1. What is your current role? Tell us a little about your background
I am currently an Assistant Director of Food and Beverage for Westin Hotel Kuala Lumpur. I am the captain of the ship. I have 9 different areas i.e. outlets; with its own unique concept. This is my 4th year at Westin KL and I enjoyed the hell of it! That’s roughly my role.
I like to make things fast yet elegant. I’ve made it somewhere else where I’ve made my mark and I believe it can be done here as well. The two important key words are efficient and mindset. I got to bring my team to that level. I am known for doing something bold and adventurous among my partners thus as the trendsetter I want to revolutionize the F&B scene in Malaysia, KL in particular. It comes with correct mindset where you inspire people to do something different and exciting. Encourage the customers to try something new and acceptable for the market to try but yet mystery and unknown.
Being in Starwood hotel chain is fabulous because we invest a lot in things of the future and emerging. As the new generation replacing the more old school and traditional customers, we got to keep up. We got to offer something relevant to these new generations such as Gen X and Gen Y. Previously I spent 13 years in Lafite Restaurant, Shangri-la Hotel Kuala Lumpur. I personally feel the traditional approach is declining, thus shifting to something more modern and wanting was a good decision. Something bigger and more challenging.
A little bit about my background. I dropped out from university in very early age and chased out from the house by my dad. Life used to be tough back then. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me because I become very resilience towards change and learnt a lot of life skills. I become more discipline, conscious and humble. You know, when we have all things around us we tend to forget? Yeah, so I learned a lot from that experience. I made a promise that I will never take things for granted again and I will always stay the course. Doing it wholeheartedly and without ignorance. In short, I discovered life from the ditch.
2. How did you get into this F&B industry?
By accident! I was out from the house and I was confused, puzzled and scared. I sat down somewhere and someone asked me whether I would like to take up a job. Hostel and meals provided, not to mention some salary. I grabbed the job immediately and it was a kitchen steward. Kitchen steward is someone who is cleaning all the plates in the kitchen. Hard labour and small pay. But, like I said I learn life from the ditch. Imagine I left the house with RM 30 in my pocket and then i was offered a job and place to stay? You got to be kidding! I grew up with the job from kitchen steward to real kitchen job. Chopping, cutting, ordering stocks, inventory and so on. I love working in the kitchen then I took up a Diploma in Culinary. I completed the study but it wasn’t an easy journey because I financed my own study with the money i earn every month. The university (UiTM) is in Shah Alam, Selangor and I was working at Shangri-la Hotel Kuala Lumpur. I still remember taking the Bus 222 from Central Market to Shah Alam. It was long journey and I slept on the bus most of the time.
I graduated in Diploma Hotel Management instead, because during my course interview the panellist felt that I have more flare in service and management instead of becoming a chef. Eager to continue my study, I braved the course for 2 years. Got a number of Dean Lists and I was very happy. But the turning point came when during my final semester thesis, I did an important these titled, “The Royal Malay Service…Vision Commercializing”. Because of that research I managed to research, observe and practice royal service in a number of palaces in Malaysia. That was when I leapfrogged in F&B. Simply because at that time (even until today), it is rare to find someone with solid service background including the royal service.
I became the Restaurant Manager of Lafite at 26 years old and I suspected (and speculated!) I was the youngest manager in town at that time! J it is not easy especially with Lafite’s guests are somebody, someone and VVVVIPs. They are the economic mover, prime driver and trendsetter in our country. They are the crème de la crème in the social settings. I was exhilarated when serving them until I recognized them by their voice when they call the restaurant for reservation. I picked up some French words too as it was very personalized service. It was the nicest experience i ever had.
But while it sounds i’ve learnt a lot but I am still hungry for new things. I travelled the world to see what others are doing. I visited top restaurants, Michelin-star outlets, gastronomique events, partnership with other restaurants around the world. In my previous experience we’ve partnered with Le Cirque, Dom Perignon, Chateau Lafite, Torbreck Winery, and lot more. Then when I come back, we localized it. Give it time to grow. Introduce and slowly nudge it forward.
3. Highlight your three best achievements thus far?
Impressive track records! When I was managing Lafite Restaurant, we bagged 12 awards of being the best in Malaysia. There were all from various organizations such, the best was TDC Award and Gourmet Festival. We won The Best Superlative Restaurant, Restaurant of The Year and Tourism Award. Many more. I credited those to my team because without them I am nobody. To my knowledge no other restaurant has achieved this. But there is more to come and I don’t want to be complacent. I joined Starwood for bigger challenge and to do more things.
Personally, these awards while giving great sense of accomplishments is not enough. We have to go beyond physical glory. We need to create more meaningful journeys and smell the roses while working hard. Then we can call it a day; to me that consider my ideal achievement. I place premium for great achievement.
I believe in team and relationship. I’ve met some very good people when we work together. Some stayed on and some left. To me, relationship is sacred and it bound to change our mindset when we had them. I always keep in touch with them. We will organize tea or dinner and share stuffs. So seeing them achieving in their own chosen career and making it also a big achievement for me.
At work, I believe in revolution. For change to happen, we got to shake it up a lil bit and it has to be massive and moving resources when it needed the most. Until we get the critical mass, we don’t stop. I think i have managed to revolutionize the industry, at least in my small way. I make F&B something more than just waitering and order taking. Personal involvement in other activities across the value chain is needed to become a F&B person. I get myself involve in skills competition, sommelier association and other niche events to make myself the thought leader. I do a lot of reading in other knowledge such as history, science, autobiographies and gastronomy.
At home i believe in having a stable family. I have two kids and family is my source of inspiration. Of course, to have a work life balance is my all time dream, but i am trying hard on daily basis.
Leadership and Management
4. What is your leadership and management style?
I am quite flexible in nature, but sometimes i can be authoritarian (as am revolutionary) and also diplomatical at times. I think as a leader one needs to be situational. One size fits all style of leadership can be self defeating. The most important thing is driving people to the objectives with the given resources. You see, in my industry skills level can vary from being very good and very not-good. But they work in the same restaurant, so I got to make sure they help each other and at the best interest of my guests. The key is communication. I love to make them curious to a lot of things; i read and travel a lot. So when I found new thing i bring it up and they start to turn to their colleagues for answers. As a result, they interact and communicate.
I also have to managing up. The good thing here, my bosses are very open to ideas and new thing. They let my free hand and thinking run the show. As long it gives good results and performance, they are fine. What does that tell you about me? J
5. What can one expect when joining this industry?
This industry used to be known as no-brainer but that has change a lot. In fact, we hoteliers are the “pioneer” when it comes to service. Nowadays, everyone claims they are in the service business or industry but when asked what service is they don’t define it well. They struggle to deceive their customers and still not making enough to be proud of the service they provide. They cut corners and profit from it. That’s not service. That’s a disservice.
We, hoteliers are the expert of customer service. We nurture our people through intense training, peer sharing, standardizing processes and upgrading our systems. Al these combination make the service delivery successful. Only then it is right to ask for premium because you labour a lot of efforts. Not to mention the innovativeness drive in delivering those services.
While many started with very low education background, but now they are departments and divisions leaders. They are very skilful people and have strong team. The leader is key in this industry. Attrition rate is high especially at the entry level, but we got to persevere to make it work. Making them feel as part of a larger team help them to have sense of belonging and pride in their job.