Managing a five star hotel is not an easy feat. Jonas A. Schuermann, general manager of Mandarin Oriental will not rest on his laurels yet.
WE choose a secluded corner in the sunny Lounge on the Park to conduct the interview and the lobby is bustling with guests and friendly staff. But if you looked closely enough there are also a few plain clothes policemen and guards loitering around the front door.
“Excuse me, but I might have to stop the interview for a few minutes as the King of Jordan is leaving the hotel soon and I need to send him off,” says Jonas A. Schuermann while looking towards the main doorway. “How often do you get royalty staying in the hotel you’re managing? Of course the interview can wait while you see the King off,” I thought.
Growing up in a small village had inspired Schuermann to join the hotel industry. “I started out as a bus boy in a small hotel in 1979 and slowly worked my way up the ranks. I was mainly in the F&B department before managing the hotel as a general manager,” he says. He started out in Hong Kong, then to Beijing, Macau and now Malaysia for the past four years.
Now before anyone could say it’s an easy ride up the ranks, Schuermann will tell you that there is much hard work involved.
“The perception back then when I first started was that the hotel industry is the place to meet people and to travel. It was definitely something I cannot experience while growing up in my village,” he says.
“I have met many people and friends in my 30 odd years in the service industry. It was a pleasant and enjoyable ride,” he added.
“I am glad that my parents were supportive of what I wanted when I first started. They told me to do what I enjoyed doing most. After all, I will be working most of my life anyway so to do something you like will turn work into something enjoyable!”
Just another day at work
When asked what a typical day in the hotel is like, Schuermann is quick to stress that there is no “typical day” in this industry. “In the hotel, everything happens really quickly. A day can go from normal to extraordinary in a second!” he shares.
A normal day in Schuermann’s life begins at about 8 in the morning.
“I get to the hotel and I take a walk around the hotel. I check the log book to see what had happened during the night. Then I also check the list of guest who will be arriving that day. After that I start my meeting.”
Meetings for the day starts with a morning briefing to floor staff. “I also try to meet at least one different executive a day to listen to their problems and come up with solutions for an hour. For example, today I’ll meet up with someone from the finance department and tomorrow it’ll be someone from the HR department. I dedicate the afternoons for paperwork,” he continues.
“I like being at the lobby of the hotel. The lobby is the heart of the hotel and that’s where all the action is. It is where most guests are before checking in and it’s the best place to meet people. You cannot shake hands via email. Being in the service industry, the personal touch is important. Being able to communicate and connect with your guests will leave them with something special to remember during their stay in Mandarin Oriental.”
He also likes working till late because during the day, things tend to happen too fast.
“When you need to put things together or to sit down and think the night is the best time to do it,” he says.
The amount of passion that he exhibit was evident as he didn’t even realise that he works almost 15 hour everyday, six days a week. “When you enjoy what you’re doing, you wouldn’t mind working the long hours,” he says cheerfully.
In case of emergency . .
“The hotel is like a little village. At any one time, there are about five thousand people in the building. Happy and sad occasions are bound to happen,” says Schuermann.
“Many things had happened in my almost 30 years in this industry but the most memorable one has to be the one where a guest went into labour in the hotel (not Mandarin Oriental) and couldn’t be moved to the hospital due to certain complications. She had to give birth in the hotel. The child should be about 11-12 years old this year. The staff at the hotel had quite a celebration after the mother gave birth.”
“We have a fantastic system where all the staff knows what to do in case of emergency. If say a fire happens within the building, whoever on duty will know exactly who to call, how to evacuate guests in the safest way possible. Or say for whatever reasons the newspapers were not delivered for the day. That’s considered an emergency as well. Can you imagine how many angry and irritated guests we have in Mandarin Oriental if the papers are not delivered that day? If that’s the emergency, we might have to go to every newspaper kiosk in town to buy up all the papers or call another hotel for help. It might be something small in that sense, but still it’s an emergency for us,” says Schuermann.
Though not all staff are required to be on call 24/7, there are some key staffs that will have to be accessible at all time. “Someone from the security department and communications department will have to be on call. Other than that, staff on duty would already know what to do. I have so far only called from home a few times through my years working in a hotel. The system is very efficient.”
Now and then
“Many things stayed the same but at the same time, many things also have changed,” says Schuermann when asked about the differences in the industry in the past 30 years.
“The only thing that had stayed the same is that we still have to make our guests happy. Hospitality is all about making your guests feel welcomed. But having said that, the expectations of the guests had changed.
Some time back, a hotel are mainly for travellers who are looking for a place to stay the night. Now its all about lifestyle, security and convenience. You can even experience new things in a hotel!”
“Restaurants have more and more seasonal promotions and rooms are personalised to individual guests to ensure personal touches,” he added.
“In Mandarin Oriental, we ensure that you get the comfort and security of your home.”
Though there is a nice mix of business travellers and tourists, Schuermann confirms that there was an increase in people coming for leisure.
“Another thing that will never change in this industry is that you need a great team to stand by you,” Schuermann stresses.
“The hotel cannot be run by one person. Every single person is like an important cog in the machine. Without that one person, the wheel will not move. I am truly grateful that our team here in Mandarin Oriental went through thick and thin with me.”
MANDARIN Oriental Kuala Lumpur is the proud owner of four ISO and two MS certifications but does that effect you as a guest in the Mandarin Oriental?
The recently awarded ISO 22000:2005 and MS 1480 – Food Safety Management Systems requires all hazards that may be reasonably expected to occur in the food chain are identified, accessed and controlled as a preventive measure.
This ensures your peace of mind while you enjoy your meal at the Mandarin Oriental.
ISO 9001 – Quality Management provides a systematic approach in managing the organisation’s processes so that they consistently turn out product that satisfies customers’ expectations.
And with the ISO 14001 – Environment Management, environmentalists can rest assured that Mandarin Oriental take extra care in providing an environmentally friendly hotel for guests.
The OHSAS 18001 – Occupational Safety and Health and the MS 1722 – Malaysian Standards in Safety and Health ensures the safety of staff and guests alike.
Source : STAR
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