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Brits abroad: Gary Henden

27 January 2017 by
Brits abroad: Gary Henden

The general manager of luxury island resort Six Senses Samui balances his spirit of adventure with the barefoot luxury of Thailand. Janet Harmer talks to him

Can you describe the style and setting of Six Senses Samui?
Six Senses Samui was created around a traditional Thai fishing village, with traditional thatching, a lush, natural landscape, elevated wooden gangways and 240° ocean views. I'm overseeing the refurbishment of 60 villas and the public spaces, and I have started a farm with chickens and goats.

How many staff are employed at the hotel?

What are the key challenges of working on Koh Samui?
There are not many, except the retention of staff during certain periods, occasional restrictions in flight availability and sourcing talent for the ever-increasing number of beds. The island generally offers comfortable living conditions and a multitude of restaurants, activities and experiences.

What do you like about living and working in the location?
After 10 years of living in remote resorts, it's fantastic to be able to go shopping and fill the fridge with an abundance of produce.

And dislike?
The above has a flip side and I'm doing less exercise and binging on ice-cream and crisps! I love long hikes and when I was in Vietnam I explored the mountains above Six Senses Ninh Van Bay and kayaked among the lobster rafts.

Explain how and where your first overseas role came about
After several years at the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham, I was itching to discover the outside world. A friend and I placed our names on Hyatt's transfer list. I went off to work in the Cayman Islands and the US before moving back to London for three years to work at the Carlton Tower and Lowndes [then Hyatt and now both Jumeirah hotels].

How and why did you make the transition from the kitchen to a front of house role?
The sheer size and complexity of my last culinary position at the Jumeirah Beach hotel - 22 restaurants and bars and 18 banqueting venues - provided me with an education in organisation, management and leadership. Soneva Fushi was the final step in moving from the kitchen to front of house.

How have the locations in which you have worked inspired your interest in permaculture?
My passion for permaculture and sustainability stems from my mother, a horticulturist, and from enjoying the freshest ingredients as a chef at the French Laundry and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.
The most disturbing thing about my travels is going to remote islands and finding drinking straws and cigarette filters in the sand. Our sustainable initiatives on Koh Samui are igniting interest and motivation in the local community and even the government.

Which country has been the highlight and which has been the most challenging?
Less commercial destinations are my favourites - Fiji, Koh Kood in Thailand, Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam. Life without challenges is boring and unrewarding, so working in remote locations is adrenaline for mind and body.

How easy has it been for your family to adapt?
Balancing family with my passion to work in remote destinations was not easy, and I wasn't successful the first time around. It is something I learned from and it drives me to do better for my son, Matthew, and my current partner.

How has working overseas enhanced your career?
It has provided me with a skillset that wouldn't have been possible back home: resourcefulness, tenacity, perseverance, creativity and permaculture.

Would you ever work in the UK?
Yes, normality is calling, but it's still a long way off and I'm waiting for the right opportunity.

CV
2014-present General manager, Six Senses Samui, Thailand
2011-2014 General manager, Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam
2008-2011 Resort manager, Soneva Kiri, Thailand
2005-2008 Executive assistant manager, food and beverage, Soneva Fusi, Maldives
2000-2005 Executive chef, Jumeirah Beach hotel, Dubai, UAE
2000 Executive sous chef, Grand Hyatt, Muscat, Oman
1988-2000 Various culinary positions, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, London, the US, Caribbean and Middle East

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