When Chris Pollard arrived at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel as the new General Manager, a long agenda of “things to do” awaited him and as coincidences play out, I was one of the first locals he met, introduced by James Rattos, back then one of the senior executives of the hotel. When he heard from James about my background and my long standing relationship with the hotel, he literally dropped what he was about to do, quickly had his PA reschedule the meetings for the next two hours and joined James and myself for a breakfast which lasted a lot longer than he had initially planned for.
Like with his predecessors, a rapport was swiftly established and a very cordial working relationship ensued over the years, with both sides giving and seeking input, for the benefit of Uganda’s tourism industry at large and the hospitality sector more specifically.
This Thursday, Chris will be saying his final goodbyes to his colleagues at the Kampala Sheraton, to his friends and to his clientele, as he introduces Ian Duncan as his successor. More about Ian in a moment as I am about to give a bit of an insight into Chris’ impressions of Kampala, which he just shared with me:
“I love adventures and that has given me the opportunity to travel Africa for the hospitality industry. Each new and wonderful place I have been I have been able to meet people and work within environments that have been exciting and challenging. I had just returned from Angola when I got a call asking me to consider the Sheraton Kampala hotel as a project. I was advised that it would probably be quite quick but as it was returning me close to my roots in Nairobi where I was born I thought I would come but had little or no knowledge of Uganda.
“Uganda – what a surprise! I arrived at a hotel that was full of promise, had amazingly nice people, but little leadership and was not sure in what direction to go, and that was the start of my three months that became three years supposed stay in Kampala. In my first meeting with the EXCOM crew I discovered we had a wealth of knowledge but a lack of feedback and figures to all departments. This started a mammoth training program that included sending H.O.D.s and others to various parts of the world to gain insight and knowledge into what I believed a five star hotel in Kampala should be striving for. We set about becoming a hotel for Uganda both in achieving the best results and the best recognition (we received an Award for The Best Commercial Hotel in Uganda). We set about painting, cleaning and upgrading the whole hotel. In the first year we upgraded 112 rooms in the hotel, we refurbished the lobby, we changed Park Square coffee shop. We moved the cake shop, which in the first Christmas season baked an excess of 2000 cakes in the 10 days of Christmas. The kitchen grew in stature by the innovation and the introduction of new food items, new menus, new styles of cooking and bringing in chefs from around the world to impart knowledge and training to our colleagues. We became leaders in chains de rotisserie. In our effort to work with Kampala we opened the Jubilee Gardens to controlled use, created a golf course, volley ball courts, children’s play area, and fixed the fountain which had lain broken for about 15 years. We introduced annual functions like the vintage car rally, philharmonic in the park, Ugandan women’s day, Mother’s Day, Sheraton golf day and brought in schools to play tag rugby. At Ramadan we fed more than 400 orphans who enjoyed a day in the gardens and broke fast in the Ruwenzori room. We held Christmas for the children in the gardens and raised funds for Ngamba island chimp sanctuary and U.W.A for new ranger stations in Queen Elizabeth National Park to assist anti-poaching efforts. Our social responsibility involved us in schools and hospitals and universities.
“Sheraton Kampala has been a pinnacle of my career in the hospitality industry I have never anywhere in the world found such innovated, active and dedicated colleagues who wanted to win recognition for their place of work. This ranged from the colleague in the rubbish area to each and every other member of the team. We all needed to be winners and to achieve this we were well aware that it had to be done in conjunction with each and every person in Kampala, be they ministers, businessmen, housewives or the children.
“As I am now leaving I need to say thank you to the many many good friends I have made. I also need to say thank you to my team that includes all 450 plus staff members and the EXCOM and H.O.D team that helped us change Sheraton Kampala that wanted to be great to a hotel that IS great. May Sheraton Kampala continue to go from strength to strength.”
Not enough of said coincidences was I at the Executive Lounge of the Sheraton when Joan Kasozi, Sales Manageress of the hotel, came up to me a few weeks ago and, after pulling me aside from a meeting, told me if I’d care to meet the just arrived new General Manager, who would be taking over from Chris, confirming the grape vine talk which inevitably had reached my ear already. A tradition upheld this too was, myself again among the first meetings with a ‘local’ Ian Duncan – no relation to the twice winner of the Classic Safari Rally in Kenya – had after he had arrived the day before and again, it set the direction and ensured continuity for my working relationship with the hotel and its top executive.
Ian brings a wealth of experience to the Sheraton Kampala and is bound to both build on Chris’ success and advance it further, as a brief look into his CV will tell:
Hilton International postings in Hong Kong & Kuala Lumpur; followed by General Manager appointments at Hyatt International Hotels in Fiji, Dubai, Bangkok, Macau & Sydney. Regional hotel development in the South Pacific, carried out from a base in Fiji. General Manager assignments included The Pestana Palace, Lisbon and The Palace of The Lost City, Sun City, South Africa, both being members of The Leading Hotels of The World.
Property Management & Development:
Executive Director, Wharf Properties including the largest mixed-use property management portfolio in Hong Kong to improve its ailing image, reputation and customer service; and Hong Kong Parkview the largest and most luxurious residential development which required a HK$2.6 billion turnaround and reputation reversal to avoid administration.
He also served previously as General Manager of The Palace of the Lost City at the Sun City Resort in South Africa, at the Pestana Palace Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal, among many others, in a career which spans from the 1970s until today.
From here, it is a very warm welcome therefore to Ian Duncan as we say Kwaheri Ya Kuonana to Chris Pollard, another one in a long line of largely outstanding General Managers the Sheraton Kampala Hotel has seen since I arrived in the country in the early 1990s.