Working your way up to general manager of a hotel property takes years. General Managers usually have to have experienced almost every job in a hotel, whether it’s a kitchen job, as a bell boy or in housekeeping. The top of the hotel industry however doesn’t always have to be a job as a GM, you can run your own hospitality management company, to advise and work with hotels to achieve their goals.
This week Gulf News sits down with two successful Hoteliers in the region, Nader Halim, the Cluster General Manager for four Hilton properties in Ras Al Khaimah and Bani Haddad, Managing Director of Aleph Hospitality.
1. You have to live and breathe hospitality
Nader was one of those people who knew at a young age that his future would be in hospitality. Bani on the other hand didn’t know he would end up in hospitality, but once he dipped his toe, he never looked back.
Nader: “I always knew I wanted a career in hospitality, I had many friends working in the field and they got me excited about it. I studied Hotel Management in Cairo in university.
Bani: As a student, I didn’t really have a clear idea of the type of job or career I wanted to pursue. The natural path, influenced by "generally accepted professions in the family," would have been to become an engineer or a doctor, but a professional career in hospitality management was definitely not the norm. Growing up in Lebanon, hospitality jobs were not very highly regarded and there were only a couple of hospitality schools at the time, but these focused primarily on vocational skills as opposed to hospitality management.
I was, however, attracted by the opportunities for international exposure the hospitality industry offered and a few months before I graduated from high school, I attended a hospitality show in Lebanon. This is where I met a French gentleman who was the director of a renowned Parisian hospitality college and he gave me great advice that influenced my career decision. He recommended that I spent a year working in a hotel before enrolling into a hospitality management course to make sure I really liked the industry and that’s exactly what I did, and I never looked back.
I did both my Bachelor and master’s degree in hospitality management; I completed my bachelor degree at a French school and then pursued my hospitality MBA at IMHI, which was a joint MBA programme between Cornell University and ESSEC.
2. It takes a while to feel like you are truly part of the industry, but once you are in, you’re in
Nader: I started working after graduation and I would say it took me around 2 years to break into the industry, but I started to feel as a part of the industry as soon as I started signing deals in my first job in sales and marketing.
Bani: My first couple of jobs were secured through networking and personal contacts I had in the hospitality industry. I started right after graduating from college in 1993.
3. Networking, is with no surprise, very important in hospitality
Bani: As is the case in most industries, networking with decision makers is key to a successful career. Unlike many other professions, I believe the hospitality industry has particularly strong growth opportunities for hard-working and ambitious young professionals. There are countless stories of individuals who started their career as a waiter, bellboy or cook and went on to become successful hotel general managers, corporate directors and CEOs of hospitality groups. The hospitality industry is also fairly unique in that you have the opportunity to explore different jobs across a wide variety of departments; from operational roles in front office, food and beverage and housekeeping to the more administrative functions such as finance, human resources and sales and marketing. In addition, the hospitality industry offers great geographical mobility opportunities allowing you to travel and gain valuable work experience across countries and cultures. I have always felt though, that in order to benefit from all these unique advantages the industry offers, networking is an important enabler.
Nader: Networking is one of the key areas in hospitality. Meeting people from inside and outside the industry and building relationships can only contribute to the success of our business, and every business relationship should be a win-win.
4. You have to wow them in your interview
Bani: When I had my first formal job interview, I already had a few years of operational experience, which made the application process a lot easier.
One of the most important aspects of being interviewed for a job, is to understand what your potential employer is looking for. I always made sure to research the company before I had an interview and tried to speak with employees, and where possible with people that worked directly with the person that was going to interview me, to learn and understand as much as possible about the business, the role and the company culture prior to the interview.
Nader: I looked at several hotel chains, applied online, and it finally clicked with one of the big international hotel chains for a role within the sales department. I stood out by being honest about my experience, being myself, and always making sure my career aspirations were very clear.
5. Spend your younger years experimenting in the industry with different jobs
Nader: It is crucial to work on developing yourself, to read a lot, learn new things and at the same time to try to have fun and spend quality time with friends and family. Be prepared to work hard, invest a lot of time to work on areas which need to be developed or improved because nobody knows you better than yourself.
Bani: I would recommend finding a mentor that can help you advance your career by giving you the right exposure, coaching and advice throughout your career.
Also, don’t start your career by counting your work hours and be prepared to fully engage; it will only show your dedication and sense of responsibility. The hospitality industry is a 24/7 business and working hours can be long, but your career can be highly rewarding if you immerse yourself in the industry. Don’t be afraid to take on smaller jobs and projects for shorter periods of time, it is important to gain experience and insights into as many aspects of the industry and its operations as possible.
Lastly, if at any point in your career you don’t feel passionate about this industry, quit immediately. Your skills are highly transferable, but passion is key to a successful career in hospitality.
6. The good and the bad
What are the hard parts about your job?
Bani: Given the geographical spread of our business and the importance of face-to-face meetings, extensive business travel is unavoidable. Finding the right balance can be challenging, especially with travel taking time away from home and family life.
Nader: The long working hours are one of the hardest things in hospitality, as well as managing all stakeholders.
What are your favourite parts about your job?
Bani: There are many! If I had to choose a few, I would say building new business relationships, discovering and learning about different cultures in the destinations we do business in, and seeing people progress and advance in their careers are the most rewarding parts of my job.
Nader: Meeting people and developing relationships is my favorite part. But I also believe real success is being able to successfully lead an enthusiastic team, which is a core part of Hilton’s brand values.