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 Dorsett Singapore’s Jessie Khoo-Gan who had started as a Reservations Receptionist. Find out what drives these #LeadersOfHappiness.
#BizofHappiness #Workforahotel #PassionMadePossible
How long have you been in the hotel industry? I have been in the hotel industry for about 29 years.
What made you decide to join the hotel industry?
Apart from hospitality, I was also considering a career in music or law. But I thought back to the times when my parents brought me to hotels for high tea. I liked seeing all the beautiful and luxurious things and I always thought that the receptionists were always so well-dressed, very poised and well put together. I told myself that maybe working in a hotel was something that I could consider.
I also felt that hospitality would suit my personality better because I enjoy meeting and mingling with people. It’s also very flexible and not as rigid as the legal industry, and I had a gut feeling that I would be much happier if I worked in a hotel. So after I finished my ‘O’ levels, I decided to join Goodwood Park Hotel.
How has your career journey been so far? Can you tell us more about the various roles you’ve held – and what you do now?
I started as a Reservations Receptionist. That experience really tested me on how much workload I can handle, and how much stress I can take. There were moments when I asked myself, “Is this the right job for me?” But I enjoyed what I did, so I went on to pursue a diploma in hotel management for two years.
After graduating, I managed to get a position as a Sales Executive. I remember closing my first contract worth about $56,000. I was very proud of the sale, but my senior told me to move on because there were bigger deals out there for me to secure.
Three years later, I had become a star performer and started looking for new challenges. So I went into catering sales and subsequently, MICE (Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conferences and Exhibitions) sales. I was exposed to different types of clients and events, and I learned so much more during that time. I eventually became a Director of Sales and Marketing, where I first started handling revenue management and had my first taste of taking on an intense leadership position.
I was given the chance to become an Executive Assistant Manager (EAM) Rooms and Sales and Marketing after a few years. I had to learn about the operational side of things – housekeeping, engineering, food and beverage, as well as security. There were times when everyone including the management team had to chip in when the hotel was running on high occupancy. That experience gave me an insight to what actually goes into running a hotel.
And now, after a roller-coaster journey, I’m a General Manager (GM). I still love what I do. Sure, there are moments when I get tired, but then I remind myself that this is what I’m passionate about, and that gives me the strength to keep going.
What made you decide to stay on for close to 30 years?
It was challenging, yes, but the challenges I faced were interesting. Different guests had different needs, and it was my duty to find a solution to best meet each need. And with every challenge came an opportunity to turn the situation around, to convert a challenging guest into a repeat guest, for example. It was very exciting for me, so I decided to stay on.
But I was always looking for ways I could do more, to stretch myself. Within sales alone, there are different departments – rooms and MICE sales, reservations, events and marketing communications. Having the chance to try out different things made the work less monotonous, which was why I was able to stay on for so long.
How did you learn the necessary skills to become a General Manager? My time as an EAM prepared me for the GM role, but I drew lessons from all my past experiences too. But personally, I feel like I’m still learning, even as a GM. I’m learning more about the various departments whenever I speak to the chief engineers, executive housekeepers, and security managers who have more experience and expertise in their fields. Whenever we have a problem, we’ll all put our heads together to come up with suggestions or solutions to fix it
What are some important lessons you’ve learnt during your time in the hotel industry?
When I was younger, one of my mentors taught me that no problem is too big. All you need to do is to break it down into smaller, more achievable tasks, and you’ll eventually find a way to overcome it.
Another important lesson is that you have to be able to take rejection and criticism well because you will face rejection many times.
I’ve also been taught that honesty, sincerity, and passion are the keys to excelling in this industry. It’s not always a going to be a bed of roses, but every day is an opportunity to learn and to grow.
Are there any lessons that you impart to your team or the younger staff members?
I understand that the younger generation learn things differently, so I take a different approach from my mentors when it comes to imparting lessons. I don’t expect them to follow every word I say, but there are a few key lessons that I always teach them: Put in a lot of passion in what they do, and to keep an open mind. I also remind them to never set hurdles by telling themselves that they are not able to do something, or dwell on setbacks. I would advise them on how to manage challenges or situations that could catch them off guard. And I repeatedly tell them that they should strive to make every day the best day possible.
Some of the staff I’ve mentored before are now successful individuals and I see them attaining their work goals in their own ways. That inspires the younger staff members on my team today — it’s a beautiful cycle and I am very proud of all of them.
What has been your favourite experience in your career so far?
I have had many exciting experiences from executing the Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore Airshow, and Asian Youth Games but my favourite experience was being a part of the FORMULA 1 race in Singapore. The hotel I was working at was one of the selected caterers and we had the chance to provide delicious meals for the special guests over the three race days.
It was exciting from start to finish. We went through several rounds of food tastings and presentations to make sure that the quality of food was top-notch. The prep work behind the actual event was also quite tedious and my team and I had to work very hard to ensure that we delivered what was promised. But it helped that we had a lot of FORMULA 1 fans in the team who were big supporters of Lewis Hamilton. The excitement definitely gave us an added boost and extra motivation.
Being part of the Asian Youth Games was also a memorable experience. The hotel I was working at was turned into the Athletes Village, housing athletes aged between 14 and 17 from 45 Olympic Council of Asia member nations. It definitely was a challenge, as we had to ensure that all the needs of the athletes were met. That included working closely with a nutritionist to ensure that the athletes were served well-balanced meals during their stay with us.
What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? I would encourage and welcome them to the family, definitely. They should also set a goal for themselves, and a timeline to achieve that goal. That way, they’ll know what they need to do, and when to do it. But most importantly: have passion. Hospitality is not an easy industry to work in, but it’ll all be worth it if they love what they do.