Interviewing the GM of Park Hyatt Vienna, Monique Dekker
By Dr. Lily Lin, Author of "Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers"
Despite the fact that I've interviewed as many as 66 successful hoteliers worldwide, Monique Dekker, the GM of Park Hyatt Vienna, Austria is only one of the two female GMs I've interviewed. She comes across as someone who is determined and driven. I also sense it that she is not the one who will back down from life's challenges. This is a strong lady who thrives on meeting her goals. It's obvious that her heart is embedded in the hotel business, most probably, for life.
Despite the fact I've to date interviewed as many as 66 successful hoteliers worldwide, you are one of the only two female GMs whom I have interviewed, the other one being Hiroko Noguchi, the GM of Hyatt Regency, Hakone Resort & Spa in Japan. Being a female, is it more difficult to become a GM?
No. I don't think it is more difficult for a female hotelier to become a GM. Becoming a general manager was my goal since I was a little girl. If you have a goal in mind – something that you want to do – then you know your path, and you can achieve anything you want. I have never experienced a glass ceiling. I have met many young ladies who have also had the aspirations of becoming a general manager.
My experience working with hoteliers tells me that most of the senior HR and PR managers are females. Most of the senior operations managers are males, and of course, most of the GMs in the luxury hotel industry are males. This pattern is similar across all brands and all geographical locations. Do you have any insight that you could offer as to why that is?
I think to be successful in the positions of HR, marketing and PR, as well as in operations, it requires certain types of personality. Personally, I would choose the person who can do the job better than anyone else regardless of gender.
I graduated from the Hotelschool The Hague in 1995. Back then, Madelon Boom, who was a graduate of the Hotelschool The Hague, also worked for Hyatt as a general manager. This was 23 years ago. She was a role model for me. I thought if she can be a female GM at the Hyatt then perhaps I can do it too. The funny thing is that in 2016, the male vs female question still comes up. I wish that there were more female GMs in the five-star luxury hotel industry.
Is your management style somewhat different comparing to your male counterparts?
With me, what you see is what you get. My team knows exactly where I stand and what I expect. If my team is happy, I am happy. What really counts regardless of gender is that the general manager has an exciting personality and always has fresh outlooks and new innovative ideas.
After you graduated from the Hotelschool The Hague in 1995, you worked in a number of luxury hotels in the US for 10 years. What did you learn from your US experiences that you have taken with you?
There were lot things I learned: For example, good leadership style, corporate and government rules and regulations, effective ways of dealing with unions, developing and management of staff, and especially a strong business-minded approach in solving management issues.
In 2005, you moved to Singapore and a couple of years later, you moved to Japan. How did you adjust to the cultural differences?
I think when you are an open-minded and flexible person, you are willing to learn and adjust to your surroundings wherever you are. At The Hotelschool The Hague, students were from different parts of the globe, and in New York, you are also surrounded by people from all over the world. So, adjusting to Singaporean or Japanese culture was not much of a shock. However, it was an eye-opening experience regarding my management style. This experience definitely helped to shape my management skills and style.
Did you always want to become an hotelier?
Absolutely! Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a GM. I've never wavered; I've never had the desire to be anything else. This was my dream. This was what I wanted. And this is where I am today.
What is your long-term career ambition?
To grow in the hotel industry and become an area director, responsible for several hotels.
You worked at the preopening of both Hyatt Regency Düsseldorf and your current hotel. What was the biggest challenge while working in preopening?
The biggest challenge in a preopening, especially while entering a new country, is being prepared for its labor laws and other legal regulations. Other challenges such as staying focused, making sure everything is on schedule so that the hotel would open on time, getting the support from the construction company, and putting the right team in place are part of your daily tasks during a preopening.
What is the biggest challenge you have to face on your current job?
I think the biggest challenge we and the industry face is finding good qualified young individuals who see that working in the hotel industry is exciting and challenging. Unfortunately, many people do not think that the hotel industry offers promising career opportunities. Therefore, finding people who are passionate about working in the hotel industry and who have the potential to reach management positions is rather difficult.
Almost all successful hoteliers I've interviewed have talked about their passion. What does "passion" mean to you?
