Grow with the World – Jeanette Robson

Jeanette Robson, our Global Director of Learning, has been with Shangri-La for a year. Let’s see the keys to career growth and the excitement of role.

How can we create an environment where colleagues may achieve their personal and career goals?

This is all about everyone having a true desire to help others grow.  A great way to do this is by coaching, which is quite different to managing or supervising.  Coaching helps people discover their own answers and solutions and they learn a lot more this way.  Most people believe that the perfect combination for career growth is having an encouraging boss, great training and hard work.

 How do you think training will evolve in the future?

Technology opens up so many exciting opportunities.  Mobile technology will let us offer learning opportunities that are easily accessible and time effective.  Millennials who are entering the workforce now are likely to have experienced an interactive, discovery based education, and they will expect their professional training to continue in the same way, with fun and stimulation built into every course.  Training should work hand-in-hand with an organisation’s business goals so when these change, training’s areas of focus will also swift accordingly.

Is that an Aussie accent you have?

Yes, although I was born in Northern Ireland, I was brought up in Australia.  My English husband (who dislikes every Aussie sports team there is) and I came to Hong Kong 16 years ago.

Jeanette

What excites you most about joining Shangri-La?

Shangri-La’s legendary reputation for providing our customers with hospitality from the heart can be traced back to the passionate hoteliers who have operated our hotels since 1971.  As we continue to grow, a new generation will take over responsibility for this reputation. Our learning curriculum will play a big role in replicating the Shangri-La DNA over the coming years.

The Best Friend – Raymond Teo

It’s been nearly a year since Shangri-La Hotel, Shenyang’s General Manager Raymond Teo joined the hotel. We spoke with him about his career with the group and being a hotelier in China.

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You have been operating hotels in China for several years now. What is the biggest challenge here as compared to your experience in other Southeast Asia countries?

The hotel industry everywhere is a very volatile one. We are affected by political situations, government policies, air travel prices, bad weather conditions, and even volcanic ash in the air. There will always be challenges when we are working in a hotel.

Over the past 10 years, the growth of supply in China has surpassed the growth of demand. Given the increased competition, the biggest challenge is to maintain our superior competitive edge. The customer today knows that he or she has a variety of choices in any city in China, and with the Internet and social media, pricing is very transparent. We need to focus on providing our guests a consistently high overall stay experience, each and every time. This is the reason why Shangri-La has been rated the leading hotel company in China time after time.

You started as a Management Trainee and your career with Shangri-La spans over two decades. What makes you so attached to the company?

When I was presented my 20th Anniversary certificate, I told my team in Shenyang, “I cannot remember why I joined the hotel industry 20 years ago, but I am very glad that it was with Shangri-La.” Shangri-La is a company which is growing and with that comes ample opportunities. Many of my peers today have also become Corporate Officers or General Managers in Shangri-La. I suppose when all your friends work together for so long, and you form a strong support network, there is simply no reason to look elsewhere. Shangri-La’s philosophy – “Hire for Attitude – Train for Skills” has always been my criteria when I am interviewing others as well. The end result is a company filled with great colleagues who do a great job.

 How have you and the company changed over the years?

I have been given many opportunities over the past 20 years, and with every new position I have learnt new things. I am grateful for the chance that was given to me and now I try to give many of our colleagues opportunities to grow as well. Over the past 30 years in China, Shangri-La has evolved along with the times while still maintaining the high standards that many have come to expect. “Think Global, Act Local.”  Shangri-La has managed to respect the local cultures in every city which we operate. Over the last 20 years in the Company (and maybe I am getting older), I have come to appreciate all the simple things in life, like having lunch in our Colleague Restaurant.

If you had to name one most memorable moment in your career so far, what would it be?

The most memorable time in my career must be 2003, when I was in Beijing during the outbreak of SARS. The hotel occupancy dropped to single digits and that made me realize how vulnerable we all were. Today, we are better prepared for any crisis that may come along. Of course, Beijing was also my first posting overseas, and that was also the first time I drank “Bai Jiu”(white wine). That was memorable, but for obvious reasons I cannot remember much of the dinner where I was introduced to that drink!

