Four Seasons Randy Shimabuku’s “happy resolution” philosophy 

When Randy Shimabuku was appointed general manager of Four Seasons Resorts Bali in June, taking over leadership of two resorts at Jimbaran Bay and Sayan, his association with Four Seasons was already over three decades long. A veteran hotelier, his 34-year journey with Four Seasons has taken him from Toronto to Tokyo, and from Beverly Hills to Kuala Lumpur. Taking charge in Bali after having steered Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa during the pandemic, Shimabuku says the notion of staying so long in the same company has become old-fashioned now. But it is Four Seasons’ values that keep him loyal. 

 “I recently remarked to a younger colleague, “You’ve been a long time with the company – how long?” He said almost three years and said it with a straight face. And I thought, what have I missed?” he asks. 

“What I learned was that when you’re in charge, take charge. It’s not about popularity, it’s about making the right decision for everyone to keep them safe.” – Randy Shimabuku

Evidently, not enough to make a difference as it is Four Seasons’ strong people culture, he says, that generates a shared value and creates a bond beyond a typical employer-employee relationship.  

Shimabuku also comes to Bali as the island reopens for international travelers and amid the resorts’ unveiling of new offerings. He recently spoke to HOTELS about his three-decade-long association with Four Seasons, plans for the Four Seasons Bali resorts, “happy resolution” philosophy and more.  

HOTELS: You have been associated with Four Seasons for over three decades. Did you expect to remain with one company for so long? What has kept you in place all this time?  

Randy Shimabuku: When I joined Four Seasons, I never thought I’d be here for 30-plus years. When I graduated from Cornell University, I had a dozen interviews and one of these was Four Seasons. I received 10 offers, but none from Four Seasons, which was an upstart company in the 1980s. It was expanding and there was a lot of buzz about it. But I didn’t get an offer from them. I joined the company eight years later. 

Four Seasons has a very strong people culture and that’s something I believe in. Shared values are very important in any marriage, whether to a person or a company, and that creates loyalty and a bond beyond a typical employer-employee relationship. These days, it’s almost old-fashioned to stay so long with one company. 

H: You are succeeding Uday Rao, Bali’s longest-serving general manager. How do you plan to continue or reimagine his legacy? 

View of the villas at Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay

RS: Uday was in Bali for almost 10 years and built quite the reputation. Uday is a good friend, we’ve known each other for 29 years and have worked together many years ago back in Japan. But I don’t know how he operates, and it doesn’t matter to me. We are both people-oriented, big-hearted kinds of guys and that’s why we are friends and colleagues. I continue that legacy of being a people person, while I bring different experience and background. Uday’s background is rooms and mine is F&B. So, he may be more critical of rooms, while I would be more critical of our dining offerings and give daily feedback to the chefs. 

H: You are joining Four Seasons in Bali as it unveils a new culinary team, spa and immersive experiences to showcase Bali’s culture. How will you enhance Four Seasons’ brand of hospitality as Bali begins to welcome international travelers? What new projects have you planned for the hotel?  

RS: The vision is to celebrate the authenticity of the Balinese village, the core of the hotel, with seven villages and the oceanfront temple at the heart of the property. Meanwhile, bringing that contemporary touch through Sundara restaurant and the new spa, without losing our identity of being an authentic Balinese experience. 

The Healing Village Spa is a destination on its own and the treatments and the Rossano Ferretti salon are the latest upgrades, opening a month after my arrival. At Sayan, we had a number of culinary upgrades in recent years, including the riverside cooking school, and our next focus would be upgrading the spa and wellness experience which is intrinsic to Ubud’s profile as Bali’s wellness hub. 

Couples treatment a Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay Healing Village

H: What steps are you taking to revive the hotel’s revenues? What is your performance forecast going into the next year? 

RS: We are in a strong position as the resorts closed for just four months in early 2020 and have been open since August 2020 with over half of our staff having been with the resorts since opening 25 years ago. This is an incredible statistic that highlights the strong people culture at our resorts, and this is what drives our success. 

H: Bali recently reopened its borders for international visitors after almost two years. How has the response to bookings been so far?  

