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Leadership Lessons
Triathlete hotelier shifts gears
Rex Aguado
update on Saturday, November 26, 2011
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After 23 years in the hospitality industry, Robert Hauck has finally decided to chuck his business suit. No, he’s not quitting the sector. Instead, he’ll be shifting to a more casual sartorial approach to lead Thanyapura, which bills itself as the world’s first temple for the body, mind and spirit.

Spread across 23 hectares in Phuket, the complex includes a sports and fitness facility for both elite athletes and amateur enthusiasts, a cooking school and day spa, a visual arts studio and a performing arts centre. The “campus” includes the Thanyapura Mind Centre, the Phuket International Academy Day School, the 38-room Thanyapura Retreat, a 77-room resort, and the five-star Thanyamundra Organic Resort.

The job assignment is a perfect fit for this triathlete, sportsman and 23-year hospitality veteran, whose stints covered Pudong Shangri-La in Shanghai, Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, Island Shangri-La Hong Kong, and the Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia.
Interestingly, Hauck is a relative late-bloomer in the hospitality industry, having served in the army after finishing high-school in his native Munich and dabbling in law studies before finally realising – at a ripe old  22 years (at least  by hotel industry standards) – that he really wanted to be a hotelier.

When did you know that you wanted to be a hotelier? 
When I was a young boy, I always wanted to be a hotelier, but some of my early career choices meant I took a little while to get there. Many friends of my parents owned hotels or restaurants, and I always found it fascinating how successful they were with hard work, dedication and passion.

While I was studying law, I was offered an apprenticeship at one of the legendary hotels in Germany, the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich. Most of these apprentices were around 15 years old, and I was 22 at the time. I learned everything about the business from the ground up.

What academic courses or training did you have to go through?

I attended a hotel school in Ecole Hotelier Montreux.  I have also done   many management programmes, such as the course for general managers at Cornell University in the United States and management studies at Guelph University in Canada, and e-learning courses with Cornell.

How did you end up in Asia? 
I have always been a fan of iconic Asian hotel brands, such as Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La and Raffles, and have always dreamed of working for these companies since I got into the business. I was lucky enough to end up in Shanghai in 2001 where I worked for Shangri-La. I also have been lucky enough to work for some great companies in great cities, such as Mandarin Oriental and the iconic and legendary Raffles Brand as general manager.

Asian hospitality is a special brand in itself and I have always found the strong family culture rooted in Asia a major part of the success of brands such as Raffles, Mandarin Oriental or Shangri-La.

My key goal as a manager is to have a happy, motivated and an engaged family of staff and employees. Our colleagues want to play an integral part in the overall success of the company and we achieve this by giving them a sense of ownership and unconditional support in all their undertakings.

What changes have you seen in the industry? How did you cope?

Not that long ago, there was a lot of a talk about the large global hotel chains merging with or acquiring smaller hotels. I think one of the changes that went against this trend is the demand among travellers, both for business and leisure, for small intimate places – a boutique hotel or experience.

This has changed the way we have to manage hotels, forcing us to go back to the basics of being a hotelier – and it doesn’t matter which city you are in. Now, it is about getting close to the guest and employees again.

What key leadership lessons have you learned from these challenges?

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world – you have to manage and operate with respect, integrity and honesty, whether you are dealing with guests or staff.  You have to be adaptable as well.  People are hungry for leadership when issues arise, so as a leader, I like to be able to bring my skills to the table and carry out the resolution process with clarity, consistency and transparency.

What’s the concept behind the Thanyapura Sports & Leisure Club? 
We like to think of it as a campus where people can come and get the best out of themselves, whether it be body, mind or soul. We started with the goal of providing the very best of everything, such as our aquatic centre, 900 square metres of gym, track and field, our academies for rugby, tennis and triathlon,  our Brazilian Soccer School. 

We have extended this with our Thanyapura Mind Centre, where we explore sports, meditation, and Buddhism practices. The founder is a German entrepreneur who turned Buddhist many years ago and is committed to philanthropy.  He built this complex for everyone – amateur athletes, professional sportspeople, incentive groups or anyone wanting to join a family-friendly club for some exercise.

Was being a triathlete a factor behind your appointment and your decision to take it on?
Well, I can say it didn’t hurt. I was amazed when I first came here to see the extent of the project and the dedication that has gone into it. I love the triathlon, so I really do get the best of both worlds here. I get to work for a facility that is unrivalled in Asia and I like to train anywhere between 10 and 12 times a week.

How will this new job be different from your previous roles? 
I won’t be wearing a suit to work for the first time in 21 years.  There won’t be much difference in management style, as my role and goals will follow the same philosophy.

What does the Thanyapura concept mean in terms of the direction of the industry?

This concept does not exist anywhere else in the world at the moment. We want to make this concept a strong Asian brand and then take it out to the world and this is the vision of our founder as well.

What kind of people would you be hiring to manage and run Thanyapura?

This is one of key challenges as we are and will need to hire many different people representing many different disciplines. We want to hire people with passion and who share our vision for taking this concept and brand to the world. We will need some people from the hospitality sector, but we will also need people with experience in the different sports we offer. Our training programmes are tailored to the department each person will work in, but we will always be encouraging our staff to make use of the great facilities we have here as well so they are living the brand and not just working for it.
 
Do you see this concept going international?
It is certainly our intention to take this concept to the world as an Asian brand and this is also the vision of our founder. This industry certainly has the available talent and motivated people to take this concept forward. I have no doubt about that. What we are doing at Thanyapura will have a positive impact on the industry. In fact, I believe it will enhance it by creating new concepts and benchmarks. Our staff not only have a job they like – their job is actually their hobby. How much better can it get? You get paid for what you like to do most.

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