What advice would you give to the younger generations who are pursuing a career in our industry?

I believe that it is always possible to carve out a successful career in any industry, and it is the same in the hotel industry. This is an exciting and rewarding industry, where you will never have a dull moment. It is also the same reason that the friends you made while working for a hotel will stick with you for life. My advice to all youngsters who want to give hospitality a try:  (1) be patient, (2) learn to enjoy your work and (3) make lots of friends.

 

Concierge of the Year – Colin Toomey

Since 1995, Colin has been greeting guests and making their journey great at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney. He is a consummate professional and was awarded the well-deserved prestigious title “Concierge of the Year” at the Hotel Management Awards.  In this interview, he shared with us how he has been able to excel in his role for almost two decades and told us a heartwarming story at work!

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Congratulations for winning “Concierge of the Year”! How do you feel about it and can you share your secret in winning such a prestigious award?

It was a great personal honour winning the award but more importantly it demonstrated the support and commitment that Shangri-La has for the Concierge profession. For myself and my colleagues to be able to provide the highest level of Concierge services to our guests, we obviously require the necessary resources and training. Shangri-La has always recognized the importance of having an experienced and dynamic Concierge Department in the lobby and I think that in receiving this award we have justified the time and effort that has gone into building a very strong team.

You have been with Shangri-La for 21 years! What motivates you to stay?

Unlike some other positions in the Hotel the role of Concierge is very much dependent on the relationships you have built up over a long period of time. Working for a prestigious hotel group, such as Shangri-La, has allowed me to develop a wide network of contacts which in turn makes it easier for me and my team to provide the very best of service to our guests. I’m not sure if I would have had that same opportunity elsewhere. Having been with the property for so long, I also feel a real attachment to the people I work with. I am only one of a number of long serving employees here in Sydney and over the years you develop a special bond with these people. It is also very rewarding to be recognized as the “Face of Shangri-La” and that comes from having been an integral member of our front line team over so many years.

In your opinion, how did Shangri-La develop or change over the years?

I think one major change has been our focus on welcoming and caring for our guests like family. It is one thing to provide friendly and efficient service but to take that to the next level and really embrace the concept of family is something quite unique. It is also a much larger hotel group now than when I first started. There has been considerable growth over the last few years which is very exciting for us. With this expansion comes an opportunity for colleagues who would like to further develop their careers in different cities and countries across the world. I have had a number of colleagues from Sydney who have been lucky enough to travel overseas to continue their development with Shangri-La Hotels.

Can you describe how you have been able to utilise your talent at Shangri-La?

Working on a busy Concierge Desk certainly has its challenges but that is what makes the job so appealing. Because of the varied nature of the role I have to have an intimate knowledge of our city and that I think that comes from experience. I like being organized and that is definitely a prerequisite in managing a large department. I’m constantly learning in this role as well so being receptive and inquisitive is also quite important and something that I’m very conscious of. Developing the younger staff in my department is also quite rewarding and something that I enjoy a great deal.

 What makes you proud of being a part of the Shangri-La family?

Shangri-La Hotels are recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious hotel groups so it gives me a great deal of pride to be a part of the team. Because we all share a common goal of being the very best we can I think it builds a unique bond amongst our colleagues which is quite special. Apart from working closely together there is also a wonderful social aspect to being a part of the Shangri-La family and that also brings us closer together.

Being a Chief Concierge you must have many stories to tell. Can you share with us one of the most memorable stories at work?

I have had the pleasure of dealing with some very interesting guests over the years and some of them leave an indelible impression on you. Only recently I had a young Spanish couple staying at the hotel who required some special attention. The couple was on their honeymoon but just prior to arriving in Sydney the husband injured his leg quite badly in a horse riding accident and was hobbling around on crutches. What should have been a joyous occasion for them was marred by this terrible inconvenience and they were quite despondent. I sat down with them on arrival and we carefully revised their itinerary to include as many activities as possible given their circumstances. I was able to book them on a helicopter joy flight, a private harbour cruise and even a special wheelchair tour in the Sydney Opera House. Rather than limiting their opportunities we explored options they had never even considered. Through creative planning I was able to turn their pessimism into optimism and they left Sydney with renewed vigour and some wonderful memories. For me that was one of the most rewarding guest experiences I have ever been involved in.

