From culinary arts to six sigma

by Isabella Lee

Harvey Thompson
director of rooms
Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers
Photo: courtesy of Sheraton Hong Kong

Early aspiration and careful planning lead to life-fulfilling career

Harvey Thompson knew he wanted to be in the hotel business at a very early age.

Believing that he would become a chef, as this would enable him to work his way around the world, he started working as a restaurant pot washer at the age of 12.

"My first full-time post was as hotel manager trainee at a boutique hotel in Sydney, Australia," recalls Mr Thompson, now director of rooms of Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers. "I discovered that this type of hotel enables you to see all aspects of the operation. From there, I went to a larger hotel and was given the chance to run a restaurant, banquet facility and room service," he says.

Versatility and mobility

Mr Thompson considered the prospects for growth and development at every stage of his career. Joining Sheraton was his first big break, as the capacity of the group allows its staff to learn about and experience different roles. There are also opportunities to move from one property to another.

Over the past 11 years, Mr Thompson has worked in three different countries, taking up positions ranging from housekeeper and front-office manager to Six Sigma "black belt" specialist and director of rooms division.

"At times, challenging tasks out of the area of your own expertise provide the most benefit in the long run. In my case, being nominated to drive the hotel's Six Sigma improvement programme helped me understand all facets of the hotel over a very short period of time. I also learned to be more innovative and flexible to manage my own teams as well as those in other sections," Mr Thompson notes.

He adds, "Working for a dynamic hotel like Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers is one way of ensuring that you get the opportunity to enhance your career prospects. By moving from one department to another you can learn skills in various areas such as operations, and sales and marketing."

Diverse role

As director of rooms for Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers, Mr Thompson oversees the day-to-day operations of the front office, executive guest products, concierge services, housekeeping, the call centre, guest relations and the business centre. He is also in charge of airport and laundry operations. In short, his role is to ensure that customer services, associate development and financial results are managed and implemented in line with the hotel's goals.

He starts off a typical day by updating himself on essential hotel data including financial performance, customer logs and incident reports, as well as dealing with correspondence. Before the morning briefing with department heads and the hotel's managing director, he visits the hotel's operation outlets.

At the rooms division's operations meeting, operational issues such as VIP services are discussed. He then proceeds to various locations throughout the property to meet with colleagues and guests. His physical presence and contact with staff are crucial for effective communication, which enhances efficient planning and appropriate action.

Part of Mr Thompson's role is to ensure that room quality and guest services throughout the hotel are up to standard. "Juggling administrative, financial, guest and associate issues, as well as whatever else may come up at a moment's notice, can be demanding and sometimes stressful," he concedes. "The job has no real finishing time. If things need doing then the day just becomes longer. But I really enjoy my role. I have the chance to create strong relationships with guests, sometimes lasting a lifetime, to work with interesting people, and I have a great environment to work in. The best thing about the job is meeting people from all over the world, and one day is never the same as the next."

Mr Thompson points out that hotels require all levels of skilled professionals from entry-level service personnel and highly trained culinary specialists to departmental directors. The key is that anyone who is truly passionate about the job stands a better chance to further develop a career in a hotel. Nevertheless, he adds, those with higher education levels tend to possess better leadership and decision-making skills. As a result, they are one step closer to career advancement.

Other basic requirements for working in the industry include flexibility and self-motivation, while employers are always looking for results-focused candidates who are good listeners and team players.

"It takes dedication if you want to succeed in this industry," Mr Thompson concludes. "Be persistent about what you want and set timelines to achieve your goals. Always be prepared to try new things and give it your best shot."


Taken from Career Times 17 August 2007
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