Mike Ryan's Blog

This is a blog written by Mike Ryan, Owner and Developer of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, about vacation home ownership, luxury trends and the Carribean real estate market.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Connecting with a brand and other thoughts about Greg Norman and the Blue Tip Golf Course

From my very first days in development I have been fortunate to see and appreciate first hand what it means to partner with great people and groups that earned influential leadership positions in their respective fields. In some cases, they have owned the field.

One of the first major projects I was associated with was a resort in Quebec Mont Ste. Anne outside of Quebec City. Special for a number of reasons, what struck me most was the special relationship the property had with the Government of Quebec. Not only did we have exclusive rights to be inside a provincial park, government was investing tens of millions of dollars in the park itself to improve the mountain and the skiing facilities and promote them. That association with government, which had a monopoly position with regards to the park, gave our resort and real estate a unique place in the market.

It was a perfect example of partnership: Governments don’t know how to develop successful hotel real estate projects and private groups often cannot marshal the resources or get the legislation passed to create a unique property or develop an entire region for tourism.

Thirty years later with The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Resort, we have made partnering with the best in the world one of the main pillars of the project. I think we can say we have been able to set a new standard in co-branding.

What makes a brand special is unique character – it’s what happens when people respond to it as if it had a life of its own. The birth of Ritz-Carlton itself traces back to the unique personality of Cesar Ritz. When people heard the name, they instantly sensed what it meant; they responded to the hotel as they would a person they knew or had heard about from people they trusted.

Along with the Ritz-Carlton name, we have been exceptionally fortunate to team up in Grand Cayman with several of the most respected brands in the world. My greatest thrill has been to get to know their originators and discover what makes them the unique personalities they are. It’s like going back in time to work with Cesar Ritz himself.

Nothing brings this home more than seeing Greg Norman come to open the Blue Tip golf course he designed and built for the resort. I suddenly realized a secret to a hugely successful brand: the product, in this case the golf course, was the man. It captured and reflected everything that makes Norman the rare personality he is.

He is a study in charisma. It is fascinating to watch the power of Greg’s personality when he turns it on for the crowd. The gallery thrills with expectation as he pulls up. They watch his every move with fierce intensity, as if their mere proximity to him would make them the golfers they wanted to be, the ones they saw in their minds before they took a swing. To see a brand like this made flesh is to watch the coalescence of all that it takes to be a world leader in any field.

The course was perfectly groomed, the bunkers were pristine. The perfect shade of sand set off the grass, the water and the sky. The clubs and carts and even the flags were perfect and color-coordinated. The shape of each hole, the length of each carry and fairway, the greens and cart paths all were exactly were they should be because that is what you expect of a Greg Norman course. That is what Greg expects of a Greg Norman course. And when it is a Greg Norman course, none of this is surprising. It is all expected. That is what a true brand means and that is why the true brands, those that represent the values of their creator, mean something to the people who seek them out and are loyal to them.

The power of expectations fulfilled is a potent force and why every brand partner becomes, whether they know it or not, part of the larger network of brands supporting or hurting one another to create something larger, in our case, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. That is why it is vitally important to select the right brand partners, and why the best brands can be so choosy about who they partner with.

I was young and untried when Greg agreed to work with me. Through all the challenges, including a hurricane and an earthquake, he stayed with us when he didn’t have to. That is why one of my most satisfying moments in completing the hotel was to see him there opening the course and receiving all the credit and adulation he richly deserved for what he brought to the project. The brand made flesh indeed.