Reflecting on a 30-year career in hotel management, leadership and hospitality around the world, We profile Susanne Hatje, General Manager of the five-star Mandarin Oriental, New York in New York City, on some of the most important leadership and management lessons she’s learned throughout her journey to date. “In today’s hospitality environment, balancing operational needs with the expectation of financial performance, all the while managing key relationships across the property is both challenging and critical," explained Hatje.
Hatje is one of more than 35 global hoteliers profiled in A Wealth of Insight: The World’s Best Luxury Hoteliers on Leadership, Management, and the Future of 5-Star Hospitality, critically-acclaimed as one of the best hotel management books by leading hospitality schools. Below is a condensed version of her chapter.
ON GROWING UP
I was born in Hamburg, Germany, to parents who were both hoteliers, so I literally grew up in the industry. They were the owner-operators of Hotel Heuberg in Hamburg, which is still a family-run business today with my brother in charge. Being immersed in the industry from day one, I learned how to be an effective hotelier at an early age. My parents taught me the importance of care and concern, following through on your commitments, and appreciating every business as though it were your own—whether you were the owner or an operational colleague.
My grandmother was also in the industry, and was instrumental in the success of Hotel Heuberg. She knew every aspect of the business and imparted her age-old wisdom to the team on things like how best to get rid of carpet stains.
ON OPEN COMMUNICATION
As general manager, I believe it’s important to constantly have an open dialogue with the team to inspire innovation, a hunger for excellence and success. I interact with many of my colleagues every day, whether in the heart-of-house or front-of-house. Whether greeting staff in the morning or discussing issues with the whole executive team, being available, approachable and appreciative are essential to success. Often, guests will comment through satisfaction surveys, TripAdvisor or in direct conversation with our team to acknowledge a specific colleague that made a special mark on their stay. Openly recognize and celebrate those that go above and beyond.
ON PERSONALIZED SERVICE
There once was a couple staying with us that decided they wanted to get married on a whim at Ladies Pavilion in Central Park. We quickly arranged for a last-minute Justice of the Peace, a photographer and a horse and carriage. Our chief concierge, Kenneth Abisror, served as the couple’s witness, and kindly requested that park visitors clear the space just prior to the wedding, inviting them to look on while the ceremony took place. Despite the couple not having family or friends around them to watch them get married, they were surrounded by a circle of New Yorkers who took part in celebrating the occasion.
ON THE VAST ROLE OF A GENERAL MANAGER
As general manager, I must be a part of every facet of the business—finance, marketing, rooms and beyond. In today’s hospitality environment, balancing operational needs with the expectation of financial performance, all the while managing key relationships across the property is both challenging and critical. Indeed, we also face a host of external challenges, such as being located in the heart of one of the most competitive and fastest-growing hospitality markets anywhere in the world. We also need to take into consideration changing societal, financial and political climates.
ON UNEXPECTED DELIVERIES
We once had a guest that requested a packing service prior to their departure. One of our colleagues in housekeeping was assigned to his room and while preparing his items, the guest made a comment about how he missed a chance to experience a traditional New York City hot dog. After concluding the service, our colleague ran down to Central Park and purchased two hot dogs, delivering them to the room before he departed. Needless to say, the guest was blown away and truly touched by how our team paid such close attention to detail. What started out as innocent small talk turned into a genuine moment of delight and surprise.
ON SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGNS
Some years ago we launched a campaign titled 365 Reasons Why We Love NYC. It showcased the local community through a variety of press and social media efforts, featuring iconic locations throughout New York City. From stadiums like the Barclays Center and entertainment venues like the Ed Sullivan Theater, to iconic eateries like Nathan’s and world-famous events like Fashion Week, each photo was posted with a note about what made it so special to New York City. The campaign was incredibly successful, and supported our notion of why it’s essential for a hotel like ours to be a destination authority.