It is not where you start, but where you finish. In this special series, four hotel industry veterans share their climb from entry-level rank-and-file positions to be General Managers today, including Furama RiverFront Singapore’s Kent Law who had started as a Housekeeping Coordinator. Find out what drives these #LeadersOfHappiness.
#BizofHappiness #Workforahotel #PassionMadePossible
How long have you been in the hotel industry? 25 years.
What made you decide to join the hotel industry in the first place? When I was younger, I was deciding between two career paths – to become a Graphic Designer, or to enter the hospitality industry. When I dug deeper into what the hospitality industry was like, I saw that there were more opportunities for me to excel and grow. In fact, it was a good choice for me because it’s a people-driven business, and I’ve always liked being around people.
And then you stayed on for 25 years and counting! What kept you going? I had set career goals for myself that I wanted to achieve. My target was to become a department head by the age of 30, and to be a GM by 40. With those goals in mind, I just kept working and learning until hospitality became part of my DNA. I fell in love with the industry, to the point where I found myself talking to my friends and family about my work, my team, and my brand with such pride and passion. That was how I knew that a career in hospitality was the perfect fit for me.
How has your career journey been so far? Can you tell us more about the various roles you’ve held?
I started with Westin Stamford & Westin Plaza(now known as Swissotel Stamford and Fairmont Singapore respectively), as a Housekeeping Coordinator. It was tough to answer 200 to 300 calls and queries a day, but I persevered and was promoted to Housekeeping Supervisor after six months.
Together with a team of supervisors, we were responsible for planning of the manpower and quality checks of Housekeeping Department - all of the 2,045 guest rooms. Then, I moved to a few different hotels and eventually became the Executive Housekeeper at the age of 28 at Novotel Apollo Singapore.
Two years later, I was given the opportunity to join the Front Office Department as Front Office Operations Manager. I spent the following two years learning more about front office, and eventually became Front Office Manager at age of 32. From there, I took up the roles of Rooms Division Manager, then Hotel Manager, and then here I am as a General Manager (GM).
What was it like, switching from Housekeeping to Front Office? I definitely had a lot to learn. I took the time to be cross-trained in different sections of front office, exposed to revenue management and worked closely with the Rooms Division Manager to learn more about front office operations. Thankfully, I also had a lot of support from the owners of the hotel, so I had plenty of room to grow and thrive.
How did you pick up the necessary skills to become a General Manager?
I picked up most of the necessary skills on the job and through exposure from all the different roles that I had taken on during my career. For example, the exposure to the Front Office department taught me how to interact with people, handle difficult situations and an understanding of revenue management. Those skills came in handy when I became the Rooms Division Manager.
As a Hotel Manager, I was given opportunity to manage several of our overseas properties. That gave me a chance to interact with the local people there and see hospitality through their eyes. From my overseas work experience, I’ve learned how different cultures work and how they approach hospitality, lessons which I apply to how I run my hotel today.
I guess you can say that I learnt something every step of the way, and each lesson shaped me and helped prepare me to be a GM.
What other lessons have you learnt during your time in the hotel industry?
Having started from the bottom, I’ve learned two important skills that has shaped who I am now– empathy and humility. I understand how difficult my staff members’ work is, so I do consider these factors when making decisions as a GM. Also, my knowledge of the various departments through past experience helps me make more informed and impactful decisions. It’s always important to remember where you came from and to stay humble as a leader.
Over the years, I’ve also developed a personal motto: “Be curious and be willing to do more.” Be it by working harder, learning more or just simply by staying curious and asking questions, I told myself that if I keep doing more, my knowledge base will improve and the rewards will come with a bit of luck too.
So I read a lot – books about leadership and self-improvement. I try to keep up with trends, especially when it comes to technology and innovation. You can’t deny the fact that the automation of business processes significantly reduces the time taken to manage and perform operations. Hotel technology plays an important role in developing hospitality businesses.
Are there any lessons that you impart to your team or younger staff members? One of the most important lessons I try to impart is to always ask, “Why?” I always tell my staff members, “Before you do anything, ask yourself why you’re doing it.” Because when you understand your motivations, you become more committed to it. Then you’ll find the strength to give it your all and do the best you can. That’s how you will grow.
What has been your favourite experience in your career so far?
I think it’s having the ability to make an impact in the hotel industry as a GM. For example, I’m trying to implement more technology and automation in our processes. Even so, I make sure to take care of our staff members and ensure that people continue to learn, cross-train and upskill themselves to stay relevant.
Take our security team for example. We’ve actually halved the required manpower of our security team since we started automating some tasks. We’ve transferred the remaining staff members and trained them for new roles in other departments where they can better make use of their strengths.
Do you have any goals that you hope to achieve in the future? I want to improve the Furama brand, and help it become known globally as a hotel group that originated from Singapore, one that offers the “Singapore’s efficiency” into the service and hospitality industry.
What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? The industry is not as old-fashioned as it used to be. You can advance in your career in a much shorter time frame. And there’s so much room for you to explore and try new things within the industry. Just make the best of your opportunities, and you’ll definitely be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour.