Career Path

From dishwasher to vice president

by Paul St John Mackintosh

Sales and marketing - Hotel Uris Fong
Vice president, group marketing and sales, Henderson-Miramar Hotel Management Co Ltd

Sheer hard work and zeal for self-improvement took Uris Fong, vice president, group marketing and sales at the Henderson-Miramar Hotel Management Co. Ltd., from the lowest levels of hotel work to his current senior position in a major hotel group which has 10 hotels in Hong Kong and China.

"Hard work," is the first thing Mr Fong mentions when asked to speak about his career. He was 15 when tragedy struck and his father passed away. His mother, who never had to work before, had to bring up four children on her own and could not afford their further education. Mr Fong began his hotel career as a dishwasher.

"With the China market coming up, you have to be ready for it. They are very aggressive, especially in Shanghai. And there are a lot of clever people up there..."

"I decided to do something that allowed me to work while learning at the same time. So I joined a hotel to learn how to cook." His first job was in the Sheraton Hong Kong in 1974, where he started as a dishwasher. He soon joined the Mandarin Grill, which offered better opportunities to learn the trade, and he rose from dishwasher to junior and senior cook, and then to sous-chef by 1977. "Basically, I rose by hard work," he says.

Mr Fong emphasises the importance of study and self-cultivation in scaling the career ladder: "When I was working as a dishwasher in the Sheraton, I worked in the Pink Giraffe penthouse, where there was nothing to do for three to four hours per day but sit in the locker room. So I went to other kitchens to learn from the chefs, things like butchery and pastry making, and started to like kitchen work. I moved on until I was a sous-chef, but I thought, this is Western cooking, and as a Chinese, I can't advance in this, so I decided to try something else."

In spite of having had to take a salary cut of 25 percent, he decided to join the Excelsior Hotel as an information desk clerk. Within four years, he rose from senior information clerk, to reception clerk, senior reception clerk, group coordinator and assistant sales manager.

His gradual but rapid rise continued at the Regal Meridien [now Regal Kowloon] where he was an assistant front office manager, and at a golf and country club in Guangzhou where he acted as general manager.

In 1987 he joined the Swissotel Group as regional director of sales (Asia-Pacific) for about three years. After Swissotel, he joined the Henderson Group and helped run a number of their hotels, until he was promoted to his present position about four years ago.

Though Mr Fong still advises fresh graduates to start from the very bottom and work their way up, because "it's very important to have an in-depth knowledge at every level", he recognises that, "things are different these days because people are more educated." However, he warns against slackness in the profession: "There are a lot of people in Hong Kong who are not so serious about what they do."

Professionalism is especially critical when faced with the China challenge. "With the China market coming up, you have to be ready for it. They are very aggressive, especially in Shanghai. And there are a lot of clever people up there: you think they're dumb Chinese who have been shut off from the outside world for the last 30-50 years, but it's not so."

China Opportunities

"There are enormous opportunities," Mr Fong says of China. "It is important for young graduates in Hong Kong to learn good housekeeping in hotels here before they go up to work there. Most of the opportunities are at middle and senior level rather than entry level. Considering the size of Hong Kong, you can't really develop it further, because it is so small and you already have close to 100 international standard hotels. But China is so big."

Mr Fong emphasises the need to gather experience before going into the China market. "In Hong Kong, you have all the major chains that have very good standards and systems that you can learn from before you further develop your career in China. The World Tourism Organisation is expecting that China will become the world's biggest tourism destination by 2020. A lot of places are underdeveloped, but there are a lot of interesting things to see, and once tourism develops there, they will need good hotels. We started up a sales team in Shanghai five years ago, well before the tourism boom in China, to promote our Hong Kong hotels."


Taken from Career Times 03 January 2003, p. 26
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