Travelling the world as GM of Hyatt Hotels
Master of Business Administration, General Management
Park Hyatt Beijing
Since beginning his career in a corporate training program at the age of 22, General Manager of Park Hyatt Beijing Paul Wright has travelled the globe with Hyatt Hotels. With over 20 years’ experience in the field, Paul has taken his management expertise and applied to hotels in Bali, China, Australia, Dubai, and South Korea - transforming the way they do business.
Paul explains where the last few years have taken him since completing a Master of Business Management Administration at the University of South Australia, what it is like to move all around the world with a wife and children, and how the economic boom in China has influenced the hotel industry.
Please briefly describe your journey from studying an MBA to where you are now.
Since completing my MBA in June 2009, key highlights have included being appointed Hotel Manager of the Grand Hyatt Beijing in January 2011, and then two years later, my first General Manager assignment to Incheon Korea in December 2012. This hotel underwent a major expansion, adding an additional 500 rooms, making it over 1,000 rooms in total, and also re-branding it to Grand Hyatt Incheon.
In the same year the expansion opened in 2014, I was also nominated as a Global Top 10 finalist for the Jay A. Pritzker Award for Leadership – this Hyatt award recognises general managers from around the world in over 650 hotels who have consistently demonstrated their ability as leaders, coaches, and mentors. They are high achievers leading top performing hotels and are viewed as role models of company values. In addition to my nomination that year, the hotel team was a Global Top 5 Finalist for the Hyatt Thrive Leadership Awards – this award recognises a Hyatt Hotel that embodies the company’s commitment to thriving communities by demonstrating exemplary leadership in environmental sustainability and/or community engagement.
In August of 2015, I was offered the opportunity to return to Beijing to become the General Manager of the Park Hyatt Beijing, a leading luxury hotel in Beijing and all of Asia Pacific. The hotel most recently received a Top 10 Gold List ranking by Conde Nast Traveller, rating it as among the Top 10 best hotels in all of China.
What is the biggest misconception about working in the hotel industry?
That an amazing building, fancy design, beautiful interiors, unique art work, and lots of cutting edge technology makes a good hotel. Location is indeed always important, and these physical aspects I mentioned can for sure make a hotel experience truly memorable and special. However, the most successful hotels are always the ones where the service is genuine and unrehearsed with warm, passionate, caring employees who treat the guests and their fellow colleagues like family, always using empathy. That is the real ‘secret sauce’ for any hotel which wants to create a solid reputation and enjoy a profitable future, with loyal guests who highly recommend it to their own circles of friends, families, and business associates alike. It is what true authentic hospitality is about, just read Trip Advisor and you will understand quickly the point I am making. To achieve this culture and have it alive in a hotel is really hard work and it all starts with the general manager and their leadership team ‘walking the talk’.
How has the economic boom in China had an impact on your work?
The economic boom has seen not just the hospitality industry dramatically change, but all industries. The number of hotels under development by all hotel companies is just staggering and this is not only continuing to change the balance of supply and demand, creating ever more competition, but it has particularly made finding talent very challenging. Hotels are great training grounds to take very inexperienced recruits and build a solid base of skills, especially in customer service and sales. Therefore as other customer service and sales based industries like retail, financial services, automotive, luxury goods, call centres, real estate, etc. all grow and expand, they often come ‘fishing’ for employees in hotels, offering them higher wages and more benefits. Often younger employees, especially millennials, are attracted to try different industries and something new. Hospitality does demand employees to do shift work, weekend work and quite often long hours, so a nine-to-five weekday job paying more is attractive to some who are not that passionate or really 100 percent sure they wish to be in hospitality long term. So due to this boom employee turnover in China, particularly in hospitality, it is high regardless of all the efforts you make to provide top class working conditions, paying well, and providing attractive benefits. With high turnover, maintaining service and product quality standards, and high customer satisfaction in a hotel is indeed a real challenge.
You have worked for Hyatt Hotels in Australia, Bali, Dubai, South Korea, and Beijing. Do you have a favourite country or city to work in?
I can honestly say that there is not one favourite, each have had their own unique qualities and things I have loved and also been frustrated with. In saying that, we had our daughter in Melbourne and our son in Bali, so these two places do have special importance to both myself and my wife.
What’s your biggest achievement?
From the age of 12, I decided to become a hotelier and that dream has come true, allowing me to live and work in so many fascinating places, and to live a ‘global life’, continually experiencing and learning from the many different cultures I have been exposed to. It has made me such a different person, and it has also allowed my wife and two children to experience the same. So I am not most proud of any one thing or event, but more of the journey and where it has brought me today, the person I have become, and how I see my children benefitting from such a lifestyle and upbringing.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
Not when it comes to building and developing my career, being a long serving loyal Hyatt employee, and taking the opportunities as they arose. However, I am a passionate snow skier so if I look back on things maybe taking a gap year between completing my undergraduate degree, really committing myself 100 percent to my career and commencing my corporate training program immediately with Hyatt at the age of 22. It would have been great to go on a working holiday and work in the ski fields of Canada, USA, or Europe, even if just making coffees or pouring beers in a bar, while enjoying some skiing on my days off. Something like that would have been really fun, I think, and also a great life experience.
By Keir Hale