Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
I have the good fortune of speaking to amazing hoteliers on a regular basis. And when you read their CVs and bios, they often read like that of a diplomat. These men and women forge truly global careers, gain exposure to a range of cultural operating systems, and can smoothly disarm an angry guest in a few languages. As they mature in their profession, they develop their own style of hospitality that’s based on an amalgamation of cultures and lessons learned.
It’s quite a gig — when you explain it that way. Yet many global hospitality brands are bemoaning how hard it is to find good people. In the U.S., there’s a labor shortage that makes entry-level jobs in the hospitality world tough to hire for. And, in a culture where the Elon Musks and startup entrepreneurs take center stage, the career of a hotelier might not seem so sexy. But it should be, with a few tweaks to the narrative and the sales pitch.
The reason? Not many professions enable good people to have interesting international careers. Sure, you can join Bain or McKinsey and hope for the transfer, but that’s really only open to a certain echelon of candidates with top-tier business degrees. And taking a job at a huge multinational corporation might seem like a good idea until you’re working on the same thing, day in and day out, in a stuffy, bureaucratic, and often alien culture.
Hospitality is something that can unlock doors at the confluence of creativity, operations, cultural fluency, and attention to detail.
Need for a Stronger Sell
This industry as a whole — and particularly the top-level hotel brands — need to strengthen their sell to young candidates. They need to be boldly pitching the job as a calling and showcase the romance and mobility, front and center. What’s more, this bugle call needs to go out to not just the esteemed students of hospitality schools like Lausanne or Cornell, but also graduates from a wide range of programs: politics, business, English, among others. With the right mindset and approach, everyone can be trained.
One brand that makes this mobility and ascension a priority for its staff is the Four Seasons. I spoke to the general manager of the Four Seasons Chiang Mai, Max Musto, who has worked far and wide across the brand. He began his hospitality career in Glasgow, worked in Thailand with Four Seasons, and moved next to Mauritius. He was in Alexandria, Egypt, during political turmoil, opened a property in Russia, and is now back in northern Thailand running a high-functioning team comprised of nationalities from around the globe.
In many ways he is the poster boy for what the industry can offer a candidate if they have potential. “[The Four Seasons] gives everyone an opportunity to grow, to travel, and to learn,” Musto said. “From a career standpoint, there are opportunities to move to different cities and countries. I have traveled widely with assignments to four continents with Four Seasons, and each time it has been a tremendous learning opportunity — both in terms of work and life,” he said.
As general manager at Four Seasons Hotel Alexandria at San Stefano, he saw dedication from team members amid political turbulence across Egypt: “I’ve lived through a revolution, and it was one of the most humbling experiences. I’m a better person for having seen the scope of Egyptian passion and emotion.”
Over coffee, he shared how he has created his own approach to hospitality, based on his Italian background: Musto grew up in Naples, but he’s also taken to heart the best of the cultural systems and customs he’s learned along the way. This movement across borders and properties has imbued him with a worldly, modern approach that feels light years away from the stiff, white-tablecloth luxury standards of old.
To dig a bit deeper into the operating system of the brand, I spoke to Heather Jacobs, the senior vice president of People and Culture, Four Seasons. She echoed the sentiment I heard from Musto as well as a few other employees who spoke to me on background. “We’ve always taken an approach that the world is your oyster,” she said. “We’re constantly evaluating: What are the jobs available and who do we have talent for?” She added that every two weeks the team reviews GM opportunities and who to place where.
Jacobs said that managing this mobility component is a large part of her job. “What you get out of experiences outside of your own country are: self-awareness, empathy, worldliness, and appreciation. It helps to create a good toolbox.” She also made it clear that not everyone is forced to move: Some people are more tied down due to family commitments, so she suggested there were lighter weight ways to engage across the hotel portfolio, like joining the opening team of a new property, an intense sprint that requires mastery across several areas.
Opportunities for Growth
This geographic fluidity is not limited to just assignments. Everyone working across the brand has the ability to go experience other properties at heavily discounted rates. Musto pointed out the fact that one of his staff went to a Four Seasons in Italy and came back beaming. He suggested this experience helped really gel the meaning of the brand for the employee, which is something that creates loyalty and a deeper understanding of the mission. And this benefit extends to all staff across all categories. By seeing other systems, processes, designs, and locales, inspiration can be had.
For the wider hospitality world that is looking for its new talent: There’s the romance of geography, professional development, and learning to live and operate within lots of different cultural systems, all under the guise of providing luxury experiences. It’s a tantalizing career when you read it on paper. But it would seem that many brands in this space are falling short when making the perfect, bulls-eye sell to graduates seeking to make their way in the world. With a few nips and tucks, hotel brands can and should highlight and better articulate the generosity and worldliness of a hospitality career to ensure the field has the best people to create beautiful experiences, day in and day out.