THE American Dream still lives, according to Englishman James Sherwin who two years ago swapped the elegance of the Savoy Group to become executive manager at New York’s plush Carlyle hotel.
Sherwin had developed a love for both the hotel and the Big Apple in the 10 weeks a year he used to spend doing business in New York as sales and marketing executive for the Savoy.
As a regular guest at the Carlyle, he became closely acquainted with its then executive manager Frank Bowling. When Bowling transferred west to the Bel Air hotel in Los Angeles, the moment was ripe for Sherwin to ascend to the throne. A few discreet conversations later and, as Sherwin puts it, “the rest fell into place”.
So, after spending years as a guest at the Carlyle, Sherwin found himself in charge of 500 exclusive rooms in the rarefied environment of New York’s Upper East Side.
The Savoy Group is a hard act to follow. But the privately owned Carlyle is regarded as New York’s Claridge’s and, situated on Madison Avenue amid art galleries and boutiques, it was seen by Sherwin as a suitable new home.
Sherwin says: “I wouldn’t have come here if the Carlyle hadn’t been as it is. It’s the last privately owned five-star standard hotel in New York and the most European. We have the same code of conduct as in Europe. For instance, we encourage staff to remember people’s names but not necessarily to use them. Friendly but not familiar is how we like it.”
Although the 35-storey building offers 500 rooms, only 190 are what the hotel describes as “transient guest rooms and suites”. The remainder are either privately owned apartments or are leased out for varying lengths of time.
While yearly and season rates are withheld with determined discretion, the tariff for transient suites of living room/bedroom stretches to $2,000 (£1,300) per day, while double rooms cost $285-$385 (£190-£260) some per day. During my visit, the Duchess of York and her entourage are among the guests, and indeed the VIP database reads like Who’s Who.
It’s an environment to which Sherwin has adjusted with supreme ease. In the two years he has lived in New York he has become, like countless newcomers to the city before him, one of its most enthusiastic ambassadors.
“This town is such a crossroads and there is this great vibrancy and pride about it. If you’re in a successful city, it feeds on itself. It’s frenetic.”
When we touch on the more negative and infamous aspects of New Yorklife such as crime and aggression,Sherwin is philosophical. “It’s not a city for the timid so you should try to appear assertive and look like you have a mission.
“But the police force here is utterly brilliant and you’d have to be dreadfully unlucky for something to happen. You must use common sense as elsewhere, like not going to a high unemployment area. I don’t feel any less safe on the pavement here than in London.”
When he mentions the British capital, there is discernible affection for his former home town. “Going back to London gives me a great sense of style, civility and stability. If you could combine London and New York, it would make a great cocktail!”
But there are aspects of New York life which Sherwin would omit from any such concoction. These include the stifling summer humidity, the choking traffic, aggression of many ordinary people in their daily lives and the taxi service which he considers to be a city-wide disgrace.
“It’s one of the biggest negatives here because there are no regulations and few Americans are prepared to take the job, so the quality is very poor. It contrasts with London which has the finest cab service in the world.”
Sherwin’s advice to anyone wishing to try out the American Dream for themselves is simple: “Try to get a job with an international company which has US connections, and let them satisfy the regulations of the immigration authorities. Working here has become increasingly difficult over the past three years – you have to prove your eligibility every step of the way. Also you can’t just come over and then apply. That’s illegal.”
Once accepted, Sherwin advises newcomers to search extra carefully for suitable accommodation. This he found to be a particularly testing task.
“It was one of the most annoying and time-consuming things I’ve ever had to do. However much money you think about putting aside for accommodation, it’ll always be far more. If you see anything charming, you must snap it up straight away. I viewed more than 40 apartments (for purchase), and while some of the lobbies might appear fine, the building can turn out to be a realrat trap. The main rule is that youpay for space and elevation.”
Those considering a job in the USA also need to be aware of certain practical and cultural aspects. The latter include the strong American work ethic, which means that while wages in New York are somewhat higher than in the UK (and about 20% more than elsewhere in the US) paid leave is normally much less generous than in the UK.
This subject is clearly close to Sherwin’s heart. He says: “The USA is one of the most sophisticated nations on earth and yet one of the most backward when it comes to vacations. Having only one or two weeks off per year is very tough.
“I should also stress that, whennegotiating a position here, all new employees must secure the best possible medical insurance. Otherwise, they can run away with every cent if you need treatment. Most companies will arrange this for you,” Sherwin adds.
However, these details pale in comparison to Sherwin’s obvious enthusiasm for his adopted land which he embraces with the fervour of a convert.
Whether he would ever return to the UK seems therefore almost irrelevant. He says: “I had wanted to come and work here for so long. America was always very good to me when I came here on Savoy sales trips. It gave me the success which I achieved in Britain.Not unless life changed radicallywould I go back. I just don’t think that I’ll ever be sick of New York. It really spoils you”. o
lFor details about US visa requirements, call the United States embassy on 071-499 9000 or write to Visa Enquiries, US Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1.