Matthew Cooper, the General Manager of JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul recently became a finalist for the second time running. In this interview he shares his inspirational journey, proving that anything is possible as a hotelier. Read on to find out more.
“This nomination and finalist recognition is a tribute to the team who work with me every day.”
I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up in Brisbane. I was a fine art student and simply felt that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was a very creative individual with artistic ability, but I left art school and decided to go looking for a career plan. As art was all I ever wanted to do I really didn’t know where to begin, so I started working part-time in a hotel restaurant kitchen. Not long after, I just so happened to meet the GM of the hotel who commented on my work efforts, he said “You are a very hard-worker and should really consider becoming a hotelier”. That was the comment that changed my life and I immediately enrolled in Culinary School and eventually completed a degree in hotel management in Brisbane.
Continuing my part-time role in the restaurant, I found myself being drawn to the guests and was always initiating conversations with them. I really wanted to work closer to them, actually inside the restaurant, so I ask the GM if I could take over the live egg cooking station. It worked, and after some time I eventually became the Chef de Rang of the Fine Dining Gueridon outlet, which later progressed to the role of Restaurant Manager. Through further opportunities in the industry, I was lucky enough to meet the preopening team of a new Marriott hotel in my city and I was offered a job. Working my way up in hospitality has been an incredible journey. It has now been 20-years since I started working with Marriott through a number of different roles gaining unforgettable experiences along the way, and I am now a proud General Manager of JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul.
My passion for cooking started at a young age when I would help my parents cook and entertain our guests. I use to take inspiration from my experiences dining out and bring them to the table in our home for all to enjoy. When I was at school, I studied Home Economics, which at the time was not a common subject choice for a boy in regional Australia, but I just had this burning desire to cook and host our guests. My younger brother has also been involved in hospitality through his experience working in bars and pubs in Australia. He learnt his craft at the Conrad Hotel in Brisbane, so I guess it could be a passion that runs in the family.
I have never allowed convention to stand in my way. I never waited to be promoted or asked to learn a skill. I have always set my goals and developed myself to be in the best position to be promoted. I have asked to cross train in departments where I knew I was lacking in the skill set, even if it was in my own spare time. Over the years I have asked to be considered for roles, as long as I was prepared to do them. Having cross discipline experience in both rooms, and food and beverage has allowed me to be a very agile operator as a GM and has meant I can manage a hotel with a more holistic view of the requirements across departments. This multi department experience has certainly contributed to getting me to where I am today.
However, the number one thing is the support and guidance I have received from all the mentors in my life, people who are not afraid to tell me the truth and highlight areas for improvement. My most significant mentor is my reporting manager -Bart Buiring, Chief Operations Officer, Marriott International Asia Pacific. He taught me the art of attention to detail, relationship management, as well as having passion to inspire and develop young talent.
One memory that stands out was when I received a letter from a guest describing the service that he experienced from one of our associates. This particular guest was an orphan from the Korean War who was adopted by a US military family and was returning to Korea in the hope of reconnecting with his family roots. The associate was talking to him in one of our lounge areas and realised he was losing hope. Taking it upon herself, she decided to do some research into helping him locate his birth mother. This type of guest service is so life changing and touching that it makes me realise how lucky I am every day to enrich the lives of the guests we deal with.
The Hotelier Awards Asia is widely recognised within the industry as the only awards that are independent of any influence. It is merit based and holds incredible credibility. It celebrates young talent and recognises, normally invisible, back of house associates. I was attracted to apply because of these reasons. I am thrilled to be recognised as a finalist for the second time and feel very proud to share this with several colleagues from Marriott, including my Master Sommelier at the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square, Lucas Jung. This nomination and finalist recognition is a tribute to the team who work with me every day.
I am already very active as a guest lecturer and student counsellor in the Hotel Management education system in South Korea. I feel that creating such grassroots relationships secures future associates. Winning this award would allow me to continue to do this and give credit to my profile amongst these Universities. I have no desire to leave the operations world to be a lecturer, as I love the guests and pulse of the hotel, but it is a nice way to give back and inspire our future leaders. I love being a mentor to young passionate hoteliers, so much so that I am currently establishing a program with Korea’s best hotel school to develop a Luxury Talent Pipeline to aid the rapid expansion of Marriott International’s vast luxury portfolio.