Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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HUSSAIN KHAN BIN OMAR KHAN

HEAD BUTLER

SHANGRI-LA HOTEL SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? Over 20 years. I started when I was 20 years old, working in a three-star hotel in Singapore as a Bellman. From there, I moved to the Front Office to get more experience serving guests personally. Then, I moved to Room Service, where I learnt more about F&B. I then became interested in becoming a Butler, and applied for that position at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore. And it’s been my job ever since.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a Butler? I was actually inspired by the comic character Alfred the Butler, from the Batman comics! From his distinguished appearance to his sincerity in serving, he had sparked my initial interest. When I started, it was very rare to come across butler services in local hotels, as compared to those in Europe. So to learn more about the profession, I went to the library regularly to do research to understand more about what the job entailed.

Can you tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis? I lead a team of six, made up of both new and experienced Butlers. I help to train newcomers, and ensure that the experienced ones are on top of their day-to-day jobs.

I’m also in charge of room inspections before a guest arrives, to make sure that each room is maintained to our standards. If there are any defects, I inform the relevant departments and make sure that they are rectified promptly. I also check if our guests’ personal requests have been addressed, from their choice of newspaper to the type of pillows they prefer. This process takes about 45 minutes per room, but it’s worth the effort to know that we have taken care of our guests’ needs and preferences.

At times, we get high-profile guests like heads of state or members of a royal family. For those guests, they usually arrive with their personal assistants or butlers to attend to their day-to-day needs. So when they stay here, we will have to be ready and available should they need something from us.

You were trained at the internationally recognised and prestigious Magnums Butler Academy. Tell us more about the experience and training you received. Shangri-La sent me for the course and it lasted three months. As I was the first person to be sent for such a course by Shangri-La, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how tough it would be. And true enough, it was definitely challenging, but I learnt a lot and it was such an eye-opening experience! The hotel has been very supportive of my journey. To pass a Magnums Butler Academy course, your final grade has to be above 85%, so I had to work and study really hard to make sure I remembered every little detail they taught before the assessment. For example, setting up tables may seem like a straight-forward task, but there are many variations to consider depending on the occasion. It’s different for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You then have to consider whether it’s a casual or formal setting.

The biggest thing I learnt was how to interact with guests. Because as a Butler, while you need to address their needs and preferences, you must also be conscious of their personal space. The training really helped me learn how to walk that line of being friendly and approachable without being overbearing.

How does it feel to be the first in the world to receive the Academy’s highest possible accreditation – the Diamond Lapel? I definitely felt a huge sense of achievement, especially being the first one to be awarded this prestigious award, among 4,500 other butlers worldwide. I also felt extremely touched and was very appreciative of Josephine Ive, Principal and Trainer at the Magnums Butler Academy, who flew down to personally present the award to me.

Apart from the personal satisfaction, it also made me feel like I had a duty to pass on what I learnt to younger butlers coming into the industry. I try my best to inspire my team, share my experience, and, most importantly, share the sense of fulfilment that this job can give them. I sent three of the butlers in my team for the Academy’s Silver Pin category, and the fact that all three of them received it was all the more rewarding for me.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? Definitely meeting people, which was why I joined the hotel industry in the first place. I think it’s particularly unique for me, because I get to interact with some of the most interesting people in the world – from world leaders to major celebrities.

What surprises you about the hotel industry? When I started out, I knew absolutely nothing about the industry. I was someone who just followed instructions and tried to do my job well. At the time, training opportunities were less comprehensive, it was more like a quick introduction to the work, and then you figure it out yourself from there.

But now, I see so many training opportunities for people who join the industry, from work orientation to skills upgrading opportunities, and it’s a big difference.

Congratulations on winning the award for Customer Service Excellence for hotels at the Singapore Tourism Awards this year. What motivates you to do your best every day? It’s simply because I’m proud of what I do, and I take my job very seriously. Whenever we have guests in the suite, we make sure that they feel comfortable and most importantly, safe. When they check out of our hotel, I want them to remember not just the top quality facilities here, but also our service.

What are some of the challenges you face at work and how did you overcome them? Anyone can put on a butler’s uniform, but not everyone can do a butler’s job. It involves dedication and sacrifice. Sometimes when you’re attached to a VIP, you have to stay in the hotel for weeks at a time, away from your family. So the support from my family has been extremely important. There was once when I had to come back to work on my wedding anniversary, but my wife was so understanding. It’s not easy to sacrifice time with your loved ones, but my family can see that I love what I do, and their support means a lot to me.

How do you ensure that your guests are happy? For me, I try to be sincere in whatever I do and see things from my guests’ point of view. You can understand a lot about someone from even the smallest interactions with them, and that’s how I try to stay on top of what a guest might need.

What has been your most memorable experience in your career so far? Once, a foreign Prime Minister was here and he was due to meet with our Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong. He forgot to pack a red pocket square that he wanted to wear for the meeting, and it was very important to him that he had one. So he asked me if I could help get him one. I thought it would be a simple task, but I walked down almost the entire length of Orchard Road, going from shop to shop and none of them had one! After walking for half an hour, I finally managed to find one and got it to him in time for his meeting.

Afterwards, he was very grateful for the effort I put into finding it for him because he was actually complimented by PM Lee on the pocket square! It may seem like a trivial thing, but I really got to see how going the extra mile for a guest can make their stay here that much better.

Do you have any goals that you hope to achieve during your time in the hotel industry? I’m proud to have achieved my career goal of becoming Head Butler. Right now, I’m happy and contented with where I am and the work I do.

What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Recognise your strengths, and play to them. The great thing about the hotel industry is that there is such a wide variety of departments that almost anyone can find something they’re good at and contribute meaningfully. That’s what makes it a fulfilling career.