Room to roam

Weekend Glitz | Lisa Kao 15 Nov 2019

Scott Murray started a new adventure with The Langham in Hong Kong in July.

Even after more than 20 years in the hotel industry, every working day is still different and new to the hotel general manager, and he has not lost his adventurous spirit. "My biggest fear is returning to Sydney," said the Australian.

In Sydney, the young Murray was addicted to sport. "I played football, cricket, rugby and tennis regularly. Both individual and team sports are my favorites," he said. Because of his parents, he got to meet people from all over the world. He said: "My father has a global company, and they are always hosting people at home."

Judging by his sociable personality, it seems Murray was born to be a hotelier. But as a teenager, he went into accounting instead. "I thought accounting would be a good base with which to enter the business world," he said.

As soon as he graduated, he joined the profession, but found it did not suit him. "The role was very office-bound and paper driven, but I wanted to have personal contact. I enjoy interacting and having people around me."

So he returned to school to study hospitality. Little did he know that this would be the start of a round-the-world adventure, working in Singapore, Bali, Dubai, Phuket and Shanghai. It is the variety of people and experiences in hotels that attracted Murray to the industry in the first place.

Working in renowned hotels around the world, he has had the chance to meet incredible people. "I still remain in touch with some of them," he said.

His personal network is global. "Last week I talked to a friend from New York, and I am booking a room for my Portuguese friends at The Langham Malaysia today."

Experiences he has had through working in hotels included a political uprising, bird flu and a tsunami.

During the 2004 tsunami, he was working at the Banyan Tree Hotel in Phuket. "The hotel was in the middle of the embassy area, where a lot of refugees stayed to wait for their passports to be issued."

The sight of people turning up at the hotel after the tragedy will always remain with him. "They arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The breakfast room was like a hospital, with lots of injured people."

As food and beverage executive assistant manager at that time, Murray took off his hotelier coat and acted as a caretaker. "It was a really difficult period from an emotional and operational point of view," he said, describing it as a tragic yet precious experience.

"This is not something you can learn in hotel school, and that is what makes you stronger."

Apart from the unexpected incidents that make every day different, Murray tries to make every day brand new with his team. His motto is MAD, or Make A Difference. "I don't believe in just staying in a hotel, but having an experience in a hotel."

This can be achieved through small details, he said. He cites one example: "A staff member noticed that a guest had a bad back when he was in the restaurant. He took the initiative to offer a yoga mat with a note saying he could arrange an instructor for the guest."

Murray revealed another way make guests happy. "It is a simple recipe: happy colleagues equals happy guests" - the staff should be enjoying what they are doing. "I believe in having fun in the workplace, so I don't manage by fear or autocracy," he said. His management style is inspired by British business magnate Richard Branson in his book Screw It, Let's Do It. "It is important to be passionate, energetic and to have fun," said Murray.

Having fun is part of Murray's personality, and he has a way of bringing out the fun in his colleagues. "It is to talk to your people with a lighthearted approach, more encouragement instead of being serious." Even on a bad day, Murray tries to keep things buoyant by putting on a brave face. "That is professional - you are constantly on show," he said.

Immersed in the colorful hotel world, the Australian has never thought of going back to his hometown. "I would have an empty feeling if I went back. I have to be busy and I enjoy being busy. It is a bit like a hotel lobby."

Hustling between countries for better opportunities, Murray has made sacrifices. "My family used to move around with me, but I now want them to stay in Malaysia," he said.

Murray wants his two sons, aged 13 and 15, them to stay in one place for their education, so he flies regularly to see his family. Despite the challenges, Murray has never thought of settling down in one place. "If you are passionate about what you do, you will never stay in your comfort zone."

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