Technology Pioneer – Edward Malinowski

Edward Malinowski joined the Shangri-La family as our Chief Information Officer.  He told us about his vision on technology and his journey with us so far.

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It is easy to get caught up in the hype of new products and technologies. What are your considerations when aligning Shangri-La’s technology roadmap with the overall business strategy?

This is a tricky area.  Technology can be seductive, and for some, “newest & fastest” carries an allure greater than gold.  Even worse is the temptation to grab an emerging technology and attempt to build a business strategy around it; the tail should not wag the dog.

I like the word “roadmap” because it conveys a very literal and appropriate image.  The strategy should begin with a question – “what business problem am I attempting to solve”, or perhaps, “what would I like the experience to be like”.  In map terms, this is the destination; it is the place we circle that we are attempting to reach.  Technology’s role, then, is to figure out how to get from where we are presently to where we want to go in the best fashion possible.  It is the mode of transportation, and its implementation strategy is the route we are going to take.  Continuing this analogy, as technology is ever-evolving, new and faster forms of transportation will appear; some of these may be vastly better than what we used before, and some may be inappropriate for the places we wish to reach.  The key is to remain focused on the destination, and ensure that we are always looking for the most advantageous means to get there, not the “newest” one.

It is worth pointing out that there are cases where a piece of technology can spark ideas, concepts, or approaches that had not previously been considered.  Transformative concepts are like that, they create ripples throughout industries far removed from their source.  These are extraordinarily important and should be carefully considered, but again wrapped in the context of “what do I want the experience to be like”, and not embracing a technology simply for the sake of having it.

The efficiencies allowed by new technologies may mean replacement of humans in the process. How do you think this will impact the hospitality industry?

This phenomenon is called “technological unemployment”, and while it is certainly true that efficiencies gained through the use of technology can impact the number of persons required to perform a given task in a set period of time, it does not necessarily have to mean the replacement of humans.  Each time we implement a system which adds efficiency, we free up some measure of a person time to do something else. Ideally, that person could do something which the current state of technology would find very difficult to do.  As we know, there are lots of those sorts of things in the hospitality industry.

At Shangri-La, we talk about “hospitality from the heart”, and it sits at the core of everything we do.  Machines today are quite remarkable, but they cannot (yet) empathise, they cannot feel, they cannot identify the unique needs of each guest and know the best way to offer genuine care.  Automated service may be exceptionally consistent, but it is entirely without soul.  Where technology best meshes with hospitality is not in seeking to replace humans, but instead, in delivering the right information via the right tools to our colleague at the right time, so that in that “actionable moment” they can create something magical for our guests.  Done well, new technology in hospitality does not mean replacement of humans; it means enablement of them. (That said, when the technological singularity does finally occur, I will be among the first to welcome our new robot overlords.)

What are the technology trends you see in the next five years?

I love questions like this because they assume that technologists have crystal balls, and they fail to take into account just how long a time five years is in technology.  As a simple example, five years ago this April the very first iPad was released.  Think about that for a moment.  Every iPad that has ever been has only existed in the past five years.

Several years ago I was asked a similar question, and I cited three major technologies as being the ones which would shape the world over the next decade: 3D printing, unmanned vehicles, and augmented reality.  Already today you can have nearly any object you can imagine cast out of a variety of materials (including edible ones!) in mere minutes to hours.  Drones (both amateur and professional) are becoming more common in our skies, and are responsible for amazing camera footage as well as delivery of pizzas in Russia and candy bars in Hong Kong, while the testing of unmanned cars continues on our roads.  Augmented reality exists today in the form of select mobile applications, but promises to make a big leap forward later this year when Microsoft unveils the HoloLens.

