Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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MICHELLE LI

HUMAN RESOURCE AND TRAINING MANAGER

THE CAPITOL KEMPINSKI HOTEL SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? I’ve been in HR for 10 years, but I’ve been working for almost six years now in the hotel industry.

Tell us about your career journey. I started working when I was quite young, first at McDonald’s when I was 14. I worked there part-time for five years. I worked on the operations side, which later helped me to understand a hotel’s “behind-the-scene” activities.

After I graduated from college, my first full-time job was in a trading company as an HR Officer. I was there for three years and enjoyed it, but because I was still quite young, I wanted to explore other industries that are more fun, where I could see myself staying in for a long time. When an opportunity to work in the hospitality industry came up, I decided that it fit the bill.

Since I moved to this industry, I was also able to explore another interest that goes well with my interest in HR: Training and development. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I began my HR career. Last year, I decided to take that passion even further. I took a WSQ Advanced Certificate in Training & Assessment course on my own. Just as I was completing the course, I was contacted for an opportunity to be Kempinski’s HR & Training Manager. That’s when I thought “Alright, I’m ready!”

What was it like when you first joined Capitol Kempinski before it opened? It was my first time being part of a pre-opening team for a new hotel, and it was extremely exciting and challenging. As part of my job I helped to search for and hire the hotel’s first employees. This is the first Kempinski hotel in Singapore, so it’s very new in the market. We needed to make sure that every staff member properly understands and represents the brand in order to stand out in the market.

Tell us more about role and your day-to-day responsibilities. My role here is a hybrid of HR and Training, which focuses on the development and well-being of employees.

For the HR side, my responsibilities include hiring new people, getting them confirmed and “on-boarded”. I make sure that we take care of our people by providing them with everything they need to perform their jobs well – from uniforms and meals to team-bonding activities, and many more.

A big part of my time is dedicated to training the staff. I have a team of Department Trainers, and we work closely together to run on-the-job training. A hotel wouldn’t be able to shine or show its charm if its staff members are not properly trained. Whether it’s gaining an entirely new skill or upgrading an existing one, staff members are given opportunities to learn and grow. Regardless of age or role, learning doesn’t stop in this industry.

What do you enjoy the most about your job? For me, training is about grooming the next generation – it’s about sharing what you’ve learned from your experience and passing it on. You can’t learn that in school or from books, but is something you pick up while on the job. To be an effective Trainer, you need to honestly believe in what you’re teaching. It’s a ripple effect: it starts with me, to the Department Trainers, and then to the rest of the hotel staff. When staff members deliver that exceptional professionalism, it gives me the greatest satisfaction that I could ever hope to get as a Trainer.

In HR, I find a lot of satisfaction from successfully matching people to a role that suits them. The industry has very diverse roles, so anyone can fit right in. Sometimes, I come across candidates who don’t know what kind of career they want. Usually after talking to them, I’d be able to see how and where they’d fit in the hotel and recommend career paths that they can take. Seeing them succeeding in their roles and moving on to bigger ones, I feel satisfied knowing that I’d helped uncover their passion.

I find this industry very fascinating Every day, you see something interesting happening in every corner of the hotel. I get to meet people from all walks of life, from fresh grads to experienced mid-career switchers. There is also a sense of community when working in a hotel. All our jobs are intertwined – when a team needs help, we’re always there for them.

How does your job contribute to creating happiness for the hotel guests? HR is like a hotel’s matchmaker. During recruitment and selection of candidates, I look for the right people for the hotel with the right attitude. I always believe that you can teach skills, but you cannot train attitude.

In Training & Development, you need to make sure that staff members are given the right tools and guidance to succeed in their job. There is an equal chance of failure if I hire the wrong people, or if I don’t give them the right tools to do their job.

If I achieve all of these, only then can staff members truly enjoy what they’re doing. Because when they like what they do, it shows in their work and how they treat the guests. We’re in the Business of Happiness because we want both our staff and guests to be happy.

What are the goals that you hope to achieve while working in this industry? One of my greatest goals at the moment is to make sure that the hotel stands out from other hotels. I want to hear guests say, “When I come back to Singapore, I want to stay at the Capitol Kempinski.”

What advice would you give someone who wants to join the industry? You need to have a passion for this industry. One of the great things of working in a hotel is being able to spread that passion to others, and meeting people who have that same passion as you.

Also, build your foundation right. There are plenty of opportunities to be promoted in this industry. But if you climb up too fast without investing in building a strong foundation for yourself, you will struggle over time. There are successful hotel General Managers who had started as Bellmen, Waitresses, Concierges and so on. If you’ve experienced what it is like to work at that level, you will make better decisions for the hotel when you are eventually in management positions. If you want to go far in hospitality, don’t be afraid to start small.