Jon Brown’s love affair with Mallorca burns just as brightly as his boss Sir Richard Branson’s. Jon first joined Virgin Hotels in August 1998 and was Operations Director for two years.
He was appointed as managing director of La Residencia Deya in 2000 before returning as CEO and MD of Virgin Limited Edition in late 2001. His connections with Mallorca, both professional and personal, have remained extremely close ever since, but now, just months away from the opening of Sir Richard’s new Virgin Limited Edition Son Bunyola Retreat in Banyalbulfar, he has decided to hang up the construction boots he has been wearing for much of the past few years overseeing the renovation of the historic Mallorcan finca and its transformation into what Sir Richard wants to be one of the best and most luxurious hotels in the Mediterranean.
Talking to the Bulletin this week, Jon said that he has loved every minute of his time with Virgin and working for Richard Branson.
“I’ve always been involved in the hotel business. I first started off at the Midland Hotel in Manchester cleaning the kitchens and gradually worked my way up. I remember when I filled in my application form for Virgin. The last question was ‘how high a position do you wish to obtain?’ My answer was ‘I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I get there.’
“And to be quite honest, it has not been at all that bad being in charge of a castle in the Moroccan mountains, a winery and two game reserves in Africa, a ski lodge in Switzerland, two private islands including the famous Necker Island, which is one of the most idyllic and exclusive places on Earth.
“But while I’ve overseen the development and renovation of Son Bunyola, the credit is down to the whole team, the constructors, designers, architects. They’ve done all the hard and very important work and it’s been very demanding and challenging because it’s a listed building and located in a UNESCO protected area, so we’ve had lots of rules and regulations to comply with. Nevertheless, Sir Richard’s Mallorcan dream is going to come true on June 16 when the new hotel opens and it is on sale right now,” Jon said.
His departure from the Virgin Group will not be the last we see of Jon in Mallorca, far from it. He owns a property on the island which he intends to now spend more time at, while watching Real Mallorca and enjoying a drink at Son Bunyola “without having to worry about what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Jon first visited Mallorca in 1982 on a a holiday to Cala Bona. “I guess Mallorca has always been there and then my wife and I first went to Deya in 1996 to stay at La Residencia, which was then owned by Richard, and we were immediately captivated by the island.
“I have been so fortunate to have travelled the world and worked in some of the most amazing places - mind you, it’s been 24/7 365 days of the year - but Mallorca has something really special, not only for me, but for Sir Richard as well. That is why he has spent the best part of the past 20 years fighting and battling to open Son Bunyola. And who knows, the Virgin Group may have other plans for the Balearics further down the road now that the Virgin Group and Virgin Limited brands are going to come together under the new parent brand named Virgin Hotels Collection.
“The two brands will also be joined under the Virgin Hotels Collection brand by Virgin Residences, with plans to boast a significant growth strategy to add more city locations, resorts and residences; the Balearics has a lot to offer.
“You just have to look at all the top luxury hotel brands moving into the islands, especially Mallorca. I think it’s great, we’re all working for the same goal, we all respect and value what Mallorca has to offer and we’re all pushing in the same direction. That can only be good for the island in the long term.
“However, we all have to conduct ourselves with humility and that is one of the most important things I’ve learnt from working for Sir Richard. Humility and respect are key. All of our hotels have become integral parts of the local communities be it up in the mountains in Morocco or in Deya. I remember inviting the local school to come and sing Christmas carols on the lawn at La Residencia with, not for, the guests; it was magical.
“To be able to walk out of the hotel and stroll around the village knowing the local people, the artists, writers, whoever, was wonderful. For us that’s extremely important to Virgin. It’s how Richard approaches life and therefore so does his company. Another great asset is that Richard is a great believer in faith and if he has got faith in you, like he has had with me over all these years, he pretty much just lets you get on with your job. He’s a believer and I would not have changed the past 25 years for the world and I certainly would not have changed the opportunity of working and now spending much more time in Mallorca. It’s a truly beautiful island, it has so much to offer, apart from the great weather, food and wine. Palma is wonderful, there is so much to explore.
“I have a great affinity with the people and there is such a great family spirit, a great sense of community, which is something we’ve lost in the UK and many other places in the world for that matter. One of my daughters was born in Mallorca, the other went to school here, so the island is very much part of our family life as well my professional career. And, like I said, with the consolidation of the Virgin Hotels Collection brand, who knows what other projects Richard may embark on in the Balearics.
“I know Richard is very emotional about Son Bunyola. He fought very hard to get it off the ground - he was determined to see this project come to life and it’s finally happened.
“In keeping with Richard’s philosophy of sustainability and community, all of those involved with the project have been hired locally, and that will be very much the theme once the hotel is open. The emphasis will be on recruiting local staff, using local produce and promoting all the glorious things Mallorca has to offer. And we have the backing of the local communities in Banyalbufar and Esporles. We intend to do everything we can to return their support and help the two communities in a controlled and sustainable way.
“The hotel will no doubt serve to inject some welcome funds into the local economy and also help young people find work instead of having to move to Palma or even off the island. It’s a very inclusive project and we want to give as much as we can back,” Jon said.
“For Richard, each and every one of his luxury edition hotels is like a home. That is how he likes to see the guests treated, so the opening of Son Bunyola will be a ‘coming home to Mallorca experience’ for Richard and I’m extremely proud to have been part of the project. But now it’s time for me to take a step back.
"General Manager Vincent Padioleau has been with us for many years. He was my financial director when I was at La Res and prior to coming back to Mallorca he ran the Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco for us for ten years. So Son Bunyola is in very good hands indeed and is no doubt going to help establish Mallorca’s position on the luxury tourism map. “Me? I’ve had the time of my life with Virgin. I can’t thank them enough.”