Climbing and inspiring
Dennie’s annus mirabilis
Some of Dennie O’Connor’s achievements this year:
• BTA Certified Tourism Ambassador — Recreation and Entertainment Award
• BTA Certified Tourism Ambassador — Food and Beverage Award
• BTA Certified Tourism Ambassador — Ambassador of the Year Award
• International Certified Tourism Star Award
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda
• BTA Cultural Tourism Award
• Hall of Fame Certificate of Excellence TripAdvisor
• TripExpert Experts’ Choice Award
• Featured on the cover of The Bermudian magazine
• Featured in Exhibit City News, an industry trade publication
Hospitality heavyweight Dennie O’Connor claims humility is the key to his success. He treats everyone the same, whether a janitor or a CEO, and it’s paid off.
Numerous industry awards have been presented to him in the past year and then, in September, it was announced that Bermuda Travel Concessions, the company he runs with Jennifer Turini Ysseldyke, would overhaul Snorkel Park; last month the pair were handed the food and beverage concession at the new airport.
“Having the mindset that everyone is of the utmost importance and deserves to be treated as such is the primary quality that has allowed me these accolades,” said Mr O’Connor.
He also owns Cosmopolitan Ultra Lounge&Nightclub in Hamilton, is a co-owner of Beach Boys, which operates a concession at Tobacco Bay and, with Ms Turini Ysseldyke, is in the midst of an overhaul of Snorkel Park. “In many industries you can see who the ‘big boss’ is by how they dress, what car they drive, etc.
These showy additions are not necessarily visible in a beach environment so you have to treat everyone as though they are the ‘big boss’ which, in my opinion, you should do anyway, no matter if they’re the janitor or the CEO.”
His trademark outfit, Bermuda shorts and a jacket that’s invariably decorated with a single frangipani, means he’s easily recognised, even by people who don’t know his face. Mr O’Connor believes it makes him accountable. “I believe my willingness to do whatever it takes to help my businesses and employees succeed is another quality that has helped me achieve these accolades.
“I’m not afraid to take out the trash or flip burgers when we are insanely busy, or even pay for one of my employees to attend a Certified Tourism Ambassador training class or beneficial seminar.
“I want the best for everyone and I think that only works when we all work together and leave our pride and sense of entitlement at the door.”
A string of industry awards in 2000 put the businessman on the map, but this year has been “surreal”, his most successful to date, Mr O’Connor said.
Most incredible was beating 17,000 nominees from around the world to win the International Certified Tourism Star Awar, a first for a Bermudian.
“This year has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, years of my life. It is important for me to lead by example.
“I want to inspire young Bermudians and let them see that glass ceilings can be broken through the power of persistence, hard work, and determination.”
Very much entwined with his success is a genuine love for his career. “I love the fact that every day is never the same. The people I get to meet and the experiences I get to be a part of are incredible.
“The appreciation and excitement guests have for life while on their vacation or staycation is beautiful. It not only puts a smile on their face, but on mine as well.”
He’s grateful for the work ethic he inherited from his late mother, Sheila Wolfe O’Connor, owner of Towncraft Cookware.
“She believed in me from day one and always saw greatness in me, even when I couldn’t,” he said. “I grew up watching her successfully run her own business and putting 100 per cent of her heart and soul into it.”
Mr O’Connor worked at the Fairmont Southampton before joining Tucker’s Point.
He then returned to the Southampton resort as the owner of a nightclub there, the Cellar Club Lounge.
He then joined Grotto Bay Beach Resort&Spa as its food and beverage director; Cosmopolitan came shortly after.
He’s grateful for advice received from businessman Marico Thomas and Ewart Brown, the former premier and tourism director, that helped him along his path; Dennie O’Connor Jr is another great source of inspiration.
“My son is my world and has given me a much greater purpose in life,” he said. “He is the reason I wake up every morning and the reason I’m doing all I can to provide him with the best possible future. Having a son has also allowed me to have a much higher respect for travelling families.
“I now understand the importance of a family-friendly environment where parents feel important and secure that their child is safe.”
He encourages anyone interested in hospitality to take heed of a quote from American Harold Geneen, the former president of the ITT Corporation: in the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first, the cash will come later.
Said Mr O’Connor: “If you have the heart and drive, you will make it. Never give up. Never stop striving for greatness.”
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