For all their complexities, some lives seem so well-orchestrated—such grand performances—that it is hard to imagine a moment of uncertainty ever entering into the scheme. Paul Salmon is just such a man. Born and raised in Melbourne, he moved to Sydney to work for an American bank, then to Hong Kong, London, and New York. “And that’s how I ended up in Jamaica!” he says with a laugh that implies his peripatetic ways were all perfectly preordained. Even when he was running a trading group on Wall Street, he was conceiving ways to help the underprivileged.
What is perfect is the way that Paul-Salmon-the-Banker or Paul-Salmon-the-Hotelier has always been Paul-Salmon-the-Philanthropist at heart. Even when he was running a trading group on Wall Street—the world’s center for me-first capitalist pursuits—he was conceiving ways to help the underprivileged.
“I always felt a need to be involved,” he explains. “During my years in finance, I was closely linked to charities, such as inner-city schools in New York City. So in 1994 when we created Rockhouse, in Jamaica, I thought about the hotel from a philosophical perspective, about it being a sustainable and responsible property.” Today, the Rockhouse Foundation has raised some $5 million and applied it toward transforming the places where Jamaica’s children learn, including supporting six schools and building a library. The result has directly benefited thousands of lives. In other words, it’s all part of Paul Salmon’s well-orchestrated life plan!
In the 1990s, I got married and had my first child, so I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I had just read an article about people’s aspirations, and it featured everyone from a doorman to a hedge-fund manager; and the one thing that they all had in common was that they said they didn’t have enough money. Also, one of my colleagues had a heart attack. It all made me think that it was time to make a transition. When I bought the Rockhouse, the boutique hotel industry was just taking off. I had worked in hospitality through college, so I felt like I’d already had a “career” in hospitality! And then my years in finance took me around the world multiple times, so I had the opportunity to stay in many hotels and I got insights from a guest’s perspective.
Out of a sense of responsibility to the community, we began with projects that focused on Kingston’s inner city. We then decided to get certified by environmental groups and in the philanthropical arena, which led to a breakfast program that we started for the local primary schools in 1999. That project opened our eyes to the tremendous need in the education arena. But before my partners and I went out to ask others for money, we wanted to “get some runs on the board” so to speak. The local school in Negril had exposed wiring, leaking roofs, severe overcrowding with some 70 kids for a single teacher. We fully renovated it and built new classrooms. As a result, we were able to partner with the ministry, get more teachers, and raise outside money for additional projects.
When we did the Rockhouse, we had the idea that we’d do the Cliffhouse, then the Reefhouse, then the Beachhouse—and hopefully not end up in the shithouse! But given our mission not just to build a hotel but a charity and a model for a responsible hotel, expansion took a long time. As Rockhouse is on the cliffs of Negril, we wanted to develop a hotel on the beach. Thus, Skylark Negril was born. And with it we introduce the colors of Jamaica through a retro vibe as seen through a modern graphic lens.
Well, the whole idea from the beginning has been to connect guests to the Jamaican experience. That’s why we run Volunteer Days at the school for our guests. I feel a tremendous sense of pride for what we’ve been able to achieve, both for the employees and for the kids in the community. Looking back, I think it’s great to establish what you want your life to stand for and then go out and try to achieve that, and to be a kind of role model for your kids. Frankly, I’ve achieved all this through a tremendous amount of good luck. Combined with a lot of hard work, of course!