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An interview with General Manager finalist Justin Malcolm

 

Growing up as a triplet with a passion to cook for his family, General Manager Finalist Justin Malcolm shares his story of where his initial interest in hospitality began.

 

“Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and be the best you can – anything is possible.”

 

 

1. Where were you born and brought up?

I was born in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney as a triplet, we are two boys and a girl. My brother was born first, with me following 20 minutes later, and my sister 20 minutes after me. We got up to a lot of mischief growing up, as you can imagine, and were never really far from trouble!

I grew up in Sydney and after completing my HSC (The Higher Secondary Certificate) I wanted to take a year off study. I always had a passion for cooking and at the time I thought I wanted to be a Chef, as well as explore the world. I took my first daunting experience at the age of 18, where I stood in front of three individuals for an internship interview at the Sheraton Sydney Airport. It didn’t end as well as I hoped, but I did manage to receive a job offer as a room attendant. Although I was not so familiar with the hotel industry I accepted my very first job as a hotelier.

It was an exciting experience and I had the opportunity to work my way through most of the Rooms Division department and take on roles in housekeeping, laundry, coach driving, switchboard, guest services, bell / concierge, front desk and duty manager, until I was given my first overseas posting at the ripe age of 22. I transferred to Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket as an Assistant Manager, where I spent six months launching the Starwood Preferred Guest incentive, before heading back to open The Westin Sydney.

I remained at the Westin for six years, three of which I spent as a Director of Six Sigma, Black Belt. I believe that it was this unique experience that fast tracked my development as a leader.

From Sydney to the Maldives, I travelled and progressed as a hotelier until I found myself in Thailand as the General Manager of Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort and eventually onto South East Asia’s first Aloft Hotel.

Now it has been almost two years that I have been based at Le Méridien Saigon, where I am proud to be the General Manager of this wonderful hotel.

 

2. Where and when did your initial interest in hospitality begin?

I was never directly exposed to the professional hospitality sector when I was growing up, but I spent many hours in the kitchen cooking, as it was, and still is, a passion of mine. I started baking initially, pushing my Mum out of the kitchen at any chance I had. Although I was a fussy eater, I had a real sweet tooth when I was young so I guess my initial interest in food began there. During high school I decided to enrol in a joint tertiary educational program in cooking skills, where I learnt the basics of food preparation, flavours, cooking techniques, technical skills etc. I fell in love with the kitchen, which is what I believe sparked my initial interest in hospitality, although my journey was a very different one.

 

 

3. What opportunities have you experienced that you feel have been the most valuable part of your career development as a hotelier?

Just like most, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with some great leaders. They trusted and placed me in positions that exposed me to responsibilities outside the usual day-to-day tasks. I worked with my first mentor whilst I was at The Westin Sydney as an Assistant Front Office Manager. I had only just assumed the role and developed quickly making a number of improvements based on analysis of the P&L. The GM at the time offered me the Director of Six Sigma role and I effectively went from an Assistant Department Head role to an Executive Committee member at the age of 26, becoming the youngest serving Excom member in Asia Pacific at the time. This paved the way for huge exposure to all departmental processes, giving me a very detailed understanding and analytical insight into how business is conducted across various work streams.

Another valuable opportunity I received was during my role as a Resort Manager at Sheraton Maldives, where I was mentored by the Area GM, Brian Segrave. Although he was based at W Maldives, he allowed full autonomy in my role with 100% oversight of all areas. Brian was only ever a phone call away and held an extremely high business acumen, he created meaningful relationships, which in turn created a high level of trust in a difficult working environment. As a result of the environment Brian fostered, I was awarded the most inspiring leader in South Asia.

 

 

4. Can you share one particular memory that you have experienced during your time as a hotelier that made you realise this was the right industry for you?

During my time as a General Manager for Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort, the province was still an up and coming tourism destination. With the property being one of the very few internationally branded hotels, I knew that I had to network as much as possible in order to stimulate interest in the destination by all key stakeholders.

I gained a monthly audience with the Governor to discuss tourism potential and formed the first international tourism association – PATA Chiang Rai Chapter. I met with airlines, at our own cost, to convince and sell the destination as a multi leg journey from places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. We gained support from Thailand’s airports and in a short amount of time Silk Air had committed to conducting a feasibility study on routing options, with the intention to trial a direct flight from Singapore in the high season. Shortly after I was awarded the PATA Face of the Future Award, and recognised by the Governor as one of 32 people that had contributed the most to tourism in the province. A true honour as a hotelier and one which I’m extremely humbled about.

 

 

5. What attracted you to apply for The Hotelier Awards Asia and what does the platform mean to you and your team?

The hotel industry is one of the very few sectors whereby you’re constantly exposed to such a variety of situations. From marriage to death, to environmental disasters, to industry sector issues, to political events and so on – hospitality feels the by-product of all. However, there’s so many wonderful initiatives being undertaken by hoteliers across the globe and The Hotelier Award platform allows for these stories to be told.

We have nominated our Hotel Manager and Director of Sales & Marketing as well, both of which have also been shortlisted in their categories. We are extremely proud of the achievements at Le Méridien Saigon, as well as the professional growth undertaken by all. The Hotelier Awards are more important to us since it’s the industry recognising its people. Industry awards hold deep meaning as a result and I couldn’t be more honoured to be a shortlisted candidate.

 

6. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?

Absolutely. Given I started cleaning rooms in Housekeeping, I plan to use this as an example that if you set goals, work towards them every single day, don’t lose sight of the big picture and be the best you can – anything is possible. I recently gave a speech at a careers day event and shared this same story. It resonates with so many working youth these days whom are in a highly competitive labour market, and whose social pressures stem beyond the previous generations.

 

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