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 China. Currently 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 up 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 in the mainland and joint ventures with Japanese catering companies. Holder of a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism management from Sydney’s Macquarie University, Chan also has an MBA and is now working towards his doctorate at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He talks to Jan Chan.
Which parts of the business give you 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 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 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 discussing 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 personally 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 job. That was one of the most precious lessons. Today, I always try to give colleagues the chance to pick up new skills and different experience by encouraging them to move between departments and learn as they go.
How do you deal with criticism and setbacks? You must face things positively, review what you’ve done, and avoid repeating the same mistakes. When we receive complaints from guests, I always try to think about things from their perspective. That helps to avoid bias and makes it possible to solve problems more smoothly. I encourage my colleagues to do the same thing.
How do you get the best out of individuals working for you? As soon as I joined the company, I looked to strengthen the training programmes and make them more systematic. We set up new procedures and standards, and hired a training company for their specialist knowledge and input. Also, we organise a large-scale training programme every year to ensure colleagues keep learning and, next year, I plan to offer some courses myself in order to be fully involved.
What are your main objectives in your current 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, 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 re-branding. I’m currently working on that topic for my PhD 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 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.
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