“Dare we say it … we are here to love our guests.” The words of Icona Resorts CEO, Eustace Mita, struck me with blunt force and growing curiosity during employee training a few weeks ago. “Love”. Now, that’s a word scarcer in the workplace than water is in the desert, yet here it was before me, rolling off the tongue of none other than the company CEO. Could a business really love its customers? Could I, a lowly summer employee, really love the hotel guests of Icona Resorts Diamond Beach? Love in the workplace … could it really be?
I was expecting to work for a company like all other companies - namely one that focused more on profits than persons. But here I found myself in the midst of a company whose purpose seemed to be exactly the opposite (with the stats to back it up). In fact, in 2015 Hotel Icona was reviewed by “Trip Advisor’s” clientele as the 7th best hotel in all of the U.S. And I was starting to see why. On the very first day, we went to what the CEO calls “Aloha training”. Aloha training is a mandatory weekly event for all employees during which one of the different facets of the hotel (like housekeeping, front desk, sales, food and beverage, etc…) presents on their day to day experience working for Icona. What permeates all of the presentation though, is the varying facets application and explanation of how it is they embody the Icona “Aloha spirit.” A spirit that, in the words of the CEO, can best be described as “an ethos of warmth, welcome, happiness, and love.”
The “Aloha spirit,” or the motivating force behind Icona, is the character of operating coined and created by company CEO, Eustace Mita, and Vice President, Josh McCallen. It is comprised primarily of a collection of mantras or maxim’s Mr. Mita learned and felt were crucial for success and effectiveness in the business as well as the personal sphere. Every employee is required to memorize these mantras and to try and live them out in their daily work life. Some examples of these would be “each of us needs all of us and all of us needs each of us”, “hospitality is our ministry”, “the least most important word: I, the most important word: we, the two most important words: thank you, the four most important words: what do you think, the six most important words: I admit that I was wrong”, “I don’t know = I don’t care”, “we have a passion for people”, and “thinking and acting as one”, to name but a few. The goal of these mantras is that they became so ingrained in the company employees that they become company DNA; A DNA which will later inform and motivate all the facets of the company to work together as one for the satisfaction and service of the guests.
Though I have just detailed some of the technicalities of the “Aloha spirit” so that it can be understood how exactly the company lives it out, what I really want to get at is the heart of the matter. I know that no company is perfect, and I realize that in many ways a company is still a business, and that a business must bring in profits at the end of the day in order to be successful, sure. What I also realize, however, is that Icona is different from many of the companies I’ve encountered as of yet. At Icona there is a strain of philosophical approach to business that radically counteracts much of the capitalist mindset. At Hotel Icona, though I know for a fact that all the employees do not at every moment live out the “Aloha spirit”, there is something different or at least an acknowledgement that, it isn’t all about the profits, but rather about people. Here is a company who predicates its success, at least in a sense, not on capital gain, but on the experience of each guest who the company strives and strains to listen to, accommodate, and serve.
Though at the end of the day Hotel Icona, like all other businesses, must run and operate as a business, it has discovered some approach much deeper and much more effective than capital driven success. Its employees put a focus on the person, and they strive each day for every person they encounter to feel welcomed, heard, received, accommodated, and indeed, by means of all these other actions, to even feel loved. Each staff member is implored to love each guest and to go to great lengths to serve them. The company, under the mantra “all who contribute must benefit”, even offers monetary benefits to those employees who service guests in an exemplary way. What this company’s business model and daily operations show me is that personalism is much more than some outdated philosophical approach that has no grounding in reality. Rather, in emphasizing “the significance, uniqueness, and inviolability of the person” in their individually tailored customer service, Icona essentially lives out personalism (as seen by the fact that that quote is actually from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s description of personalism), and actually benefits from doing so. Icona reveals to the world the intimacy and effectiveness of personalism. I mean, the reason this hotel is one of the best in New Jersey and #7 in the U.S., is because it is, in a sense, personalist, or person-centric. Gambling on the person, Icona has proven the risk to be a risk worth taking and an endeavor worth pursuing. Putting its focus not on profits but on people, the company has surprised even itself with its own success.
At the end of the day, whether in the business world or in the home, people wanted to be treated as people. They want to be heard, respected, understood, cared for, and dare we say it … loved. Personalism is a philosophical approach that understands this by recognizing the centrality and value of personhood and by placing an incredible emphasis on each person and each person's experience. It is a philosophical approach now shown to me to be much more than theoretical. In fact, in light of this company's rapid success (in becoming the #7 best rated hotel in all of the U.S. in only 3 years), I suppose what I have really learned from all of this, is that, it is truly more effective to stake your success on people rather than profits.