We were delighted to interview Hugo Montanari the General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin who recently became a Finalist for General Manager of the Year 2017 – Greater China. Read on to find out who inspired him to continue and grow in the hospitality industry.
I was originally born in Italy, but due to my father’s career working for a humanitarian aid company we moved around Africa and then onto Asia. I am the eldest of four in my family and as you can guess we were brought up as expat children, living in various countries from Somalia to Papua New Guinea to Bangladesh and India. Growing up in such a diverse range of countries taught me a great deal about communication and how to listen to others. I often found myself wanting to know more than I was taught about each culture, which was a key factor in me becoming a very inquisitive person.
I was always fascinated by the hospitality industry from a young age, and was eager to work in the sector. I used to spend my holidays living in a hotel apartment in Austria with my family and grandmother. I was captivated by the service and attentive staff members and how they created a warm and friendly atmosphere. My grandmother knew how intrigued I was by the hoteliers and one day she said ‘You should go to the hotel management school in Switzerland’, and so after I completed my schooling in the UK, I was delighted to be accepted into the Hotel Management School – Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne.
During the course, I gained some work experience in banqueting and events in order to earn some money part-time and gain some exposure to real life hospitality. Although it wasn’t common for EHL students to work alongside their study, it helped me to stand out and quickly learn more about the sector. After receiving my bachelor degree, I was offered a role as a management trainee in Dubai where I spent five years growing my career from an F&B supervisor all the way up to Restaurant/Operations manager. I later moved onto the Rooms division. My passion for travel was fulfilled with opportunities in New York City and Bangalore, eventually landing a role as Director of Operations for a Ritz-Carlton pre-opening team.
My first step into China was with The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya as a Hotel Manager before moving into my current role as the General Manager for The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin. I have worked with some of the most amazing people whom I learn from every day. China has also been a huge inspiration for me and has given me the chance to understand more about the culture and way of life. There are new and never ending opportunities to grow in this colourful and energetic industry.
I believe that my parents’ involvement in NGOs has played a significant part in shaping me into the professional I am today. Following them on their journey and being exposed to different cultures, as well as growing up in challenging circumstances in third world or developing countries, has made me a very humble person. This appreciation for life has helped me to communicate and understand others on a day to day basis, greatly contributing to my career. My time in Dubai was one of my best and most valuable experiences. I worked with a team that had 43 different nationalities. This meant there was a huge array of different cultures and working habits and I strived to understand them so I could try to align everyone and successfully achieve the goals at hand; it was an incredible feeling. Some of my team members were from underprivileged families, but I saw their determination and loved to motivate and support them to try and bring out their best.
Another great learning curve for me was when I was working with the unions in NYC. I learned how to inspire a team, even those who had 20 years of experience on me and a generation gap. Building relationships by striking conversations through sport and families was key to gaining their respect and understanding.
Finally, mentors have been a significant part in development. To be honest, when I initially started my career as a management trainee, I wanted to quit as I found it too difficult. My mentor at the time, Sunny Joseph told me that I was absolutely crazy to leave the industry. He gave me the confidence I was missing at the time and made me realise that I had the personality and the right passion, which I am truly thankful for.
Philip Barnes, the GM of Fairmont Dubai at the time, was another mentor who challenged me by offering me a new role that was beyond my years, as he felt that I was the right fit to succeed. Thanks to his trust, the opportunity equipped me with skills that have helped me in my career.
Lastly, I am thankful to Shane Krige who was my General Manager in NYC. He moved to India to open The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, and subsequently offered me EAM-Rooms, which was a big step as I was still young. He taught me to trust and challenge the younger generation, which is something that I value and have continued on into my role today.
I am honoured to be a GM finalist of this prestigious award across Greater China. I plan to leverage this by working harder day in and day out to prove that it is absolutely possible. Being a GM doesn’t mean you need to work 24/7 around the clock. You can easily balance work with your personal life, as I personally do by joining various community sport teams. I would like to inspire the younger generation to believe in themselves and let them understand that with self confidence and patience, everything is possible. I am a strong believer of giving people a chance and taking risks on them, which is what I always do with my team members. I take pride in each of them and support their next career steps just as my past mentors took risks with me and supported mine.