Beyond developments in these areas, you should expect to see continued evolution of wearable computing devices.  Today, even the most advanced of them is fairly limited by objective standards, and eventually, I think the line between “smartphone” and “wearables” will dissolve, perhaps with a series of different components (e.g. a special eyeglass, earpiece, and wristwatch replacing the smartphone).  Fitness and general health awareness will continue to move into the technology space, with more diagnostics being able to be performed at home, their assessments backed by extraordinarily powerful computer farms.  Our identities, including authorization and payment information, will also become intertwined with technology, with the expectation that the world around us simply recognizes these digital fingerprints without presenting to us any artificial barriers.  Lastly, social interaction will also move further into the tech realm.  As social creatures, I’m not certain this one is entirely to our benefit.

Which part of your job excites you most?

It’s no secret that I’m a geek and highly passionate about technology.  What I love the most about my job, however, is getting to apply that passion in the creation of a memory for one of our guests.  Creating a memory isn’t about putting some shiny gizmo in someone’s hands or setting off a bank of blinky lights; it’s about listening to the hundred and one things that guests said about themselves without ever having spoken a word, and setting things in place so that what they never even dreamed was possible happens for them, almost as if by magic.  There is a tremendous amount of effort that goes in to something like that, and let’s face it, technologists are not typically good at “subtle”.  But the challenge of it all, and the feeling I get when I know someone will always remember the experience they had at one of our hotels because of something I contributed to… that’s priceless.  Having the opportunity to be a part of a moment like that is what thrills me the most about working for Shangri-La.

Her Sustainable Life – Yui Ku

We are delighted to welcome Yui Ku, our Director of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability, to the Shangri-La team. We had a chat with her about her enthusiasm for CSR and how she lives a sustainable lifestyle.

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What inspired you to pursue a career in relation to CSR and sustainability?

When I was an undergraduate student, my internship with an emissions trading company involved in buying and selling carbon emission credits demonstrated how businesses can potentially contribute to the common good while making profits. This experience got me interested in finding out the crossovers between doing good and making money for different types of businesses, hence a career in relation to corporate sustainability.

 What is your role in Shangri-La’s CSR efforts?

I see my role as twofold. Internally, I’m looking at how Shangri-La can increase positive impacts on communities and on natural environment, and meanwhile reduce our negative impacts through initiatives such as resource efficiency and waste reduction. Externally, I would like to ensure that our CSR efforts are communicated to our stakeholders in sincere and effective manners. The ultimate aim is that our stakeholders, such as guests and NGOs, recognize, support and cooperate with us on CSR.

In the last decade companies have been increasingly committed to operating responsibly and sustainable, but do you think the efforts are effective enough? How do you see CSR 10 years from now?

In terms of corporate sustainability, there was a gradual shift from a pure philanthropic approach of volunteering and donating to charity, to looking internally at opportunities to enhance the sustainability of business operations. A trend of evaluating and communicating sustainable performance through impact measurement has also emerged in recent years. Typical examples include measuring cost savings achieved through energy efficiency projects and positive changes happening to the beneficiaries of charitable projects funded by corporate donations.

In the next 10 years, I foresee the gradual fading out of the word CSR. There will be sourcing products made from sustainable materials or factoring in a social return on investment (SROI) into investment decisions, will become an integral part of business operations. In this way, businesses move towards full implementation of the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

 Outside of work, what have you done to live a more sustainable life?

Taking public transportation whenever possible instead of taxi, separating recyclable waste from non-recyclable ones at home, using LED light bulbs at home, and donating all unwanted clothes to charity / recycling companies are among some of the sustainable practices I’ve adopted. From a mental perspective, a sustainable life for me is about maintaining the balance between a peaceful mind and the desire of wanting to achieve more in life. To maintain the balance, I attend events about Social Innovation, participate in volunteering activities, and go to dance classes. Recently, I started practicing yoga breathing, which helps restore a sense of peacefulness within a short time.

 Which unsustainable behaviour are you most embarrassed about?

Oops, this is a good question! Born and raised in the northern China city of Tianjin, I fly home several times a year to visit family, and contribute to global warming by generating carbon emissions along the way. To reduce my environmental footprint, I take an overnight train back home when time allows. Otherwise, I try to offset the additional carbon emissions by supporting good emission reduction projects.