James Simkins, who was until recently Benchmark’s chief operating officer for Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels and instrumental in the successful launch of the Personal Luxury brand, died Jan. 16 following a struggle with cancer.
A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Simkins launched his hospitality career with Westin Hotels & Resorts, eventually serving in a number of senior leadership assignments across the globe. These included The Carlton in South Africa, Kowloon Shangri-La in Hong Kong, and The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, as well as The Westin Tokyo, where he was invited to open the property as managing director and to assume corporate responsibilities as vice president operations for Westin International Asia Pacific. He completed a 28-year tenure with Westin in Australia, building and opening the Westin Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.
Simkins next took a partnership position with MTM Luxury Lodging, a hotel management company specializing in the operation of luxury boutique properties. He helped build a distinctive portfolio that included such properties as Willows Lodge, Hotel 1000, Alderbrook, the historic Sorrento Hotel, the LEED Platinum Bardessono in Yountville, Napa Valley, and Boston’s Liberty Hotel. Simkins joined Benchmark Hospitality International upon the company’s purchase of MTM Luxury Lodging in 2011, immediately assuming a leadership position on Benchmark’s executive team and the company’s board of directors.
“In James’ short time as a part of the Benchmark family, he made a profound impact on our people and our business. An impact that will last well beyond his years on earth,” said Alex Cabañas, president and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality International. “We miss him dearly and are supporting his family and each other in remembering James’ extraordinary life.”
Jim Treadway, Simkins’ long-time friend, partner in MTM Luxury Lodging, and the general manager of Bardessono, added, “James and I started working together 43 years ago in South Africa. We became fast friends and enjoyed parallel and wonderful careers with Westin. He was a brilliant hotelier—one of the very best—and a wonderful husband, father, and friend to many. He made people and organizations better, wherever he went. I miss him, and I think of him often. His family and the many world-class hotels he had a hand in are his legacies on earth.”