Reflecting on 25 years in the hospitality industry, Stephen Ansell, General Manager of Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow, recently shared some of the most important hotel management and leadership lessons he’s learned throughout his career. Ansell is one of more than 35 global luxury hoteliers profiled in A Wealth of Insight: The World’s Best Luxury Hoteliers on Leadership, Management, and the Future of 5-Star Hospitality (Black Truffle Press). An exclusive excerpt of his profile is below.
“It is important to get to know each colleague individually, understanding their needs, interests and future plans. Only then can you tailor your approach of encouragement and development to bring out the very best they have to offer.”
I was born in London but spent my childhood in Southeast Asia and Europe due to my father and his work with British Petroleum. My first experience with Hyatt was when I was six when my family was accommodated at the Grand Hyatt Singapore for a month during a relocation. Apparently, I took a great interest in helping the housekeeping staff, foreshadowing my future. Living in many different countries and cultures from a very young age instilled in me a passion for traveling and adventure. I wanted to continue that lifestyle in the form of a career.
A TASTE OF THE INDUSTRY
My first job in hospitality was when I was sixteen. I worked at a small, Austrian family hotel in the Alps. In the morning, I worked at the reception, then as a waiter at the swimming pool, and then serving lunch and dinner. I learned a great deal participating in and observing a range of operations throughout the hotel. Nothing beats firsthand experience in an environment where you’re exposed to all facets of the business.
WHERE I LEARNED THE MOST
After studying hospitality, I embarked on an international career by enrolling in a management training program with Hilton International in Munich, Germany. Looking back at all of my early management experiences, this is where I learned the most. The program gave me insight into all aspects of a hotel, including a six-month position in charge of stewarding. I was constantly reminded that in our business, the most important people we work with every day come from all walks of life, often with different backgrounds and life experiences. This applies to both staff and guests. On this team, we had a truly cosmopolitan group of people in which diversity and difference was embraced, respected and valued.
ADAPTING TO SHOCK
My first leadership position in the industry was as an assistant restaurant manager at Terminal 4 in London’s Heathrow Airport. While working there, the company went into receivership and senior management departed. The remaining supervisory team was asked to continue operations, ensuring staff like myself still received salaries. Suppliers were refusing to make deliveries and stock was running low. Pushing forward required smart negotiations and creative management. In the face of a seemingly intractable situation, I learned that imaginative problem-solving, determination and sheer resolve can, in fact, save a business.
DESIGNING A CULTURE OF SUCCESS
As we say in the world of Hyatt, “a little understanding goes a long way.” Essentially, this translates into treating each other with respect, valuing difference of opinion, being inclusive in your decision-making, acting with compassion and empathy, walking in the shoes of others, and listening carefully.
CHARGING THROUGH HEADWINDS
Having been in Russia for the past seven years, various geopolitical factors have made the economic environment, on occasion, somewhat challenging. It is during these times you learn the most about how to adapt your strategy to fit the moment. The faster you react, the better you will fare.
BEING FIRST HAS CHALLENGES
Prior to working in Russia, I was fortunate to open the Hyatt Regency Kyiv, the first international five-star hotel in Ukraine. We were covering new ground and thus actively involved in all aspects of the supply chain including extensive, and on occasion challenging, interactions with our suppliers and partners. Achieving a true sense of luxury is no easy task, particularly when the system in place to deliver on that promise does not yet exist.
A LESSON IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT
While serving as general manager of the Hyatt Regency Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, a political revolution gripped the country. This was a very difficult time and a real-life lesson in crisis management. I learned once again the value of a trusted, passionate local team, and how important our close relationships with the community were in seeing us through this period.
HIRING FOR SUCCESS
The key to success is hiring people who are true to your values. If we are able to identify a curious person who is inclusive, honest, empathetic and joyful, then the technical components of the job can be learned. Regardless of a candidate’s experience, we encourage them to share stories about their successes, failures, and what they learned in both cases. Are they able to reflect anew? Our goal to create an environment where no one takes themselves too seriously, where we have fun at work, and where we also get to know an individual’s interests and ambitions. In order to ensure we’re all aligned, all applicants get interviewed by human resources, senior management, and then myself.