Art of communication learned well in hotelsSchool Days

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

It was my mother's father who was a key inspiration for me during my simple and healthy upbringing in a Swiss village near Zurich. Ours was very much a traditional family with mum staying at home keeping house while dad was a pharmacist.

My grandfather had grown up in a mountain village, the son of a farmer and one of 10 kids. But at the age of 17, he'd left Switzerland to learn French in Paris. By the time he was 20 he was living in Casablanca in Morocco and then he moved on to become a chef in Cape Town, South Africa.

I liked the fact he was an adventurer and loved to talk to him when he came home, listening to all these fascinating stories from far-off lands. In fact it was to rub off on me in that I decided, like him, to go into the hotel business.

Up until then I'd found school too traditional in that my teachers were almost an extension of my parents and had a lot of authority. It wasn't uncommon, if you broke school rules, to have a ruler rapped on your hands and it hurt.

Once we tied someone we didn't like to a tree and threw apples at him. I received a slap in the face for that and learned my lesson swiftly.

One favourite prank was called tipping cows. Cows often fall asleep standing up, so we'd suddenly push them over, much to their surprise.

I wasn't academically inclined - couldn't be bothered with stuff like algebra so my marks were diabolical - but I did enjoy the more creative elements. I was more into history and subjects about which I could use my imagination and to which I could apply my life. I was, I suppose, a thinker. I'd also read happily for hours, especially about foreign cultures and countries.

In the 1960s we didn't go to university the way people do now and if you didn't know what you wanted to do by the age of 12 or 13 it could be a bit of a problem.

I, however, knew what I wanted to do. My father was a little shocked about me wanting to go into the hospitality industry but he accepted it and suggested I go to hotel school. But in the end I started an apprenticeship beginning as a kitchen hand in a hotel.

The first day I was put on the vegetable-peeling machine and I thought it was fantastic. Later I went on to waiting tables, where I learned how to communicate, and then on to the front office.

From then on I worked my way up, with my Japanese wife's support, becoming front office manager then branching off into food and beverage management in as diverse places as Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila. Eventually, I was offered the plum job of general manager at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, which was a wonderful experience and a pinnacle in my career.

Afterwards I worked for 10 very enjoyable years with the Hutchison group on the hotels side but I decided I needed another challenge, so I set up on my own. I'd accumulated all this hospitality experience and realised what I could offer was a training concept that addresses the challenge of the lost art of communication.

One of the biggest problems in today's world is technology because it's made us lazy communicators. Previously, you went out and met people and made contacts but now if you don't want to call someone, you SMS or e-mail them.

This has created a huge gap in people rediscovering the simple art of communicating with one another. I've found when people stop communicating, they lose their confidence, which pushes people further and further apart, especially in today's fast-paced environment.

SPICE Coaching came out of all of this - the word, spice, standing for Sparkling, Passionate, Inspiring, Credible and Engaging - and offers the best solutions to combat and win life's battles. My book, Live Life with SPICE, explores the subject in an easy to read form.