RS: The pace of recovery since the international borders opened has been promising and we are continuing to drive this. We’ve had strong business in July and August at both resorts with top markets from Americans, Australians, Brits, Singaporeans and Indonesians. We’ve also seen a lot of repeat guests. Bali was on their bucket list for revenge travel. 

H: Your wife, Atsuko, is an equal and important partner to your management and success. How does your partnership work? 

RS: Atsuko is my secret weapon. She enriches my life and gives me joy, and she has loved our latest adventure in moving to Bali. Our relationship grows and flourishes as we go out exploring Bali on the weekends, discovering restaurants in the neighborhood. We’re foodies so we love Bali’s vibrant dining scene and also cooking at home with access to so many fantastic ingredients. Atsuko goes to the Japanese grocery store, and she’ll cook old favorite recipes. Bali offers both of us a new sense of discovery and life balance. 

H: How is your staff training evolving, especially considering the pandemic and changing consumer expectations? 

RS: Our teams have undergone new training in recent years due to the pandemic, but we also have a very robust training program on Four Seasons standards to ensure we maintain or elevate the guest experience. It’s one thing I like to be involved in, working closely with our learning managers and learning coaches, and when you have a people culture at the resorts, it is really the foundation of everything we do. 

H: You have a “happy resolution” philosophy. Where did that come from and what is your best advice? 

RS: It’s in my DNA. I’m from Hawaii and it’s a small-town vibe there. You’re in a grocery store and people just talk to you, make comments about your shorts or what’s in your grocery basket, what brand of product you’re buying. That’s Hawaii, so refreshing and authentic. People you’ve never met will want to connect with you and pass on happy vibes. I love that natural energy and kindness. 

Yoga at the pond at the Four Seasons Sayan in Bali

H: You are a storyteller? Can you describe the value it has for guests and staff?  

RS: The staff love to hear stories from all over the world of Four Seasons. Stories help to recognize people and act as a training opportunity for others. It’s another reflection of the learning and people culture we have, the humanity and genuine heart we bring to our interactions with staff and guests.  

H: What has been your biggest learning from COVID that you are applying today? 

RS: When I first arrived, people said, ‘Oh you’re so lucky you were in the Maldives.’ And, yes, business was good, but we had our challenges, too. We implemented programs to protect ourselves and our guests from COVID-19, which were often stricter than the country’s guidance. I received some negative feedback because people thought I should have aligned with the government, and not introduced more than what the government was recommending. But Kuda Huraa was my responsibility in terms of health, finance and everything else. What I learned was that when you’re in charge, take charge. It’s not about popularity, it’s about making the right decision for everyone to keep them safe. In the end, it worked out, but it was a challenge to convince people of the need for some of our measures. 

H: What is the biggest professional challenge you face today? 

RS: Making important decisions for the betterment of the resort in the long term that will not be popular in the short term. In Bali, coming out of the lockdown it is time to review what we are doing now, and what we can do differently to support recovery. Making these decisions again comes down to engaging with our people, telling stories and socializing all the considerations as part of the consultation process. 

H: Which broader luxury consumer trends are you applying at Four Seasons Resorts Bali?  

RS: We have always been focused on wellness and that has become an even bigger focus for guests in recent years. People come to us to refresh and reboot, reward themselves. We have extensive wellness programs at both resorts to give them a jumpstart and things that they can take home after their vacation and apply to their daily lives. 

The remote working trend is another theme that guests are asking about, and we have introduced new amenities and services to cater to this. Whether it’s office equipment, technical support or ergonomic furniture, we have adapted to this to cater to guests who need to work while staying with us. 

H: Who has been your mentor and what is the best piece of advice you have received? 

RS: I have had a lot of mentors in my 30-plus years with Four Seasons. The key takeaway is that our industry is all about connections with people, so never forget to do that. 

H: Which historical figure would you like to host? 

RS: My parents. My mother passed away when I got to the Maldives and my father 10 years before that. I would love to spend time with them now, as adults to adults and parents to parents, and see how and where those conversations would lead.