Can you give us a brief insight into your education and career path?
My grandfather had his own wine estate close to the French border of Alsace in Germany, which paved the way for my first encounter with the hotel and service industry. Nothing is more exciting than serving and making customers happy. Seeing the smiles and happiness on their faces once they become loyal guests is amazing, no matter whether they are rich, normal or famous, or just simply celebrating and enjoying their stay.
I started my career as a certified waiter in a five-star hotel and then as a certified chef in a two-star Michelin restaurant, both in Germany (the hotel and restaurant belonged to the French luxury collection restaurant and hotel association, Relais & Chateaux). Thereafter, I enrolled myself in the oldest German hotel management school in Heidelberg for a master’s degree in Hotel Management and Catering, Conference and Services (CCS).
After completing this, I moved to England where I was selected as the first trainee for a new, two year, Food and Beverage management program at the renowned Dorchester Hotel in London. This set me up well and I moved to The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in 1999, and took on several leadership hotel positions at their properties in Berlin, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sanya, Vienna and currently in Guangzhou.
Can you share with us what you feel has been the most valuable part in your career development to date that has enabled you to get to where you are today?
An important milestone for me personally is the Asian experiences and values that form my leadership style. I moved from The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin to The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong in 2003. I came from a Western culture and had to quickly adopt and learn the Eastern way, as well as the speed of business. I encountered a huge challenge during the SARS outbreak, where I had to make many difficult business decisions, whilst trying to understand a new culture, new language and way of thinking! I came out of this learning experience stronger and more confident than ever. Asian people never look back to the past, they live in the present, which is different from the Western mentality, and way of thinking. I really enjoy my time here and having the opportunity to work in Asia, especially China and Guangzhou.
In addition, the most important leadership skill I have developed over the years is identifying people who have a real passion for the job and are motivated to do it regardless of the obstacles they need to overcome. I personally prefer to hire people purely because they have a talent, rather than for their experience. My credo is to always surround yourself with good people who are willing to make fast decisions. Sometimes, I even pay my team more than myself to motivate them to deliver great customer experiences to our guests. The result of this is that over the past few years, many of my former colleagues have built great careers for themselves and become HM, GM or even higher positions.
Congratulations on being a finalist in The BMW Hotelier Awards 2016. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?
The younger generation and especially the “millennials” should understand that they are not doing their job to ultimately please their bosses. They have chosen to work in the service industry because they have a talent to serve and delight guests. Customers will only come back to one specific hotel again and again when the hotel manages to create a strong emotional engagement with them. It is the customer and not the GM who pays the salaries. Guests are more affluent nowadays and they have high expectations. Hence, as service professionals, we need to raise the bar higher and higher each day, 365 days a year without any excuses. We need to always put ourselves in the guest’s shoes and “treat others the way you want to be treated”. The only way to deliver excellent service is to make every interaction genuine, personalised and unique.