Passion is a big word. "Passion" to me is when you live and breathe what you do. That means in the hospitality and the hotel industry, passion for service excellence; passion for your guests and employees; passion for hospitality; passion for my employers and owners, and passion for my hotel. To me, "passion" must come from your heart!
At work, what pleases you the most?
What pleases me the most is that when I get a positive feedback from my guests about their stay; when they write a story about a particular individual who went out his/her way to serve the guests. Personal effort and personalized connections are very important to me as they make the difference. In the end, happy guests and happy employees equal happy me, and it usually also means a happy owner.
What displeases you the most?
Laziness. I can't stand it when people are lazy, uncaring. I mean lazy as in "I am working here but I am not putting myself 100% into my job; I just work for a paycheck."
Do you think a GM is important to his/her frontline employees? Why or why not?
I know I am very important to my team. At the end of the day, the GM should live and breathe the hotel. When he/she portrays the image of the hotel and what he/she expects from their employees, the GM should be a role model.
I want my staff to look at me and say, "Hey, she did a good job. I have learned something from her." Or "I want to be just like her." Or "She is so energetic! How does she do it?" You can't expect your employees to feel close to you if you are an "Ivory Tower GM", who stays in his/her office all the time. You need to be visible at all times.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are that I am very energetic, very present, not just in the hotel, but also in my community. I am very good at delegating responsibility. I like to tell my people that as a GM I know a lot about everything, but I am not an expert at anything. I am not an expert in marketing, in HR, or in F&B, but I know enough about them that I can talk about it and make decisions about it. The actual expertise and efforts should come from those team members, who specialize in those particular fields.
My weakness is that I am very direct; maybe even a bit stubborn. I guess I am very Dutch. Sometimes people tell me that I'm too direct, too Dutch in my ways.
Many male senior hoteliers I've interviewed have a good sense of humor. On the other hand, the female hoteliers I've come across tend to be much more serious. Let's put it this way, most businesswomen are not good at telling jokes :). In your opinion, is having a good sense of humor important for the business?
Laughing . . . I cannot tell good jokes either. Of course, we need humor in certain situations to defuse tense emotions or to lighten things up a little. Personally, I use a small dose of female charm instead. Just like you, I am also surrounded by men. But no, telling jokes, I'm not good at it . . .
Are you more worried about doing things right or doing the right things?
Depends on the situation. When it comes to serious stuff, like labor laws and finance, then, doing things right is absolutely necessary. But doing the right things is necessary as well. Sometimes you need to be flexible. Life is not just black and white, there are several shades of gray, red and pink in between.
Life is too short to tolerate: _____________________________.
If you were to hire a manager, what qualifications would you be looking for?
First and foremost is that the person must have 'fire in his belly' regardless of the position. I interview every single applicant. I need to see if these people have the passion and the ability to do their job. I need to see their facial expressions, the sparkle in their eyes, their excitement, and their passion. And then, of course, I look at their experience and background. I would much rather take somebody who has no experience, than someone who has no passion, but who has lots of experiences. It also depends on the position, of course. For a top management position, it depends also on their knowledge and experience. But the passion and fire in their eyes is super important. There are a lot of things that I can teach you and show you and make sure you are capable of doing it, but I cannot teach you passion. It will either come naturally or it will never come.
Do you have to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve your career goals?
Well, no. I have been very lucky. I have a husband who is used to work in hotels as well. We travel the world together. I always knew exactly what I wanted and my husband has been very supportive and understanding. He is now very successful business owner.
Do you have any advice for female hoteliers who aspire to become a GM?
Follow your dreams! If this is what you want, then go for it. The sky is the limit. Don't think you'll never make it and that it's impossible. There are plenty of managers who don't care whether they hire a male or a female manager. They just want to know whether you are capable of doing your job.
We, women, often think that others dictate and define who and what we are. If you ask a male GM what their next job is, they would say: "VP!" A female GM would say: "Well... I don't know… I'm not sure." IF you want something, you have to go for it! Someone will recognize your ambition! And to be honest, at Hyatt, they see me as an extremely professional GM --- and that's how I've always wanted them to see me first and I am a woman secondly :).
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