Interviewing the GM of Meliá Vienna, Bastian Becker
By Dr. Lily Lin, Author of "Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers"
Bastian Becker is the GM of Meliá Vienna. One can immediately tell that he possesses the strengths of many German characteristics as well as the Austrian charm. He is well-organized, methodological, determined, frank, and charming all at the same time. He claims that he is impatient and that he needs to work on it. Most hotel executives I've interviewed, and I've interviewed more than 60 worldwide, consider themselves to be a patient lot . . .
You graduated from Heidelberg Hotel Management School in 2002. What did you do before you became the GM of NH Hotel Group in 2007?
I worked as a Room Division Manager. I also worked at the Front Office and the Reservation Department. I even worked in Revenue Management. Because I showed the ability to lead, later on, I became the management assistant and a deputy manager in a hotel located close to the airport. This hotel had a big conference area, which gave me the chance to get into the F&B Department. In such a hotel, you have to learn to be well organized and make decisions quickly. When the airport is closed, in one call you will have 500 people wanting to stay at your hotel. You have to get the rooms prepared and serve dinners to accommodate an influx of guests in a very short time. So, it is important that you make decisions quickly.
Did you always want to be a hotelier?
I started in the early nineties with an apprenticeship in Germany. I continued to work in the hotel industry for the next seven years. After that, I decided to go to the hotel management school in Heidelberg. But to be honest, if you ask me whether I always wanted to be a hotelier and if that was my dream – then my answer is no. When I was a child, my big dream was to become a veterinarian. In my teens, my dream was to be a rock star. Finally, at the school, I was interested in media. The idea of becoming a hotelier only crystallized after I finished my studies.
Working in the hotel industry offered me the opportunity to work with different people and to build structures which are part of the road towards success. The hotel business is a people's business. I think the joy to make people happy is everything to me. I am now 40 years old; I can say that I have found a place that fulfills me.
You wanted to be a rock star. Are you a good singer?
I tried to be a singer; I was a singer in a band when I was in my teens.
And you are no longer singing?
Yes, I stopped. There came a point where I had to make a choice. Singing as a career was not for me.
Has there been anyone who inspired you to become a hotelier?
I know it's very popular to give some names with a big story behind it, but to be honest, for me, there was no one.
At 33 years old you became the GM of NH Frankfurt-City Hotel. How did you feel taking on the responsibility of a GM at a rather young age?
Actually, at the NH Frankfurt, it was my second GM position. I was 31 when I was the pre-opening GM in a hotel in Berlin. I was proud and happy; I also had a lot of respect. I was responsible for each employee and managed every little part. I knew this was important, but it was also fun to have the opportunity to give direction, to motivate the team and show them that things happen when you have the right strategy and planning.
I had some people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was, and I knew from the beginning that there was skepticism. I understood their concerns. It was important that I led by example, that I was honest and treated people fairly, and that I let them know my expectations. Being authentic was also crucial because people could feel whether or not you love doing your job.
What does "being a successful hotelier" mean to you?
You know that every day there is a new hotel opening; there are always good products out there. But the key to success is not just to have a copy-paste of a good product. The world has become smaller, and business, as well as leisure travelers, have become more experienced in traveling. People can feel the difference when an employee loves to do their job and is happy to see you.
It is important for me to create an environment of hospitality. Being a successful hotelier does not require a miracle. It's about being a good leader and providing your people with clear direction. If you don't communicate clearly, what you are thinking, and are not sure the direction you want to go, your people will become irritated.
What is your long-term career ambition?
I live in the present. At the moment I am happy and satisfied. The evolvement of the hotel industry during the last 30 years has completely changed the industry. No one knows how the industry will change during the next 20 years. My ambition is to have a job that will satisfy me in the long run.
What is the biggest challenge you have to face on your current job?
New projects are always exciting when they are challenging. Our hotel is the first hotel of the Melia Group in Austria. I am like the ambassador for the hotel chain. And my challenge is creating the brand awareness to the Austrians that Melia is a business hotel for travelers and an attractive place to work.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I think one of my strengths is that I always have a structured approach when I am working on projects. I am demanding but not only to my team but also to myself. I think I am always respectful and I make sure that we have a pleasant working atmosphere. The only weakness, the only thing I need to work on, is my impatience.
The world is full of individuals with good people skill. Yet, very few become successful hotel executives. If you were to bag your success factors, what would they be?
I think, in general, I guess a good education and apprenticeship is the base. Additionally, it is important to gain a broad range of professional experience in order also to gain authenticity. Furthermore, for sure, there is the engagement. If someone doesn't like to work hard, it will not be fun. And the joy of working! The joy of working in that field! Otherwise, you are in the wrong place.
Almost all successful hoteliers I've interviewed have talked about their passion. What does "passion" mean to you?
It is the joy of making people happy, by satisfying guests and offering them an individual service. I want to stress the word "individual." It makes a big difference.
At work, what pleases you the most?
Guests are having a good time staying with us and that they have the feeling that they are being treated specially.
What displeases you the most?
People who do not fulfill their jobs with passion, and who always have an excuse for everything.
A GM once told me that too much democracy is not good; it's a sign of lack of leadership. Do you agree?
I don't agree entirely. In my opinion, it is essential to react to every situation individually. I am very pleased to involve my team members in decision-making because if they participate in making decisions, I'll get their commitment. On the other hand, in our industry, some decisions have to be made quickly, or the business would be lost. In these cases, the GM must make a quick decision.
Some employees think that their GM is not important to his/her frontline employees. Do you agree or disagree?
I disagree that the GM is not important to his/her employees. Hopefully, none of my team members and my front line employees would share this opinion. I think it's imperative that the employees like you and that they know that you are available for them in a time of needs.
What advice would you offer to those who are inspired to become a successful hotelier?
Be honest, be authentic, be caring, work hard, and dare to admit your mistakes.
I just started, so Vienna is calling. There are still a lot of things to explore in the new position and destination.
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