Alumni bloggers Giovanni Odaglia and Christina Seow have pursued two different routes after graduating from Les Roches to reach their career goals – direct entry and Manager in Training program (recruited on corporate instead of property level).
Giovanni launched his career as Assistant Restaurant Manager with Ritz-Carlton Bahrain and is now with the Fairmont St. Andrews in Scotland. Christina has recently completed her Corporate Management Training Program with Minor Hotel Group.
Here, they both share their experiences and provide insights into the possible career paths for fresh hospitality graduates.
- Please give us a brief introduction to your background.
Giovanni: I graduated from the BBA in 2015 and had the chance to complete 3 internships. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to specialize in Food & Beverage, and deliberately selected my placements to give me full exposure in this department. Positions included the Michelin-starred Bulgari restaurant in Tokyo and the Peninsula Hong Kong.
Christina: Prior to starting at Les Roches, I already held a bachelor’s degree in marketing and had completed a 3-month internship in marketing and F&B at the Westin Melbourne. After working in an office job for 3 years, I felt that hospitality was my true calling and decided to pursue a 1-year Postgraduate Diploma to gain a better insight into hospitality operations.
- What were the motives behind your career choice?
Giovanni: Having gained experience in different areas of F&B and taking part in many school activities, I was confident to start at an Assistant Manager role to fast-track my career. Most HR professionals I interviewed with also thought that a direct entry level position would best suit my experience.
Christina: With a limited hospitality background with some work experience, I wanted to advance my career by getting the maximum industry exposure in the shortest time possible. Ever since I started the program at Les Roches I knew that I wanted to join a Corporate Management Training program on graduation to get a 360-degrees experience in different departments instead of focusing on a single role.
- Can you share some of your first impressions on the job?
Giovanni: As Assistant Restaurant Manager I was immediately thrown into the deep end, leading a team during Iftar (Ramadan evening meal). I also oversaw the renovations of the Italian restaurant while the Restaurant Manager was on leave and acted as CSR representatives for my department. There were many opportunities to get involved and the only question was how much I wanted to take on.
Christina: I was a pioneer in the newly launched Ascent Graduate program by Minor Hotel Group. The program consisted of two placements in two different properties, starting with a 6 month cross-training in most departments before specializing in the next 12 months. This really gave me, who has limited experience in the industry, an excellent overview of how operations interconnect before I decided to focus on Front Office. The program also gave me good exposure to different styles of property – an award winning desert resort in the Middle East and a rebranded city hotel in the heart of Asia.
- What achievements are you most proud of?
Giovanni: Building on my sommelier background, I revised the wine list of the Italian Restaurant and championed the upsell of alcoholic beverages. Having specialized in Finance at Les Roches, I also put this knowledge to understanding the forecast and budget of the restaurant and ensured that as a team, we implemented different strategies to raise the average check and meet the budget on a daily basis.
Within 3 months, I was transferred to the Steakhouse as Acting Restaurant Manager, taking on a new challenge of running my own restaurant. Together with the chef, we re-launched the restaurant concept of food as art to create a unique selling point for both hotel and external guests. During my tenure, the restaurant was awarded “Best Steakhouse in GCC” by Food & Travel International and “Highly Commended Steakhouse” by Timeout Magazine.
Christina: As part of the program requirements, I had to deliver projects on guest satisfaction and revenue management during the first six months of the placement. I have demonstrated the ability to write Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and to disseminate this information to staff for implementation. I also learnt the importance of researching and communicating with relevant departments prior to launching new SOPs.
As the only staff member to speak, read and write Chinese fluently in my second placement, I had increased the hotel’s online reputation among Chinese guests positively through providing Chinese-language service and producing collaterals in Chinese. In addition, I taught the staff some basic functional Chinese words for them to obtain key guest preferences such as room and bed type. Our TripAdvisor ranking improved from 101 to 44 within the 9 months of rebranding and I was assigned to the newly formed Guest Relations team to spearhead several guest amenity programs during the festive season.
- What were the biggest advantages of the path you chose?
Giovanni: Being quickly recognized as a high achiever and being given more responsibility to prove myself. In addition, most direct-entry contracts provide the flexibility to move around different areas within the same hotel, or to pursue other opportunities outside of the company.
Christina: To have a holistic exposure of the hotel operations and be able to rotate across different properties in different parts of the world. As the program is organized by corporate and with the opportunity to move between properties, another great benefit is networking with senior leaders in the company. In addition, there is a high likelihood of being promoted to assistant managerial level at the completion of the program.
- What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
Giovanni: The pressure to meet expectations of both guests and staff on a daily basis, despite this being my first official experience as a manager. It compels me to go the extra mile to learn more and improve every day in order refine my leadership and managerial skills.
Christina: The need to clarify to the management and staff that a Management Trainee is neither an inexperienced intern, nor a seasoned manager. Technically, the key idea of the program is to provide the Management Trainee the flexibility to cross departments to establish a strong foundation. However, you need to be pro-active in ensuring that superiors are aware of your training plan and help you to move along too, instead of just comfortably staying in one position.
- Can you tell us more about your career growth opportunities?
Giovanni: As mentioned previously, I was transferred to another outlet as Acting Restaurant Manager after only three months. This made me challenge myself more, but also took my profile to the next level. I am currently Restaurant Manager at the Fairmont St. Andrews, while also being trained as Assistant F&B Manager.
Christina: At the end of the program, I was offered positions as Duty Manager at an opening property, Marketing Executive at a top performing property or to remain in my current property as Assistant Guest Relations Manager.
- What is your advice for graduates who are considering different pathways to launch their career?
Giovanni: If you are sure of where you would like to be in a few years’ time, go for a direct entry position. However, be ready for a tough time: both your team and your direct managers will have high expectations from you. I would suggest entering the new environment in a gentle manner, listening to your people and gaining their trust. This last step is fundamental to set yourself up for success. Last but not least, be humble. You will make mistakes, plenty, but do not be afraid. Own up to them, claim responsibility, take a step backward and start again. Aim for the stars and never give up.
Christina: Once you decide on a Management Training Program, do your research well. There are many properties offering cross-training programs and calling it a Management Training Program, but future employment is not always guaranteed after completion. Also, since programs usually last for 12 – 24 months, it is recommended to stay with the company for 2 – 5 years after completion to take full advantage of the training. Lastly, have a positive attitude, smile and build your connections well –both with staff, management and guests. You never know who you will cross paths with again!
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