ANGELA SAURINE interviews the man behind some of Australia’s most family-friendly resorts, Dr Jerry Schwartz
He’s one of the biggest private hotel owners in Australia, but Dr Jerry Schwartz hardly fits the stereotype of a billionaire businessman. The long-haired larrikin rarely wears a suit, can often be seen driving miniature trains around his resorts, and has a penchant for jumping into the pool at launch events. It’s little wonder he’s become known in the industry as Australia’s own Willy Wonka, a reference to the eccentric character from the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His youthful demeanour can partly be attributed to the fact that he came into fatherhood later in life, inspiring him to buy family-oriented properties his children could enjoy, including Paradise Resort Gold Coast, and introduce kid-friendly features at others, such as the Fairmont Resort & Spa Blue Mountains, Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley and Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour. As his children, Dane, 10, and eight-year-old twins Lara and Amber, have grown up, offerings have evolved from playgrounds, jungle gyms, merry-go-rounds and waterparks to video arcade games and ice-skating rinks. “I have to keep adding facilities for older kids as well,” he says. “And my wife is into horses, so we also introduced pony rides at the Fairmont and Crowne Plaza.”
Dr Schwartz took over the Schwartz Family Company (SFC) from his parents, Dr Bela and Eve Schwartz, who built up their property portfolio after emigrating from Hungary following World War II. His father was a trained dentist and his mother a dental assistant. Dr Schwartz followed in their medical footsteps, graduating as a doctor, and still works as a cosmetic surgeon at The Aesthetic Surgery Centre in Sydney’s Matraville a couple of days a week. Today, SFC is the largest privately owned hotel group in the country, with 15 properties spread throughout Queensland, NSW and Victoria.
Charity work is also close to Dr Schwartz’s heart, and he has performed oculoplastic surgery in Mongolia and India, established clinics in the countryside of East Timor and acted as the ‘ride doctor’ on charity cycling trips. After his father’s death, he and his mother co-founded The Schwartz Foundation as a memorial to his community and professional work, supporting not-for-profit organisations and selected projects both in Australia and overseas. They include the Room for Hope program, in which SFC hotels adds a $1 donation to the bill of each guest. He also invites charities to fill the rooms of new hotels on the first night, with the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Camp Quality and Variety the Children’s Charity among those who benefited at the relaunch party for Paradise Resort last year. “It’s a really great way to put karma into a new hotel,” Dr Schwartz says. In the lead-up to the Dalai Lama’s Australia tour in 2015, he also commissioned a special suite to be designed and built for him for his stay at the Fairmont, organised through his contacts at the Friends of Dalai Lama Australia, with no TV and a Buddhist monument (a TV has since been added). “That was also great karma for the Fairmont, to allocate the whole hotel to his teachings,” he says.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, dealing with postponements and cancellations as borders were jammed shut in the wake of new outbreaks, Dr Schwartz has taken the opportunity to introduce even more family offerings. His “COVID projects” include a new waterpark at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, and an ice-skating rink at the Fairmont. A new adult pool is also being built at Paradise Resort, which he is hoping will be open mid-year, with plans to add dodgem cars and a penguin habitat. The original plan was to introduce koalas, rescued following the 2019-20 summer bushfires, but as a threatened species it was not possible.
While juggling so many different projects at once keeps him on his toes, Dr Schwartz clearly loves working in the hospitality industry. “It encompasses so many facets, from buying a hotel and dealing with banks and real estate agents to running the hotel, sales, marketing, revenue management and IT,” he says. But, as you would expect, maintaining a good work-life balance is also a high priority. “With three young kids myself, that obviously takes up a lot of time,” he says. “I like to take the fact that I’m older and richer to spend more time with my kids. I just don’t watch TV.”