A guest's smile means so much

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am

A well-respected veteran with 28 years in the hospitality sector, Romain Chan has worked for international hotel chains including Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Shangri-La, everywhere from the United States and Japan to the Philippines, Vietnam and the mainland. Now group general manager for Miramar Hotel and Investment, his first job in the industry was as a security guard, but hard work and diligent study made for a rapid ascent on the career ladder. Besides overseeing the group's hotel, food and beverage, and retail business in Hong Kong, Chan also takes charge of development projects on the mainland and joint ventures with Japanese catering companies. The holder of a master's degree in hospitality and tourism management from Sydney's Macquarie University, he also has an MBA and is now working towards his doctorate at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He talks to Jan Chan.

Which parts of the business give you the most satisfaction?

As long as guests are satisfied with our services, I am satisfied too. I particularly enjoy meeting people from different countries and backgrounds, which is easy to do working in this sector. Sometimes guests take the trouble to write a complimentary letter or express appreciation, and those words are always a great source of encouragement and motivation.

What do you regard as your strengths as a leader?

To be a good leader, you must be decisive, calm and focused. It is also essential to look for new solutions and plan for the future. Personally, I am very hands-on but also understand the need to empower managers so that they can handle things independently.

Since I've been working with many of my colleagues for quite a long time, the style of leadership doesn't need to be too formal. These days, I enjoy having a coffee with the managers and find it is easier to chat with them rather than discuss things in the office. If people feel more relaxed, things are more open and the problems may just solve themselves.

Having been in this sector for more than 20 years, starting at the bottom, I can say I understand the jobs and functions of every single department. When something goes wrong, I can easily spot the problem and identify the cause. It is very important for a leader to have a clear picture of how the company operates.

What kind of training have you found most beneficial?

All my former bosses were great teachers. They gave me a lot of opportunities - of course, they also worked me very hard - and allowed me to try my hand at different kinds of jobs. That was one of the most precious lessons. I always try to give colleagues the chance to pick up new skills and different experiences by encouraging them to move between departments and learn as they go.

What are your main objectives in your present role?

Our company used to be quite conservative and, in general, it has developed quite steadily. However, I think we can be more aggressive and achieve higher goals. Doing this will create more career opportunities, making it easier to retain existing talent and attract young recruits.

As an example, we are planning to double our number of restaurants and, next year, we may open a new hotel in Hong Kong. I believe there is scope to double profits in a year or two with the help of new initiatives and rebranding. I'm working on that topic for my doctorate thesis. I've been doing a lot of research and can see exactly what our company can do.

What advice do you have for graduates who are interested in the field?

They should have a passion for the service industry and enjoy working with people. This is a tough business, so they must be willing to work hard and to learn. However, it is very rewarding when you see smiling faces and talk to guests who appreciate your work. The best payback is when guests start to become friends and you know they will come back every year.

Honesty pays

Chan makes a point of regularly greeting and talking to customers to hear their feedback and opinions

He believes that being honest with staff is an important quality for any manager

He is always willing to share his knowledge and experience with colleagues and likes to be a mentor