Basic Fundamentals: Passion for success, discipline and continuous improvement (2012)

From the very beginning of my career, I learned the importance of being passionate on all what we plan to do in our life, on being disciplined in our works and in the importance of continuous improvements for self and for the organization. I strongly believe that those are the fundamentals for continuous career advancements and for business growth regardless of the industry one is in but in particular with the ever changing trends within the hotel and hospitality business.

I learned to be passionate at very early age when growing up in a farm close to the small town of Castignano (AP) within the Marche Region along the Adriatic cost of Italy. At that time I observed the passion, the dedication and care that my father displayed to his wine farm and to his fruits and olive trees. With that guidance, I gradually become passionate in my work and in what I wanted to achieve. Displayed passion and practiced hard work on all what I did, passion for creativity and passion for success. (From my father I also learned a very important and practical saying “Nothing is free in this world”, how true this proved to be…)

I also believe on the importance of discipline and in being disciplined in all what we do. Personally I was fortunate to be exposed to a very strict discipline during my 3 continuous years in a rigorous Catholic Franciscan Monastery; Mass at 6.00 AM every morning, in class by 7.30 AM, observance of silence when not in class and a lean-spartan living. Talking about formation and discipline, this was absolutely the very best and it has remained instilled in me providing great help and direction in my first career as a manager first and then as a leader.

Passion and Discipline are the driving forces for continuous improvements that are critical to both personal & career advancements and of course to the prosperity of the business-organization. It is clear in our industry that Passion and Discipline inspire others to follow and do their best, at the end, ours is a labor-intensive business and we need commitment from all our colleagues. I strongly believe that complacency is a very dangerous bad habit in any industry, including hotels, that caters to the personal needs of clients like sleep (what we sell) and food that we serve. Trends are changing very rapidly, Managers and Leaders in the Hospitality Business have to continuously respond with constant improvements.

Simply cannot afford complacency in our business and unfortunately, we have seen this many times in the past.

My introduction to hotel life started in the small-family running Arlecchino Hotel in San Benedetto del Tronto, a summer beach resort not too far from where I lived. I was so proud to be accepted as part-time worker during the Summer school breaks and did a bit of every function in the small hotel: porter, waiter, bar helper, dishwasher, receptionist, collecting products from the food market etc…they were very long working hours but interesting works and did enjoy it.

For some reasons I felt comfortable within the hotel environment and after attending a few specialized courses on hotel business, I embarked in this industry and have stayed in it for more than 48 years.

At that time, the objective of most of the young hotel workers was to get as much experience as possible. Sometimes we had to work for free in order to get accepted in “famous” establishments. I clearly remember my short stint at the Savoy Hotel in London where my net pay for a 14 hours working day, 6 days per week was six pounds sterling per week, even though my basic cost of living in London was nine pounds sterling per week. A great experience in all senses giving a clear desire to learn more and advance.

At the start of my career, Switzerland was the epitome of quality and was considered the best training ground in hotel business (now replaced by Asia in general as there are many more new interesting products developed within a number of cities around Asia) and of course with a number of colleagues, I spent two years in Switzerland, the winter season at the Grand Hotel Kurhaus in St. Moritz and the summer season in the Lugano area. The Swiss hoteliers demanded strict obedience, hard work-long hours and full knowledge of your duties, no margin for error which was a great learning experience and instilled discipline; a strong discipline that demanded continuous learning-self improvement and most importantly absolute respect toward customers.

As an enthusiastic and passionate young man with big ambitions and dreams, the desire and curiosity was to go far-away places to acquire additional experiences and after a short search I found myself working at the Coral Beach Hotel in Bermuda as restaurant captain then at the Caribbean Club in Grand Cayman at the front desk, and consequently as Catering Manager at a new hotel in Toronto. I always had strong a desire to learn as much as possible and had no problem spending all my savings for learning & development purposes. While I was working I enrolled in a correspondence course with the Lewis Hotel & Motel Management School in Washington DC and in addition I found ways to attend the hotel school at Cornell University summer courses for 3 years where I met lots of interesting hotel professionals from all over the World, and had a great time. I always regarded Cornell University as the pinnacle of hotel education and I went back there in 1999 to attend its compact Advanced Management Program (highly recommended to any hotel top executives-leaders).

The desire for continuous learning and improvement has given me great worldwide industry knowledge and experience. Before joining Shangri-La International, I did work in more than 20 hotels in 12 countries on 3 Continents.

Hotels-Companies that I have worked for includes the former Adelphi in Singapore, The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, then Americana Hotels in North America, and 15 very interesting years with Westin Hotels and Resorts in Korea, Mexico City, Tokyo & others. Last position with Westin was as Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific based in Singapore and Managing Director of the Westin Stamford and Westin Plaza, a 2050 room hotel complex.

I worked very hard in all those fine establishments, learned a lot from great professionals that I respect and made lot of friends across the World.

Can say that I stayed “on course” with passion-discipline and perseverance. I was not afraid of my shortcomings and was always thinking how to improve and on what will take next in particular on managing-accepting innovations. I did contribute in every situation as this is the only way to keep learning. Learned that whatever you create must be tangible. I did pursue the desire and drive for market leadership at all times and of winning. I also realized that winning is not making the other person lose but to stretch yourself to your own limits as this will help to realize the true extend of your potential.

Significantly, I had the very valuable exposure with over 15 ownership structures (Hotel Owners & Shareholders) and I found it very interesting to look back at many like-dislikes, characters and expectation of each owner. Ultimately, a good bottom line, asset appreciation and share value is what an owner wants but some of them have very strange ways to go about trying to achieve those objectives. Some are very supportive in setting directions but some are not and unfortunately for them they are in some cases even disruptive especially when it comes to consistency, positioning, setting of prices, brand-quality and over-reacting to short term market changes. Unfortunately, for some unknown reasons, many hotel owners tend to manage by controls and cost cuttings, and that is a big mistake especially when it is combined with bureaucracy. Hotels should be run-operated by revenue, by market share, positioning in the market place and by consistency as those are the very basics of continuous growth. As professional hoteliers, it is our duty to advise, and in some cases, to guide owners in making correct strategic decisions to achieve the desired results year after year.

Looking back at my career, sometimes I regret not having started my own hotel group. I have been able to generate top profits for many owners-groups that I worked for and I could have done-achieved similar thing for my own company…..but time has gone by……and in some way I regret it.

As a European, it has been very interesting to have been exposed first to the traditional European way of operating hotels, Italy-England-Switzerland, then to the North American approach and presently to the Asian entrepreneurial ways. I have enjoyed working in this industry and I am satisfied with what I have achieved. Of course it has not been easy, the industry requires very long working hours and little for personal and family time, on many occasions not easy to balance the situation.

I must say that I am fortunate to have a very supporting and understanding spouse that in order to support me and move with me in 12 different countries around the World, she had to give up her own career (now at “Art of living Instructor” in Stress relief responsible for the Korean chapter). No matter how well you plan a move-relocation to another city-country, there is no easy way about it and it takes its toll. Happy to see that our son Kevin, who studied Economics and become a qualified Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) in London at the young age of 24 and now an Insurance & Financial Executive based in Hong Kong, is practicing similar “passion and discipline” in his job and career.

Looking back now, the priority in life should be: “Health-Family-Job” in that order, unfortunately, many times we reverse those priorities and that’s no good in the long term.