As the Covid-19 crisis rumbles on and the damage to the hospitality sector continues to be felt sharply, the daily number of reported job losses makes sombre reading. Those impacted are faced with the prospect of trying to land one of the few jobs available in a highly competitive market or with the task of repositioning themselves for work in another sector. As part of Questex’s initiative to support those losing their jobs in the hospitality sector and in support of the ‘Career Roundtable’ session at the recent AHC Reimagined conference, I solicited opinions and insights from a number of industry colleagues to help look at how hospitality executives can leverage their hospitality DNA, where they can redirect their career, and what obstacles to look out for.
- Frank van der Post, currently President of Atlantic Broadband. Distinguished hotel career with InterContinental and then Jumeirah as COO before joining British Airways as Managing Director of Brands and Customer Experience. For the last 5 years has been in the telecommunications sector.
- Marco Nijhof, currently Group Director of Hospitality & Guest Experience at Value Retail; highly experienced hotelier, formerly CEO at Yoo Hotels, COO at Corinthia Hotels, SVP at Jumeirah.
- Henrik Mansson, a leader in business and culture transformation, former European HR Director with the LVMH group; prior to that in hotels as Head of HR at Moevenpick Hotels, as well as HR leadership roles at Le Meridien and Radisson.
- Simon Tucker-Brown, Managing Director Hotel, Leisure & Travel at psd Group; former hotel General Manager who has subsequently spent the past twenty years as one of the leading experts in hospitality recruitment.
- Jacquie Lutz, Head of Career & Internship at Glion Institute of Higher Education, the world-renowned Swiss hospitality management institution, part of Sommet Education.
- Garry Levin, Managing Director, LHC International, an alumnus of Glion, Garry began his career in hotel operations before establishing LHC International, a hospitality recruiting firm with offices in Berlin and Bangkok.
In discussion with the above individuals one of the core traits of hospitality management that was immediately referenced was the sheer breadth of skillset required. As Frank van der Post put it, “In hospitality you have a very diverse skillset, working with a diverse group of people, as a General Manager you really are a true generalist.” A point echoed by Simon Tucker-Brown who sees, “a complexity to hotels which gives very valuable experience. Hoteliers are able to pull it all together.” The range of activities and relationships that are in the sphere of hospitality give executives a set of skills that, according to Jacquie Lutz are, “highly transferrable. Hospitality professionals are highly competent in presenting and communicating, have excellent customer service and people skills as well as empathy – whatever you do professionally these fundamental qualities are relevant.”
Picking up on the theme of people skills, Marco Nijhof highlighted the fact that, “Hospitality people are sophisticated managers. They are able to manage different platforms and stakeholders at the same time: owners, management company, asset manager, guests, employees, unions etc. The GM profile prepares people very well as generalists who are able to balance the specialisations of different people.”
It is not just the ability to manage multiple stakeholder relationships that is highly characteristic of those in the hospitality world but the diversity of the employee base also helps set them apart. Henrik Mansson notes, “Very few industries have such a diverse workforce (e.g. nationalities, backgrounds, age, education) that work together as a team to deliver a unified service and experience. Inclusion and diversity has been such a given in hospitality for decades. Having this mindset and ability to work very naturally across differences is a strong competitive advantage.” The opportunity to leverage these leadership skills is clear according to van der Post, “Leadership skills are strong, as leaders in hospitality have to work with a diverse workforce and get the best out of them, these are skills which you can use in any industry.”
Experience with diversity is further strengthened by the high level of mobility that those in hospitality exhibit. “We see companies in many sectors that are deliberately seeking out talents who will be very mobile as global businesses need people who can operate in different parts of the world and thereby maintain consistency of service and experience around the globe,” points out Lutz. It is not uncommon in hospitality to encounter leaders who have worked in multiple geographies. That ability to pack up, move to another city or country, to learn a new market, adapt to a new culture, build new relationships, often every two or three years, truly speaks to their capacity for learning, their resilience, and their mental agility. Van der Post adds, “The adaptability and flexibility is very high and I think hospitality people look at things differently, they move around and know that there is a different way of doing things, not just one way.”
This open-mindedness, flexibility of thought and responsiveness extends to how hospitality people excel at getting things done. As Nijhof puts it, “We excel at project management. We are used to having so many balls in the air – menu creation, renovation plan, finding a chef, opening a hotel, marketing, budgeting. . .”. Mansson views hospitality profiles as, “extremely agile, adaptive, reactive, good at having a finger on what’s happening on the shop floor and skilled at balancing relationships with getting the job done.”
There is a sense of urgency in hospitality and people are constantly focused on quality outcomes. There are so many things that can go wrong (burst pipe, burnt dessert, bed bug outbreak) in such complex operations that hospitality professionals are used to thinking on their feet, to putting out metaphorical fires and making things right in the here and now. Juxtaposing his hotel career with his time in airlines and telecoms, van der Post states, “Hospitality people are pragmatic and can translate a need into a solution quickly. I have seen people in other sectors struggle with that. Hospitality people are very results oriented, the customer is there right in front of them and you can’t afford to take time to go away and come up with a solution. They have an actionable, solution driven outlook.”
