Air Transport World

A promise of prosperity.(Air Jamaica)(Company Profile)

KINGSTON--Air Jamaica not only will survive, it will prosper. This is the promise of Gordon (Butch) Stewart, chairman and leader of the group of investors that privatized it last October. His confidence appears well-grounded. A home-grown Jamaican with a flair for entrepreneurship and a record of commercial successes, he is regarded generally as Jamaica's leading businessman.

Faced with an almost unbroken string of losing years and a steady decline in traffic, and with many other pressing demands on its pocketbook, the government finally concluded it could support the airline no longer. There were rumors, not widely believed, that the carrier might even have to shut down. Rescue appeared in the form of the Air Jamaica Acquisition Group, a private syndicate organized by the nation's Young family. AJAG was to take over ownership in July, 1994, but a major investor from Canada dropped out at the last minute. Into the breach stepped Stewart. Transfer of ownership was rescheduled to October to allow the reorganization plan and other details to be worked out.

AJAG paid $35 million in cash (all figures U.S.) and assumed a small portion of the outstanding debt for 70% of the airline. The government retains a 25% interest and is responsible for the remainder of the debt, and 5% is reserved for employee investment. Stewart is the major player in AJAG; his 65%-plus interest makes his the controlling share of Air Jamaica at 46%.

Born in Kingston and educated here and in England, Stewart started his first business, an air-conditioning distribution and service company, in 1968. Today, his holding company, the ATL Group, comprises 20 diverse manufacturing, sales and service firms that collectively are Jamaica's largest private corporation, its biggest earner of foreign exchange and one of its largest employers. One of the jewels in his crown is the Sandals resort chain. In 1981, with no hotel experience, he bought a rundown hotel in Montego Bay and converted it to an all-inclusive, couples-only resort. Today, it is the flagship of the largest chain of its type in the Caribbean, with six resorts in Jamaica and four on other islands. …

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