A leader is only as good as the people he hires, Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong's general manager tells Lisa Kao
The best-leader title seems to follow Pierre Perusset wherever he goes.
The general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong was named the the Best Leader in the Industry by the Tourism and Culture Ministry of Indonesia in 2006 and General Manager of the Year by Middle East Hotelier Magazine in 2004.
But to him, building a good hotel is not just up to him but the people around him.
And now, having worked in many countries across Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East, and experiencing extreme events like suicide bombing attack, Perusset is ready for more challenges with his team.
Despite being in the position of general manager at the most glamorous hotel in the world today, Perusset was a country boy who had never been to hotels before his 20s.
"I grew up in a small village in Switzerland," he said. The young boy spent almost all his time outside in the woods or playing football, collecting fruit regardless of the weather. "I picked up snails and sold them to people."
He had no idea what he wanted to do in the future and tried all kinds of jobs before he was 26.
"At 16, I did an internship as a truck driver and as a construction worker. Then an apprenticeship in a restaurant, went into the army, and learned German and English in Germany and Britain," he said.
"But I had a weird vision of seeing myself working in luxury hotels. Maybe like a doorman in a nice uniform," he said.
As he had never been to hotels before, he said the fantasy might come from watching movies.
At 26 he decided to stop hopping and settle on his fantasy career.
"Hotels are international. There are all sorts of people. And I wanted a career where I could see myself growing and learning."
Perusset used four years to finish a hotel and restaurant management degree.
His desire for learning didn’t stop with getting his degree. He took his first bold step with a decision to work in New York, far away from his hometown.
"It was a huge hotel in New York," he said. "But I started with the position of storeroom manager responsible to only one person."
Within 18 months, he requested rotation to different positions as he wanted to explore various roles.
And he did not want to miss any opportunity to learn. "One day I received a call asking if I was interested in a position as the food and beverage director in Jakarta," said Perusset.
He agreed, but the first thing he did after hanging up the phone was to look up the city. "I had no idea where Jakarta was."
Unfortunately, he did not take the position in Jakarta as the hotel’s construction was delayed.
However, starting from 1990, he started to rotate in different positions in many countries, including, Japan, Qatar, India and Indonesia, before stopping as a general manager at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong in 2011.
After working in cities across Asia and the Middle East, handling the cultural differences in Hong Kong was not at all difficult.
"Hong Kong is probably the easiest place to settle down in Asia," he said. "The food is fantastic."
Besides, he has faced incidents much more challenging than cultural shock. In 1991, there was a curfew in Bangkok, where he was working as a food and beverage director. The political situation brought on hard times for hotels, which were forced to cut costs.
"Instead of firing someone, we talked to everyone," he said. The consensus was that everyone would reduce their working hours and pay, so no one would be fired.
In 2009, Perusset, then the managing director, experienced a suicide bombing attack in Jakarta.
"One guy blew himself up in the coffee shop of our hotel. A person died."
The hotel was closed for 10 days.
"I stayed with the chef in the hotel for the 10 days, trying to understand what was happening and dealing with the police."
He had to be very calm and tell the people that the situation would be under control.
After working in the hospitality industry for more than 40 years, he concludes that numbers, people and culture are the most important elements in the industry. "You have to be good with numbers to measure the strategy of services," he said. And hiring the right people helps to provide the best service.
A strong culture is required to keep the staff fresh and provide the best service. "We don’t call them staff, but ladies and gentlemen. They are the most important people in the hotel, so we have to take care of them well, promote them, feed them well, encourage them to lead a good lifestyle," he said.
There were 35 activities a year for staff that includes a blood donation drive and annual staff party.
Believing life is not only about money, he always espouses the benefits of a balanced lifestyle. He even developed a "Pierre’s logo" to explain his philosophy of a good lifestyle.
"To sleep well and enough, have good nutrition, exercise and to learn new things."
He follows his own motto: going to the gym three or four times a week, and attending a yoga class every Saturday.
Two years ago, he conquered the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons.
Unlike some working people who always worry about their work when on holiday, Perusset always has peace of mind.
"I hire the right people and trust that they are doing a good job. That is delegation."