Hotel director has room for views

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am

Jean-Jacques Reibel has more than 30 years' experience managing some of the world's finest hotels, and now oversees the InterContinental Hong Kong. As managing director, he has been the visionary and driving force behind the renovation of all 495 guestrooms, including the creation of 'Asia's most spectacular presidential suite' and the launch of the highly acclaimed Nobu restaurant. In his 24 years with the group, he has worked at InterContinental properties in Washington, DC, Miami and Paris. While stationed in the United States, Reibel took the chance to develop productive partnerships with a broad spectrum of leaders in business, the arts, government, charitable organisations and even the military. He talks to Jan Chan.

What characterises your style of leadership? I'm very approachable, and willing to listen and learn from my team. I also understand that they may need support and guidance from me, so I go out of my way to provide that. At the same time, I'm very demanding and make it a point of ensuring that details are correct and standards are consistently high.

Every day at 9am, I have a 45-minute executive meeting to review the business and keep up to date with what's going that day and the next.

Our industry is very much about people and service. That's why I talk to guests on a regular basis to find out what they expect and if there are any ways we can improve.

I also believe that, as a leader, you must be able to change course rapidly. So, if you made a decision yesterday and things didn't turn out well, you should rethink it immediately and change without delay.

Which aspects of being a senior manager do you most dislike?

Being a senior executive, you have to be very honest if you want to be respected. However, in some cases, being honest is not always as easy as it should be. For example, if someone is not ready for promotion, you have to find a way to explain that without causing the person to lose heart or become unmotivated. You have to take the time to explain the situation and then work together to overcome areas of weakness and help the person reach their goal the next time around. Sometimes, telling people where they are going wrong is difficult. You need to be very compassionate, but very honest at the same time.

What is the secret to building a successful team?

There are thousands of books on management in libraries and bookstores. However, I believe you can't really learn about this subject just by reading books or listening to various business gurus. You have to get out, observe, talk to the people around you and make them feel involved. To build a good team, you also need to be humble, have a genuine interest in helping others and be a positive example for the people working with you.

Which period has been the toughest in your career?

It would have to be when I was working in Washington, DC, after the 9/11 attacks. It was a human tragedy and, at the same time, terrible for the hotel business because occupancy rates dropped to levels we didn't think possible. Our hotel was located next to the White House and it was undoubtedly a very challenging time for all of us.

What advice do you have for graduates interested in the field? They should be willing to travel the world and work on as many continents as possible. That is how they will learn about different styles of management and come to understand that what works in one place may not be suitable in another. Of course, it is also the best way to meet people from other cultures, something which benefits everyone, no matter what their profession. The experience helps you choose the right partners and the right people.

Good listener

Reibel believes that a good leader must be responsive to employee expectations

Emphasises the importance of career development and team building

In 1995, he established the Hotel InterContinental Miami Ball to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation, raising over US$8 million and helping of terminally ill children