Of course, hospitality is a service industry, in the business of giving people what they want and need. Now in luxury outlet retail, Nijhof sees the clear benefits of recruiting out of hospitality for his organisation, “As hoteliers, we are totally guest centric, there are very few other industries like that. In hospitality we are only focused on guests and we make money through relationship creation. We are able to have a deep understanding of the guest - we see what they eat, drink, where they go, who they meet etc. We are trained to focus on the guest as an individual. Other industries are focused on other things, we focus on the guest.” This is a view shared by Mansson, who moved from hotels into luxury goods, “Hospitality profiles are typically very customer centric, strong at spotting and reacting to trends and needs; they know how to create and deliver impactful experiences and have a natural way to connect with people. Hosting guests from diverse cultural backgrounds, nationalities and experiences is in their blood.“
The business acumen that those in hospitality bring to the table should not be underestimated. Nijhof states, “In hospitality we get P&L responsibility at an early stage in our career. In other sectors it takes 20 years to get to a position with P&L oversight. We understand the P&L early on in the game and, as a result, we become good business managers quickly.” The general public, raised on the antics of Fawlty Towers, may not always appreciate the complexities of running a hospitality business. However, as Lutz points out, “Nowadays our Glion curriculum is more like a business education and I think the perception that Hospitality School graduates are only suited to managing hotels is changing.”
While I for one do not want to actively encourage people to leave the hospitality sector, at the same time the cold hard realities of the present Covid-19 economy mean that for many, with mortgages to pay and school uniform to buy, there is little choice. How is that transition however and what should one be prepared for?
Frank van der Post, “Moving out of a sector, you leave something behind that you know well, that you could do with your eyes closed, and you step out into something new, which can be scary. I found it hugely energising. The learning curve is so steep and fast that it gives you a lot of energy. I found that in other businesses there is a lot more strategic thought involved. In hospitality it is all about the here and now, the next six to 12 months whereas in other sectors the focus is three to five year plans and roadmaps. For me it was a fairly easy transition into the airline sector and from there into telecoms but I don’t think I could have made the jump straight from hospitality into telecoms so easily.”
“Going into luxury goods,” shares Mansson, “the language shifted and there is an strong emphasis on the product, brand and supply chain. It is expected that everyone in the company (including back office staff) has an in-depth knowledge of how the product is made, production methods, brand heritage and what materials are used – and can articulate this with precision. Coming from hospitality, I felt well equipped and ahead on the experience agenda, putting how you make diverse customers feel at the heart”.
For Nijhof, “I found that the style and taste, the finesse that we are taught in hospitality was something I could leverage into my life in retail. That ‘picture perfectness’ attention to detail and treating each guest individually. Since I have been here at Value Retail I have predominantly only hired from hospitality in order to get those same qualities onto my team.”
When considering a move into another sector it is important says Mansson, “to show learning agility (e.g. that you have successfully transitioned from a role in Rooms to Marketing; from F&B to Sales). Being successful in leading teams and businesses in various countries shows additional agility.” On a practical note, Tucker-Brown cautions, “Be flexible on compensation expectations. Other industries have a higher incentive versus fixed salary approach so be ready for a possibly lower base than you may be used to but a higher bonus potential.”
When it comes to which sectors may be an easier transition than others, it depends to a degree on function. Certain functions such as Human Resources, Finance, Marketing are readily transferrable into most sectors. Tucker-Brown recounts that, “Those in Revenue Management can go into anything in Pricing, for example, someone I know in Revenue Management just left hotels and is now with one of the big mobile telecom companies.”
Many may not appreciate how broad the hospitality sector itself has become over the years. Away from the traditional hotel and restaurant models there are other areas of operating real estate where a similar interplay exists between real estate, operator and guest. For example, co-working, co-living, student housing, senior living, fitness, and healthcare. Tucker-Brown concurs, “Real estate, non-traditional asset classes such as PRS (Private Rented Sector), the build to rent sector where there is a bundling of product and services. Tech and transformation companies, for example lifestyle apps. Hospitality people are great at slotting things together e.g. events, music, food and have a high-level understanding of consumer wants and habits.” To help identify potential areas on which to focus a job search, Tucker-Brown recommends, “There are plenty of people out there, former colleagues and associates. My advice is, identify where they are now and get out and network, network, network.”
At LHC International, Garry Levin has, “seen a strong movement of hospitality professionals into other operational real estate businesses. We have placed people in retail (luxury retail as store managers, centre managers), co-working, serviced apartments, fitness & wellness, property management firms, asset management companies, facility management firms. Also, we see a strong movement into customer support/customer success functions in the service industry (whether its financial service, legal service, but also software startups to build up customer experience).”
The hospitality sector may witness a brain drain over the next year or two but my hope is that many will over time return to the sector and bring with them skills and expertise learned elsewhere that will ultimately benefit our sector and make it even stronger. In the meantime, the hospitality community is coming together as never before to support those impacted by this crisis. As noted above by our contributors, hospitality people have a lot to offer and are capable of many different things. If you are one of those faced with looking for a new job please remember to keep positive, keep exploring, keep talking, keep sharing, and keep going.