I started as a very young kid in the restaurant of my Godfather when I was 7 years old. I worked in helping to clean the toilets, serving the guests and washing the dishes. That is how my hospitality career basically started. During school holidays, whenever they were busy at the restaurant, I went to help. This was how I earned my first few bucks. Later on, I was made an apprentice chef and shortly after, I got promoted to exec sous chef. My first experience with managing people came with the responsibilities of having made F&B Manager. I never went to hotel school. Everything I have learnt up until now, I learnt it on my own through experience. If you consider 50 percent of Forbes 500 companies of the world, they all have one thing in common – the CEO does not have an MBA. In spite of not being highly educated, they succeeded; not solely because of the experience, but because they work with their people. As Steve Jobs always said, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”.
How did you get promoted to the management side of operations after working as a chef?
I believe I had the right mentors. The GMs whom I worked for pushed me very hard in the right direction and I stand before you as the GM of Lux* South Ari Atoll because of their inspiration. I, of course, try to follow in their footsteps when it comes to managing my colleagues. Someday, someone else will take over my job, and I hope that when the day comes, it will be one of my colleagues whom I have worked with. It will be then when I would feel that I have fulfilled my purpose.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your professional career?
When you work in different countries, with people of different cultures having different nationalities, you subconsciously expect there to be difficulties working there. I never really faced any significant challenges in most of the countries I have worked in. If you consider it from a local’s perspective, I am an immigrant where I work. I had to integrate myself into the country and their culture. It was not my country, I was a guest. I am a guest here in the Maldives as well. I believe it is very important that you integrate yourself and adjust to the local habit. There are certain cultural restrictions in each country, and you have to respect every one of them. The first time you go to a country to work as an expat, it is not easy. I believe that within the first 12 months, either you love it and continue down that path or you hate it and you will never do it again. I obviously love it as it has been 28 years since I have left my home country Switzerland, and I haven’t looked back since.
What did you think of the work environment, local work force and talent here in the Maldives when you first came here?
As I recall, I came to the Maldives in 2014. I used to work for Shangri-La before and the VP HR offered me a job in the Maldives. I had already been to the Maldives for holiday, so I had a slight idea of what to expect. Of course, I knew that working here would be different than coming to a holiday. Later on, they promoted me and sent me to China, but here I am again. We understand it is hard work, but all of us in similar positions know and understand the life is not only sunshine and blue skies, but at the end of the day we are here not for holiday, we are to do our jobs. We have to work together with the local community to protect the environment we are building. We have to embrace, implement and do as much as possible to protect the Maldives. It’s not our country – we are only guests here. However, if we do not take care of our host country, then the country will not take care of us. We can do more though, and we should. Can you imagine how much it would protect the environment if we could run a hotel 100 percent fossil-fuel free? Tremendously.
What do you consider as success?
Success can be measured in financial performances; it can be measured in guest satisfaction performance; it can also be measured in the data you are collecting to protect the environment. The aforementioned are all business-based performances as all of them have a financial input. If we are talking about personal success, then as mentioned before, I would like to see a colleague seated in my chair. It would show me that I have guided him in the right direction, and I have provided him the right support. That is what I would consider as success.
In terms of management, what do you do differently at the resort?
I would say 70 percent of our TripAdviser reviews contain at least one or several names of our staff members and colleagues. This shows that the guests are not only happy with the service, but that they remember my colleagues by name, which means that our staff have created a long-lasting memory for the guests. At a resort with over 600 staffs, it is very heartwarming for me personally, to see guest reviews with mentions of individual staffs.
I always tell my staff and colleagues to treat everyone the same. Some of the staff here do not understand what I’m saying as they do not speak English, but I make sure I greet them irrespective of their nationality. At first, they do not understand it, but once they do, they adapt this trait and start to greet the guests and their other colleagues. I believe this is where it all starts.
What is your advice to young hoteliers who wish to enter into the tourism industry?
If you think that the hospitality industry is a job from 9-6, you better find some other job. If you are not willing to work for people, and with people, then this industry is not for you. You must be a people person to succeed in this industry, as hospitality is all about people and serving them.