Leon Larkin
Leon Larkin, 72, a refugee from the 1950s, has worked as a general manager for 35 years in 10 countries. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: As a child of war and a refugee from the 1950s, Leon Larkin has come a long way. An Australian national of Russian origin settled in Dubai, the 72-year-old’s journey is a gripping story of resilience and survival.

“My father was a stateless prisoner of war in Europe but we ended up in Australia on New Year’s Day in 1950 when he was assigned to the infamous Moore River Native Settlement under the 10 Pound Migrant Scheme, The commissioned migrant ship we took from Naples in Italy to Freemantle in Australia after travelling by train through the tunnels of Switzerland nearly sank. The food was terrible, the sea rough, yet we made it,” recalled Larkin, noting how those early years were enough to toughen him for life.

Considered the go-to man for hotel general managers now, he might just make you wonder where’s the connection.

I have lost my job twice. It’s tragic when you have a wealth of experience and suddenly nobody wants you.

- Leon Larkin | Refugee-turned-hotelier

Larkin, a hotelier who has worked as a general manager (GM) for 35 years in 10 countries, said, “I have lost my job twice. It’s tragic when you have a wealth of experience and suddenly nobody wants you.”

But it’s the same qualities of resilience and survival that have held him in good stead. And thanks to a support group he has started, other GMs in the hotel industry too are benefiting.

Larkin said globally, the hotel industry has among the highest staff turnovers. “Just when you think you are all settled, cross 50 with kids in university and family used to a certain lifestyle, you can lose your job overnight. That can be devastating. So it is critical to be able to look after your own welfare.”

For precisely this reason, Larkin launched the world’s first global members’ association for hotel GMs in Dubai in 2016. “I learnt from my experience that hotel GMs can be let go very easily. Some companies stop valuing people with experience because they are more expensive and come to be viewed as a threat. There is no tenure for hotel GMS and they can be fired for various other reasons ranging from change in management and internal reshuffles to economic slowdown and unfortunate circumstances. But they lack any kind of independent support network, which is what I am trying to offer.”

He said he prepares executives to manage themselves by encouraging them to take up health insurance policies, retirement and savings plans, housing and educational options independent of what their jobs offer them. “I negotiate with insurance and other companies to get the best deals possible. I also advise members on negotiating with their companies to get lumpsum compensation packages so they can buy their own policies and plans, lease out homes on their own etc. I also provide tips on career management, networking and best practices.”

Larkin said he receives at least one email every day from someone who has lost a job and wants help. “As we speak, I know of at least 20 jobs where hotels are looking to recruit in different parts of the world. So it helps to stay connected and build networks.”

Talk of nurturing relationships takes him back to his early days as a refugee. “I have very strong views on migration. In the past, immigrants made a conscious effort to assimilate wherever they went. Today, that is not the case. There is lesser acceptance too,” said Larkin, who as an immigrant is also credited with founding Australia’s famous State of Origin football series.