Julian’s career began with the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, United Kingdom in 1987 where he was 1st Commis Chef. From there he continued on to work in diverse locations including Germany, France, Qatar, Nigeria, Saint Martin, Georgia and Bahrain. An accomplished chef, he led multinational culinary teams in state banquets for several world leaders, often personally crafting signature dishes at high-profile events. Now, Julian is the General Manager of Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort and a mentor to many hoteliers through Marriott Mentorship program.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running your hotel?
If I had to choose a couple of words it would be ‘People’ and ‘Consistency’. We are in the ‘People business’ and with more and more people looking to travel and experience, discover the world, we sometimes struggle to understand the cultures of different nationalities and their habits. We as people also do not act fast enough when markets change, we were still serving noodles even after arrivals from the China market dwindled. Our menus were for a long time in French or German despite having few of those nationalities at the hotel and more guests from Russia.
Our people - and that includes me - were still focused on having French and German speakers in our team because we believed these markets would return to their previous numbers. We had Russian classes when Chinese should have been taught. We as a people create our own problems and are sometimes a little slow in reacting. Markets change suddenly and we have now learnt that to survive we must be very agile and change quickly - or we will miss the last bus.
‘Consistency’ is a word we would all love to have in our lives. This is the second challenge and I believe the most difficult. The busier we get the better we become. Our focus becomes laser sharp. I like to be very honest and direct; I wish that when times are slow we could still focus with the same intensity as if we were busy. When you look around a restaurant and need something and you see a few employees chatting in the corner when the place is empty, this is what keeps me motivated to find a way to solve this very common problem.
Can you tell us a bit more about your 'mentorship' program that you joined? How did you get involved and how does it help others?
It’s a voluntary program which Marriott has rolled out to have experienced managers raising their hands to support and mentor our high potential employees. These are associates who could at some stage need advice on a hotel discipline that is not their strong point or just a person to turn to if they are struggling with a certain aspect of their career. As mentors, we are not there to judge them nor chase them when assignments are due. Our propose is to provide support when they need us.
I have been very fortunate in the past to have had some great leaders who took me under their wing as to say and helped me reach my potential. They have seen something in me that I didn’t see in myself and gave me challenges that have opened my mind to new ideas and different ways of doing business. I have been coached to be more mindful of my actions and thoughts. I have benefited from this and I want to pay back what I have been given. Hopefully do the same for my mentees, in return for this I ask only two things: One is to not be afraid to fail but to learn from failure - the second is to be a mentor yourself when you have reached your potential and help others as I have. I am grateful to have seen this and it is satisfying to see people grow in their lives.
You are into human development - What do you see lacking in our people in the industry and how can we change that?
The first area of concern which resonates from all the hotels is the lack of graduates who see hospitality as a career but rather as a stepping stone into something they believe is much more ‘respectable’. Unfortunately, hotels have a reputation for long hours, low pay and little perks. Secondly, overall English-language communications skills. Knowledge of a second language opens up a vast opportunity to anyone to move from one location to another.
What's would be classed as a 'great day' for a Hotelier on the beach?
My favorite part of the job is to be able to leave my office and look at the most beautiful beach on Phuket. Especially during the high season where I ‘help’, well that’s what I call it but the employees might have a different word for it. That is ‘helping out’ at the Beach BBQ right next to the beach gives me the opportunity to meet many of our guests during lunch. If missed them at breakfast, this is where I receive the most comments about the services of the hotel. Good or bad, I do tell them to send “only compliments to the GM, and complaints over to my assistant”. Only joking of course!
What's your advice for young hoteliers or those who want to work in hotels?
We are in the service industry and do not work traditional ‘bank hours’. We work strange and long hours. The pay and benefits might not be your expectation, and during festive holidays we continue to work whilst others play. However, every day is different. We have fun, meet great guests from all over the world, we create lasting memories, build great friendships and take care of each other – I wouldn’t change it for a second!!!