Leading by Example: John Veesma on the Road to Luxury Hospitality
TUI, Leading Hotels of the World, and Cristiano Ronaldo – John Veensma has had the pleasure of working with some of the world’s biggest names during his 34 year career in hospitality. Now at the helm of Luxury Hospitality as the premier crew training company continues to grow, the Dutchman was brought on board to help professionalise and strengthen its position as a trendsetter in bespoke people development via LH Dynamics, a unique talent awareness tool.
We sit down with John to discuss his eclectic career path, the successes – and challenges – that have put him where he is today, and why he believes Luxury Hospitality’s holistic approach is set to tranform the way we train and develop high performing teams.
Tell us a little about your background before you joined LH.
Well, let me start from the very beginning. I graduated in Leadership in Sports at CIOS in Holland, where I come from, and started out as a coach and mentor. Then in 1989 I moved into hospitality, the common thread being a desire to work with people and connect with people.
Over the next 30 years I held management positions for international hotel groups including TUI, Starwood and Pestana, as well as privately owned hotels and resorts affiliated to Leading Hotels of the World and Luxury Collection. At Pestana I worked as director of operations for 36 hotels across northwest Africa and Portugal and, more recently, I was responsible for the operational development of Pestana CR7, a joint venture between Pestana and Cristiano Ronaldo which became very successful.
Working as GM at the Castillo Hotel Son Vida in Mallorca was a special time for me. It’s a palace set in an old castle, which was opened by Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, and it’s arguably the best hotel on the island.
Around that time I came across MBTI (the Myers Briggs Type Indicator), which brought me back to my passion for coaching and personal development. I decided to become a practitioner and started my own business in hospitality consulting, helping young people all over the world to become better leaders, and better professionals.
What attracted you to join Luxury Hospitality?
When I returned to Holland I came into contact with Peter Vogel, who was looking for some structure and organisation in his company, and it was a great fit. To be honest, it's amazing. I like the holistic approach that LH is delivering, and their use of LH Dynamics, a talent awareness tool that unlocks potential by making you aware of your natural strengths and blind spots. It makes you stronger, a better version of yourself, and it helps to build high performing teams by improving your understanding of yourself and others, improving the way you communicate.
LH Dynamics is a powerful tool, and it underpins everything we do. First, we unlock people’s potential and then we work on developing their skills. It's a unique approach to hospitality training in the superyacht industry.
It also helps to reduce crew turnover. We often attribute high turnover to conditions and pay, which are all very tangible, rather than what lies at the foundation. You can have the best skills on board, but if you have the sense that you are not right in the team, or the team is not working together, how can you deliver excellent service? If you don't feel the heart beat as one, you can sense it throughout the whole boat.
LH is an amazing company and I believe it has a bright future in this sector and beyond, wherever people are required to deliver the level of experience expected by clients and owners.
From your perspective, how does service on a superyacht differ from service in a top hotel?
For me it’s all about exceeding expectations but, working on a superyacht, the greatest challenge is being available 24/7 for a long period of time, all together in one space. Not only are you on stage but you have a new family, and your family are also your colleagues, so inter-personal relationships are especially important. You need clear guidance and clear communications.
Our business is all about people and we constantly need to adapt to other people, other stakeholders. What are the needs of the owner or the client? What kind of culture do they want in the delivery? This is an area where LH is very strong as we have experience working with different cultures all over the world.
What's your LH Dynamics profile - do you compliment Peter in a very deliberate way?
I have a very balanced sheet but my core is a mechanic, so I naturally want to put things in their place and make things better. So yes, I think Peter and I do complement each other, absolutely. It’s a great example of how LH Dynamics can highlight strengths as well as certain qualities that might be lacking in your team, such as structure or creativity, indicating who you should hire to build a strong and balanced team.
What’s the scope of your new role with LH?
Peter has entrusted me to lead LH as the company continues to grow. My goal is to professionalise the organisation and strengthen LH’s position as a trendsetter in bespoke people development via LH Dynamics and our leadership and hospitality training programs.
As the founder, Peter is the visionary, and he will focus on strategy, innovation, and business development for LH. He is also our master trainer so he will continue to consult and deliver training for our clients.
What are some of the challenges to overcome in the superyacht industry?
Many companies still see human resources as a cost rather than an investment, but those who do invest in HR see a significant increase in the level of service they offer as well as a reduction in turnover, and this applies to yachts and private estates as well as organisations.
At the sharp end we also need to be flexible in response to client requests. It’s a positive and a negative. At LH we’re very good at adapting last minute, but it’s a challenge to planning and organisation. It means that we need a solid structure, effective software, and specialists who are able to deliver the service whenever it's requested, which is often at short notice. We’re fortunate that we have a team of very experienced trainers who know and understand our industry.
Looking ahead, this year we will focus more on promoting LH Dynamics in combination with our training and development programs and we need to be more present, telling our story throughout the industry.
What have been some of the personal highlights during your career so far? What has opened your eyes or changed you?
“Magic happens, when you step out of your comfort zone”, which is what happened when I signed up for the Africa Classic Tanzania Mountain Bike Tour in 2021. Until then, my only experience was riding a bike from home to the supermarket and back, so I trained for a full year. We set off in October 2022 and in one week we cycled over 4,000km in 42 degree heat!
We did it to raise funds for AMREF Flying Doctors, a nonprofit organisation supporting water projects in Africa, and campaigning for an end to female genital mutilation (FGM). There were 60 of us and we raised a total of €400,000.
During the tour we also visited other projects which had a huge impact and convinced me that we all need to do something to make the world a little better and make the lives of those less fortunate better. I’m grateful that I'm able to participate in these types of project and I’m already searching for the next one.
What would surprise your colleagues to know about your life away from work?
I'm an open book. I'm Dutch, I don't have hidden treasures! Would they be surprised to know that I have a Harley Davidson and that my wife and I have ridden Route 66?
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