on our farm in the Southern Cape exploring the Outiniqua Mountains. Also cycling, writing, painting, yoga, cooking, reading, playing the digeridoo, horse riding, beach volley ball, squash – so much to do – such short days.”
He boasts about his three children, Anél – a lawyer who decided to first see the world and currently flies as a business class “Hostie” for a well-known international airline, the youngest child Reynhardt – an airline pilot who recently returned from some adventurous contract flying in northern Africa and Nadine, his daughter in-law who is a marketing executive currently doing some exciting work in the digital space. “Nothing beats a Sunday family lunch and I have always tried to replicate that togetherness in the businesses I was the custodian of. Our industry can be hard on families. It often takes us away from them for long periods of time, but family has pulled me through in the toughest of times. They give us purpose. Family is everything.”
Although Herman’s favourite city is Prague due to the amazing art and great food it offers, he remains an excellent ambassador for South Africa, Sandton and The Maslow. “I find Sandton to be a bit like a defibrillator. It energizes me whether I want it or not.”
Ending off, he says that as a “Boertjie” he knows meat. “I have traveled the world dining out but the best steak I have ever eaten is at the Lacuna Bistro, right here at The Maslow.”