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SUBRAMANIAN KOTHANDARAMAN

FINANCIAL CONTROLLER

HOTEL JEN ORCHARDGATEWAY SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? Coming November 2019, it will be 20 years.

Can you talk us through your career journey? I began my journey in Shangri-La Hotel Singapore as a Group Accountant in 1999. The first five to seven years of my career were tough because of the Asian Financial Crisis and SARS outbreak – the hotel industry took quite a hit as a result. Since then, I’ve handled multiple roles within Finance – group accounts, investment, stock exchange reporting and tax reporting matters. Then, I was promoted to Assistant Financial Controller in 2005, where I took on hotel operations accounting. A year later, I moved to Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore, formerly known as Traders Hotel Singapore.

In 2009, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa and Resort Singapore was going to be closed completely for an extensive renovation. I asked for a transfer there and it was a unique experience to handle the closure and subsequent re-opening of the hotel. This experience gave me the confidence to handle new hotel openings. When the world’s first Hotel Jen was opening at Orchard Gateway, I was transferred to join the pre-opening team in 2013, where I’ve been ever since.

What made you decide to join the hospitality industry as an accountant? I came across the job advertisement in a newpaper, so I applied and got the job. In the beginning, I was unsure of many things – systems, processes, the nature of the business and my colleagues – as it was my first job in the hotel industry. I had some second thoughts after joining. However, as days passed, I felt that every day was different and presented interesting challenges. As I understood the work culture and structure better, aided by my colleagues when needed, I was able to adapt to the new environment and opened myself up to explore value creation from the perspective of the hotel operator which would aid in the company’s goal of value maximisation over time. My job today has both challenges and opportunities, and I enjoy what I am doing.

Would you say that there are many career opportunities in the hotel industry? Yes! There’s plenty of room for career progression in this industry. The hotel is constantly evolving ¬– in line with the ever changing times. This could be in the form of new technology and systems to adopt for seamless service delivery, organisational restructuring and training to upgrade employees with new skill sets, and setting new directions to keep up or, better yet, overtake market competition. Singapore as a destination is always changing too, hence there will be constant opportunities to grow into different functions and roles within the hotel. For example, at our hotel group, we have a programme called the “Shangri-La Explorer”. The programme is quite eye-opening in that it provides cross exposure and development opportunities to employees to learn how other departments function and how the other hotels work. When there are new avenues to learn, it keeps the motivation level high.

Can you tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis? I handle the hotel’s financial matters like overseeing the finance functions, reporting process, and cash flow management. As the property’s Financial Controller, I work closely with the Hotel General Manager and Executive Committee to evaluate business plans, property performance, capital investments, and hotel operations which also indirectly help in my finance processes in terms of what to expect and how to change the process to better support operations. On a daily basis, I spend 80% of my time on planning and to meet future business needs and 20% on the other routine work, be it procurement, vetting of the different types contracts and approvals.

What are some of the challenges you faced at work and how did you overcome them? Having to constantly evolve and adapt to the environment we are in is one of the bigger challenges. For example, in 2018, Shangri-La merged and centralised the major finance processes of all four hotels in Singapore. This was not easy because firstly we needed to rebuild the team, then we had to standardise and simplify our processes. We also explored and implemented new technologies such as automated cash machines, document management systems, and cloud-based financial systems that made our processes more efficient.

As part of the finance department, how do you think you contribute to a guest's happiness? Though we are not directly involved in interfacing with guests, we ensure a seamless experience from the back-end. For example, our housekeeping robots that deliver guests’ orders to their doorstep within 15 minutes from the time the order is placed have surprised and delighted our guests. This was three or four months of work involving a lot of departments including Finance before it finally got implemented.

How do you ensure continuous excellence in what you do? I always look forward to the changes because that’s when I can grow the most. I’m always open to new ideas. At Shangri-La, we’re always encouraged to try new things or ideas. As long as our proposed ideas can make a difference and we can make a strong case for it, we are always supported.

Tell us more about the course that you just took. It’s a course at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants. The Shangri-La group is one of three hotel groups approved by Chartered Accountant (CA) Singapore as an Accredited Training Organisation. It's a good programme because once I got the certification, I can train other staff in accounting. Plus, it's refreshing to update my knowledge on the new developments in the accounting and auditing fields. It's a two-year long course. I'm doing this out of my personal interest but I'm glad the hotel supported me by giving me time off when I needed it and sponsoring the study award.

Do you think it's important to constantly upgrade your skills? Yes! With the dynamic fast-changing world, there are so many changes in regulations and in the way financial markets function. In the early days, we only had two types of settlements – cash or cheque. Now we have a much longer list than that. All of these would definitely have some impact on the business from an accounting standpoint. Upgrading yourself will help you handle the situations better and be better equipped to lead the team.

What has been your biggest learning point in your career? Being patient! I think that's the key virtue of anyone in finance. We don't expect everyone to know finance or business lingo, so we have to nurture them to get some functional understanding.

What advice would you give someone interested to join the hotel industry? This is an industry where you are given a lot of opportunities. The world is changing and the hotel industry is quick to reap the benefits of those changes. It is a great industry for anyone to consider because the options are amazing and it opens up the world to you. Stay committed and gain rewarding experiences.