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Career Path

Hands-on hotelier held in high regard

by Charles Mak

Gary Fung, general manager
Courtyard by Marriott Hotel Hong Kong
Photo: Nolly Leung

Gary Fung is no ordinary hotel general manager. Within his 14-hour daily schedule, he is often seen greeting guests and helping with their luggage at the hotel lobby, chatting with diners at the hotel's restaurant; conducting hotel tours for corporate customers; or more often than not engaged in conversations with hotel staff whom he calls associates in the staff cafeteria.

"Being approachable and hands-on doesn't make me less of a manager. In fact, it's quite the opposite," emphasises Mr Fung, top man of the newly opened Courtyard by Marriott Hotel Hong Kong. He affirms that this philosophy stems from his background in human resources management.

Mr Fung initially joined the Peninsula Hotel's HR department. Shortly afterwards he made a move to JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong where he was promoted to HR manager. A series of mainland assignments followed. Since 1997, he has served as director of HR, rooms division, and operations at the hotel group's Guangzhou and Shanghai properties. It was only a year ago that he returned to Hong Kong and took charge of Courtyard.

A seasoned hotelier, Mr Fung believes sustainable success in the hotel business relies on a the versatility of a team of dedicated managers who master the art of delegation and set a good example by observing a practical approach. "Competent role models do more than motivate, they inspire and influence," he adds. "At Marriott we build our business on people. I am a people person. This is the role that I adhere to."

Top floor view

A high level of commitment and energy is essential for a successful career in the hotel business. "Be the best and attend to the finest details," Mr Fung says. "You cannot focus solely on the bigger picture. Rather, it is vital you also maintain the process and procedures, prepare for contingencies and look for continuous improvements by constantly challenging established practices."


"Be the best and attend to the finest details"

Mr Fung's scope of duties goes beyond a standard nine-to-five framework. In fact, it starts before seven in the morning. "It is important for me to catch up with the night manager and the front desk manager before their shifts end," he explains. Morning meetings start around 8:45am and by then Mr Fung has digested a stack of documents including overnight reports, occupancy reports and forecasts. However, the highlight of his day is always on the hotel floor where he meets his associates and guests.

"Customer service sounds easy but in fact there's a lot to it," Mr Fung notes. "Aside from having high EQ, you must enjoy the job thoroughly." He remarks that even the most senior executives in the hotel business start in junior positions. "These people became successful and well respected management because they value team spirit. Whatever the job function, everybody works as a team to create synergy and a pleasant environment for all." He also emphasises that aspirants should sign on with a time-honoured hotel and pace their careers with great care. "An established employer offers ample opportunities for horizontal and lateral movement. You'll never have to look elsewhere for better prospects," he says, adding that a five-day work schedule, which allows more personal and study time, is a definite bonus.

Over the years, Mr Fung has obtained an MBA and completed a handful of executive development programmes. "Any kind of further education is good," he says. "An MBA is always useful but many executives in the field may also opt for a master's degree in hotel management, hospitality management or tourism management."

China opportunities

Equipped with a decade of mainland exposure, experience in opening new properties plus the capacity to handle up to 2,000 staff at one time, Mr Fung prides himself on his high level of flexibility and adaptability, thanks to the ample career support and cross-training Marriott has to offer.

"Opportunities never fall short at the Marriott," he notes. "For example, the group is branching out in China, creating jobs for the locals as well as expatriates from Hong Kong." However, he stresses that not everyone is suited to a Marriott career. "Aside from technical competence and soft skills, a cultural fit is of the utmost importance," he adds. "This is particularly so in a fast-developing market like mainland China."

He further explains: "A top management team for a mainland property usually comprises expatriates from Hong Kong and other countries. They are given the responsibility to lead a localised team of middle managers, safeguard the hotel's culture and work very hard towards a high international standard."

Fast expansion leads to a shortage of talent in the hospitality industry. "The local workforce in China is not yet ready for international standardisation because there are too many new hotels springing up too fast," Mr Fung says. This further illustrates that extra efforts and a hands-on approach from the management team is vital.

"In China, my daily schedule stretched from 7am to 11pm," he recalls. "Without a sense of ownership and commitment, this would not have been possible." On the other hand, Mr Fung enjoyed his time in Shanghai immensely. "There's so much more space there than here, and I must also say the expatriate package was very attractive," he adds.


Taken from Career Times 11 July 2008, p. C8

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