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April 13, 2011

Taking the lead

Hotel Management International talks to three general managers about the challenges they face as part of their job, how they deal with them and what leadership skills they think are necessary to survive in the 21st century.

By cms admin

Nikki Broom, general manager at the Scarlet Hotel, Cornwall

"Self awareness is the greatest asset for any general manager (GM) in the 21st century. To arrive at a place where you are comfortable with whom you are and where you are going in life, ensures you are better equipped to cope with all the challenges that being a GM can bring.

"It’s important to recognise that the role is about leadership and the ability to deliver what a team needs from their leader. It’s also important to recognise that making mistakes is an essential component in making progress, and that by allowing yourself and others to do this, will result in better long-term performance. An ability to actively listen, not just to what people say, but also to what they are feeling, and then being able to act on the information received is also important to the role.

"I would describe my managerial style as inclusive. I have learned that the best results are delivered when teams are encouraged to contribute ideas and influence decisions and direction. This way, the commitment to making things happen is stronger and more effective. It takes practice though and more time. Occasionally deadlines can pressure us into taking shortcuts, but I have generally found that this makes it harder to deliver results in the long run.

"Guest satisfaction means everything to me. If the guests are not happy, it means we aren’t getting it right and they won’t have the confidence to recommend us. We see every guest as potential ambassadors for our brand, so without their active support, we will not be able to sustain the business. I have moved away from putting the guest first though, by putting the team first. Doing it this way, and the rest tends to follow naturally. If things do go wrong though, taking the time to fully understand what went wrong and how we can avoid it happening again is never a waste of my time.

"I’m a democratic leader, and try to use the strengths and expertise of our team members to come up with better ideas and solutions."

"It’s essential the next generation of managers comes from within the industry. To work on producing the next generation of managers, you need to concentrate on your people.

"As humans, we are happier when we have a sense of progress in life. By concentrating on trying to deliver this to our teams, they will do the same, so there should be a constant stream of people progressing through the ranks.

"Identifying the skills needed for each step of progress is important, and people must grasp these before being allowed to move on. In the 1980s and 1990s, many in our industry did not take this into consideration, so many people were promoted before they were actually ready."

Coen van Niersen, general manager at Aloft Brussels Schuman

"Being given the opportunity to open the first Aloft hotel in Europe was an exciting challenge. I still remember walking into the building for the first time. It was a concrete shell with no resemblance to a hotel. We opened our doors in September 2010, and it was thrilling to see how everything came together in such a small period of time.

"I’m a democratic leader, and try to use the strengths and expertise of our team members to come up with better ideas and solutions. Although, I must admit I am a strong driver by nature as well. I like to move forward and get things done.

"In hotels today, when there is a problem, guests want it to be fixed as soon as possible, and then move on. The GM’s ability to make sure the hotel employees have the right tools to do their job is vital. The modern-day GM also needs to be able to understand today’s traveller. Knowing what makes them tick is the key to a successful business.

"More often, travellers prefer an inspiring environment, space to move around in and the ability to connect with friends, family and work, 24/7. Therefore, services such as free internet, easy connectivity and activities to enable guests to interact with each other are very important to them.

"I think the new-generation GM doesn’t necessarily need to come from a traditional hospitality education background. Why should a good director of a large supermarket or other mid-sized business not make the step into hospitality? The infrastructure is similar and although they would need additional training on certain aspects, this is not something that cannot be overcome.

"When it comes to innovation particularly, I think we can learn a lot from other industries."

Kevin Kelly, general manager at the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

"We’re very busy at the moment – actually, it’s a mad house. The interest in the hotel is phenomenal. We’re finding social enquiries, weddings and dinner dances in particular, to be coming in, in unbelievable numbers. The hotel has been much awaited and with its location, direct access to St Pancras International station, and the history, we’re inundated.

"I have a consultative approach. I also like to be approachable and to have the right balance with staff members."

"The St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel is a Grade I listed building and the seventh most important site in the UK as judged by English Heritage. This was one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe when it was built in 1873. But there hasn’t been a hotel operating here for 85 years.

"It has been great to move here from the Marriott, Grosvenor Square and do an opening for such an important property. We’re aiming to bring luxury back to the hotel. This is a five-star deluxe hotel, and it’s one of our flagships in Europe. It has butler service, one of the best spas in London, and two restaurants, one of which is headed by Marcus Wareing.

"I have a consultative approach. I also like to be approachable and to have the right balance with staff members. A GM needs to know what motivates the staff. They need to be happy doing their job because if they’re not, that affects the guests. I’m guest focused in every way.

"I think the quality a GM that needs to succeed in the 21st century has changed over the years. In the past, it was more important to concentrate on the day-to-day operation. Now, although that’s really important, it seems that hotel GMs need to be accountable to the hotel owner. A lot of private investors have hotels today, and they want to get involved and discuss the running of the business and the future. It’s much more about managing an asset."

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