Career Path

Buying into a hospitality career

by Nicolette Wong

Benjamin Cheung
area purchasing manager
Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong
Photo: Wallace Chan
The job of a purchasing professional entails much more than pricing, negotiation and sealing the deal, it's a diversified career filled with challenges, satisfaction and fun. "Purchasing isn't just about buying. It's about finding the best quality options at the most reasonable cost, which will benefit the company in the long run," notes Benjamin Cheung, area purchasing manager, Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong. "It calls for research, well thought-out strategies and foresight."

With 17 years of purchasing experience in the hospitality industry, Mr Cheung has worked his way up through the ranks. Upon graduation in 1993, he first started as a purchasing clerk in the hotel. The job gave him a wide exposure to supply chain management but with clear prospects ahead, he dedicated his spare time to pursuing further studies.

His efforts have paid off. Over the years, he was given a number of promotions. In 2008, he assumed the role of assistant manager and ultimately secured the top spot of area purchasing manager the following year.

Every year, Mr Cheung tackles a staggering 400 contracts, overseeing the purchasing duties of four properties under the hotel chain in Hong Kong. From large-scale orders of food to laundry service, he makes it a priority to fully understand the requirements of each of the hotel group's property. With a large and varied scope, he holds meetings with suppliers as well as hotel management on a daily basis. He then discusses and negotiates the best deal with the suppliers, ensuring both the hotel and its business partners are making the most cost-effective deals. "It is important to create a win-win equation for both parties," he remarks.

Quality assurance is another keyword in Mr Cheung's professional lexicon. On a regular basis he visits the suppliers to ensure they are meeting the hotel's standards, in terms of hygiene, production, delivery and all aspects of supply chain management.

Mr Cheung believes in always looking ahead for trends and innovation. To constantly introduce new perspectives into his work, he spends a good part of his workday tracking current affairs and trends.

"I pay attention to anything that is happening around me," he contends. "For example, I may attend a seminar on organic food and share the ideas with my colleagues."

Ample room

Mr Cheung pinpoints that university graduates in hotel management may start at the supervisory grade. Those without an academic qualification can begin working in the hotel's warehouse, where they will gain a good understanding of supply chain management and the hotel's quality standards. With the rapid expansion in the hotel industry, he foresees ample room for fresh talent, while further studies will help them advance their career in the long run.

Honesty and integrity are the most crucial attributes to excelling in the field, says Mr Cheung, since purchasing staff are constantly engaged in high-volume business transactions with suppliers. Being a team player is another key quality, as the purchasing department collaborates with different departments of the hotel when making decisions on purchases. "An eagerness to learn is also essential," he adds. "In our job, we're always learning something new from our suppliers and colleagues."

This has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of Mr Cheung's job. Throughout his long career, he has thrived on exceeding management expectations and his own benchmark. "There is never the best deal or option in any purchase we make; there is always room to improve," he says. "A compliment from the hotel management is the best reward for me, as I continue to look for innovative ways to enhance cost-efficiency, quality and service."

Environmental protection is a growing emphasis for hotel purchasing. Technological advances also play an important part, as the department steadily moves towards electronic solutions in ordering and purchase requisitions.

For newcomers who seek long-term success in the field, Mr Cheung advises them to pursue certificate programmes in hotel supply chain management at local institutions. "This will definitely give them a head start," he says. "Nowadays, continuous academic training is a must."

Working in the fast-paced and dynamic environment, Mr Cheung makes it his motto to "never say no" to the hotel guests and management. "It has been my passion to work in a hotel. I love to serve our clients and to see that they're satisfied with what we do," he concludes. "No matter how challenging the work is, I make my best efforts to meet and exceed the hotel's goals and our clients' expectations."

Taken from Career Times 11 June 2010, B11
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