Persistence key to long-term success

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am

Sheraton purchasing manager saw the need to continually improve and has done so for 30 years

Bucking the trend of job-hopping after one or two years of working, Lillian Hui Lai-ha, purchasing manager for the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers, was recently presented with a long-service award for her 30 years of service.

She was among a group of other long-service associates recognised by the hotel at a ceremony held in August.

She joined the hotel in 1977 as a reservations clerk and is the longest-serving associate at Sheraton Hong Kong.'There were many jobs available in 1977 in Hong Kong, but I always wanted to work at a five-star hotel, and working in the reservations department was an excellent way for me to deal with different levels of people internally and externally.

'It was also a great way to learn the overall system of the hotel,' she said.

In 1979, Ms Hui was preparing to leave the hotel for a bigger challenge when a secretary role in the purchasing department opened up.

She eagerly took the position because while she was ready for more responsibility and was prepared to look outside the hotel, she felt a deep desire to stay with the Sheraton due to the personalised, attentive care that it placed on the well-being and development of its staff.

To cope with her new position and to develop her skills, Ms Hui took several secretarial courses after business hours, and the hotel provided constant encouragement and support.

She also learned a lot working with the purchasing manager and the assistant purchasing manager and, when they were away on business or on leave, she was able to step into their roles with confidence and determination.

She has also been creative in her learning methods. 'About half of all purchases in the hotel business are related to food and other consumables, so I walked around our kitchen to see what was being used. And then I walked around some stores to see what they had on offer and what they were selling. I also did quite a few exhibitions and tonnes of research.

'I basically immersed myself in gathering as much information and knowledge as possible by all means possible,' she said.

For her efforts, she was promoted to purchasing manager in 1990, a position which she holds today, though on a more developed level.

In a testament to the adage 'the only constant is change', Ms Hui recalled several changes and developments which the hotel had undergone, especially in its food and beverage outlets.

The hotel started with a simple cafe and western-style restaurant. Various restaurants have been added over the years and Ms Hui continues to develop and grow with the hotel.

Even last-minute projects have been fertile grounds for learning. One example was in 1997 in New York. Due to some last-minute changes, an event, which would normally take about six weeks to put together, had to be completed in just three weeks.

This included the design, decoration, equipment, tableware, chinaware and various other materials. There was also a significant amount of work to be done in terms of suppliers and logistics.

Ms Hui and her team pulled it off, receiving accolades from management and from those who attended the event. But one of her biggest joys came from 'learning about logistics and crisis management together with a fantastic team'.

Out of her desire to continually enhance her skills, she took a professional purchasing course at the Hong Kong Management Association and received a professional purchasing diploma three years ago.

She attributes her success to several factors. She reports directly to the managing director of the hotel, which gives her a sense of responsibility and accountability.

She has also received tremendous support from her immediate supervisor, colleagues and team members, and she has developed relationships built on trust and communication with them. And there is her seemingly unquenchable craving to keep learning and developing. But perhaps the most critical element is the ability to adapt. The hotel business is ever-changing as dictated by competition and the demands of clients.

Moreover, unlike buyers in other industries, a hotel buyer is responsible for an enormous array of goods including consumables, stationery, amenities, equipment, uniforms and vehicles.

While this creates an exciting environment, it is also hard work. Her advice to today's working generation is: 'Work hard and be patient. But, most importantly, find something you are interested in and truly enjoy. Then focus on being the best you can be in that field.'