The BMW Hotelier Awards had the pleasure of speaking to Torsten Van Dullemen, General Manager at The Landmark, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. It was great to hear about the value that Torsten places on both travel and family and how his moral compass underpins the day to day decisions he has made throughout his career.
Can you give us a brief insight into your education and career path?
I actually got into this industry by pure luck! My best friend at high school fancied a beautiful girl, who at the time attended Hotel school The Hague and convinced me to apply with him. I got through, however my friend didn’t. Knowing nothing about the industry for which I had just signed up for, it actually turned out I thoroughly enjoyed it and had some sort of talent for it! I spent a total of seven years studying and working forty to fifty-hour weeks to pay for my tuition and so called ‘beer money’ for the university bar. Straight after graduating I decided to ‘travel the world’ and have since worked and lived in eleven cities, nine countries and three continents. I attempted assignments that were different and interesting – I ended up spending as much time in ‘Rooms’ as I did ‘F&B’ and as many years running resorts as I did city hotels. This experience included two hotel openings, and two closures. I worked for three private owners and two major corporations but the one ‘red thread’ was that the establishments I worked for had to be of the highest caliber as well as ones that shared my own value system, which puts guests before profit, and colleagues before all.
I continued my studies after graduating and attended Cornell University twice and Cranfield University once; two of them were on scholarships I was fortunate enough to win. I have tried to read as much as I could over the years and also visit new and exciting competitors both in my own city and when I travel
I’m very lucky that I met my wife 26 years ago and she has travelled with me ever since. My two daughters and two cats have also come along for the ride. My youngest daughter, who is only 11 years old, has already lived in the UK, India, Thailand, Philippines and now Hong Kong.
By the way… my friend? Never got that girl!
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?
Throughout my entire career I have sought assignments which I knew would take me out of my comfort zone, which I could learn from and personally found exciting. Having worked in so many different countries, types of hotels, divisions and across so many different cultures, it has meant that I have continuously exposed myself to new things all of the time. On the other hand, I have never taken on a new assignment because of the money, position or prestige. On at least three different occasions, I have even taken a step down when moving onto the next role (the most obvious one being from General Manager at Udaivilas to Hotel Manager at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok). On all of these occasions, the decisions made have turned out to be the right ones. One of the most important things I understood early on in my career, which has been very insightful for me, is that unless the organisation you work for shares your core values, you will never be able to go very far in that organisation. Every decision becomes difficult because you always have to stop and think whether you are doing the right thing according to their rules. The worst case scenario is that it can make you very unhappy when you realise what it takes to be successful, as your company does not ‘click’ with your inner self. Conversely, working for an employer who shares your belief system allows you to be yourself all the time, perform to your strengths and enter a natural flow where work is motivating and your decisions are automatically aligned with your employers immediate and long-term strategic direction. This enables you to develop that much faster.
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?
Being nominated for such a high profile award is certainly a big honour. It also puts you under the spotlight, giving you the opportunity to ‘speak’ to a lot of people at once, including the younger generation. I will use the opportunities that have been presented, such as this interview, to pass on to people that we are working in one of the most dynamic and fulfilling industries in the world. Being of service to others is an honourable and ultimately very self-fulfilling thing to do. To make a difference in other people’s lives, to contribute to their special moments, to help set the platform that will secure an important business deal… I can also use my career path to date as a way to show the younger generation that this industry gives you the opportunity to travel and immerse yourself and your family into different cultures, providing tremendous personal growth and to share lasting memories. One of the challenges the hospitality industry has today is how to attract world class young talent. By highlighting together with my fellow nominees, what is so great and exciting about our industry, we will hopefully go a little way towards inspiring others!