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Leadership Lessons
Always room for improvement
Wong Yat-hei
update on Saturday, October 15, 2011
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When you have spent 30 years in one field, you are considered to be something of a veteran. But Aouda Tam, director of housekeeping at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, where she has worked since its 1981 opening, approaches each day with the mindset of a newcomer.

"I guess this is why I remain so passionate about [my work]. My motto is `perfection in every detail' and [my philosophy is to] make guests' comfort and satisfaction the first priority," she says. "Everyday, I come to work with the mentality that there is always room for improvement and there are new challenges ahead," she adds.

Tam started her hospitality career as a housekeeping clerk. Like most job seekers, she was unenthusiastic about it. "Cleaning is a job that nobody wants. Most people have the impression that cleaning rooms offers few prospects and that the brightest opportunities are at the front desk or in communications. Housekeeping was never my first choice. I joined by chance," she says.

In 1981, Tam was working as a sales executive for a food company but wanted to find work at a hotel, having graduated in Britain with a degree in hotel management "The hotel had just opened and was offering many jobs. My first choice was in accounts. But when I arrived for the interview, I was told that the department head was busy but I could interview with housekeeping. I was offered a position as a housekeeping clerk and decided to give it a try," she says.

With an eagerness and capacity to learn everything - from doing the laundry to painting the walls, Tam soon found herself excelling. "I don't really have boundaries for myself as in, 'These are the things that I am responsible for, and these are the things I am not.' When there's something I don't know, I ask. I guess it's this spirit of doing more for less that's helped develop my career."

Tam's positivity and proactivity caught the attention of her superior and in 10 months, she was promoted to supervisor. Twelve years later, she became director of housekeeping.

Despite her success, Tam is disappointed that housekeeping draws little attention among the young.

"I have not had a single job application from a fresh graduate in five years. But I can promise that the opportunities are there if you are willing to work hard for them," she says.

"With hotels booming in Macau, demand for housekeeping personnel is sky high. If youngsters are willing to spend a few years as housekeepers, cleaning rooms, and then be promoted to supervisors, the future is really bright. There are regular calls from Macau offering generous salaries for housekeeping management positions. If you stay focused and passionate, you'll be successful," she adds.

Since most youngsters are unwilling to work in housekeeping, most of Tam's staff are females in their 30s who have families to support.

"Overnight shifts are tough for them, so I make sure that everyone has the same number of [such] shifts. Things are tough but everybody has to go through it, and we go through it as a team," she says. "I consider fairness to be the key to successful management. Patience is also a must. I spend time explaining things to my staff and consoling them when they are upset because I want my staff to be happy. A happy team is the foundation for excellent service," she adds.

Tam notes that the female majority typical of today's housekeeping staff differs greatly from 30 years ago.

"Back then, the job was done mostly by men - women were a minority in the workforce. But things have changed. Many people don't agree that men and women are equal in the workplace but, from my own experience, I think the voices of women are respected," she says.

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