How to become a hotel general manager

Dr Lily Lin
During the past two and a half years, I’ve interviewed 50 hoteliers from well-known international chain and independent hotels worldwide. All of these individuals climbed the corporate ladder working their way up to the top. The long journey (it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 years to become a hotel general manager for a major brand property in a major city) is usually full of excitement and challenges mixed with occasional failures and disappointments. Apart from a few exceptions, most of them have gone through a similar journey.

For example, almost all of them have been an opening general manager sometime in their mid-career before taking over a flagship hotel. As an opening GM, one is challenged to implement every bit of knowledge, skills, talent and courage one possesses and more. While horror stories of confusions, errors, fear of not being able to make the deadlines, and problems with owners/investors abound, it is an honorary badge every hotelier is proud to wear and a “must have” experience to pave one’s career path.

So, what makes these individuals successful while many of their colleagues seem to be stuck in a dead-end path or fall by the wayside? As much as it sounds like a cliché, hotel business is a people business. More and more hotel companies begin to realize that attracting, recruiting and retaining service-minded, talented and highly motivated young employees is an essential part of a formula that will ensure their long-term success in this highly competitive industry.

Among the luxury hotel sectors that include international chain and independent hotels as well as boutique hotels, senior management is particularly concerned with being able to maintain their service standards day in and day out. It is important to wow their guests with exceptional performance that leaves the guests with unforgettable experiences that lure them back over and over again. In this very competitive field, many hotels now demand the general manager to be personally involved in identifying and attracting potential talents for the hotel.

So, what do these hoteliers look for in a talent? Here are a few examples of what they told me:

Mathieu van Alphen – who has been with the InterContinental for 27 years and who is currently the GM of InterContinental Flagship hotel in Moscow – said, “It’s a good thing if the individual aims to become a GM. I would advise him/her to be flexible, to stay open-minded and learn more than one language. You must be passionate about what you do. You must work hard and never give up. If the hotel where you are working now does not provide you with the right opportunities, don’t just stick with that hotel; find one that will give you the chance to grow”.

Rainer Burkle – Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers Rainer Burkle – Regional VP & GM The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong who has been in the hospitality industry for more than 35 years, of which more than 20 years are with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: “I would like to see that the individual possesses: Integrity; A consistent approach; The ability to be inspiring to his/her employees; A mentality that doesn’t buy into: “It’ll never work!” Commitment and belief in his/her work; The ability to anticipate what customers want and understand the luxury business. He advises those who are interested in pursuing a career in hotel management to consider the following: When I first started in this business, I had a dream of becoming a GM. I always let my supervisors know that I wanted to grow. Possibly because of this, they always helped me. My advice is: “Go for your dream!” Keep in mind that it’s important that people around you feel good about your ambitions too. Steve Jobs once said that you have to “live” in the moment, “love” what you do, “learn” for the rest of your life, and “leave a legacy” of what you believe in. My legacy, for instance, would be that I opened this hotel and 20 years from now the physical property will still be here. Yet, the most important legacy for me is that our employees will keep striving for excellence.”

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