Business Tianjin Magazine - Business English Magazine in China
COVER STORY: Developing leadership in hospitality. Interview with Stephan Kapek, Area Manager of Shangri-La Group and General Manager of China World Hotel, Beijing
Written by Helen Friday, 09 August 2019 14:43
Developing leadership in hospitality
Interview with Stephan Kapek, Area Manager of Shangri-La Group and General Manager of China World Hotel, Beijing
China World Hotel, Beijing, is one of the most emblematic hotels in China that have hosted some of the most important dignitaries and business leaders in the world.
Since its opening in 1990, it is the preferred venue for many flagship conferences and international business events, and the hotel is also known as the ‘second state guest house’ for visiting state leaders. Recently they have just officially unveiled the new and upgraded Horizon Club rooms and suites, which is the icing of the cake for the mega refurbishment and overall improvement project at China World Hotel spanning the last 3 years.
We have a great pleasure to interview Stephan Kapek, who has been appointed at the beginning of 2019, Area Manager of Shangri-La Group and General Manager of China World Hotel, Beijing. He has more than 30 years of management experience in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and he started his hospitality career with the Shangri-La group in 2005. Mr Kapek is now responsible for the overall operations and services of the three hotels in China World Trade Centre, including China World Hotel, Beijing; China World Summit Wing, Beijing and Hotel Jen Beijing, as well as the Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing in the West of Beijing.
Congratulations for the appointment as Area Manager and General Manager of China World Hotel, Beijing. What are the biggest challenges you are facing in this new position?
Beijing is not new to me, I have worked here from 2007 to 2009 in Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing. Then I was transferred to the Middle East and came back in 2015 to join again Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing. I spent there almost 4 years and got to know and love Beijing even more. Beijing is a fantastic place for life and work for me and my family.
One of the most important challenges is to make this property run well from a commercial and quality point of view.
But the biggest challenge today in all areas of hospitality is getting talent and people willing to work in this industry, which has an enormous potential for the young people in China. We are very lucky to have people working with us for a long time, most of them became managers from waiter and secretary positions.
I give a speech to the new staff on their first day and tell them that if they work hard, they can become General Manager one day, or work anywhere in the world. The outbound tourism industry is accelerating very quickly and it's going to continue for the next 10 to 15 years. So we need Chinese people everywhere. With many different departments, we need people to work in finance, restaurants, housekeeping, kitchen, front office, public relations, marketing, etc…
We need to do a better job to convince young people in China to take that challenge and move with it and build that foundation for hospitality here. 50 of our company’s hotels are in China, so that already explains how important China is for us. Our first hotel in China was in 1984 in Hangzhou. The second hotel was Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing, in 1987 at a time when nobody else would run hotels in China. So the foresight of our owners was tremendous. They want to bring Shangri-La to China, which was founded in 1971 in Singapore.
We have built this reputation in China of being one of the top luxury brands in the hospitality sector.
Your work experience speaks of you being truly a global business leader. What has inspired you to this path? What continues to drive your success?
After my initial learning experience in Germany, I immediately started to work abroad in Monte Carlo, and I really enjoyed it. Once you start this tour of working abroad, there is a point where working abroad is a key professional driver in gaining new experiences and understanding of cultures, etc… It is the best way to learn everything.
But what drives me in trying to do it better every time is to develop new leaders of the hospitality. My real true success is when the staff working with me, become so much better then before and succeed as manager and General Manager of other hotels. I believe once you come to a position of General Manager means that you have had very good leaders, because this job is really tough and your leaders have convinced you to look further and keep going in your career.
The success of a property cannot rely on the historical success. You need to constantly innovate and update your services, offering the best in whatever you do. So if I was successful yesterday, it is not a guarantee that I will be successful tomorrow, and not even today. Communication with guest is very important.
The key to our success is our service. It is how our people treat our guests, and how we have established systems to recognize our regular customers. We still have like 10% to 15% of staff from the opening, and that helps to set up not only our regular services, but also go an extra mile most of the times.
It is a combination of few things. Continuous innovation in services, knowing what is new and happening around you. For example, during the events now everything is cooked in the ballroom and put directly on your plate.
An important factor is recruiting the right staff with the right attitude. The attitude is a key word, because I can teach knowledge but if they don’t come with the right attitude, I think I cannot do too much.
The second important factor is the training plan. Our job training procedure is very strong. As I mentioned, we have a very experienced team who ensure that once we get new people on board, they are first properly trained before handling customers.
The third important factor is that we pay a lot of attention to employee’s welfare as well. We have developed many activities and it is also a reason to attract new staff willing to join us. Apart from their personal career development, we look after them to be sure they balance well work and life. This is maybe a key factor for continuing our reputation.
We normally host some heads of states when there're large government events. We have had recently the ASEAN Cultural Exchange Discussion Forum, and we had a couple of heads of states here.
The most important factors are security and good location. We have both of them because of the easy access and our way to control the building. And then, of course, we know very well how to take care of these VIP customers, and they feel well with us. We know what are their requirements, plus we can liaise between government and them much easier.
As example, some of the leaders that have been recently with us, just to name a few, are:
Mr. António Guterres - UNSG (Secretary General of the United Nations)
One thing I didn't mention earlier was that our facilities are very convenient for large conferences. They have direct access to the street, subway and shopping mall, and our conference hall is very large with high ceilings. We can offer a large capacity by combining our facilities in the area, and this is specially very interesting for the organizers of large functions.
Recently you have just officially unveiled the new and upgraded Horizon Club rooms and suites. Could you explain to us some of the most important points of the improvement project at China World Hotel, Beijing, spanning during the last 3 years?
What we did is a complete renovation. I wouldn't say transformation, but it is a major renovation.
For example, our Horizon Club used to be located in one of the top floors, and now is located in the 3rd floor with a very large area for business travellers. We have relocated and redesign a luxury and comfortable lounge for them and direct access to several meeting rooms.
We have also upgraded all rooms, and we launched in 2017 our service residences. Three floors of the hotel were converted to a brand new service residence, especially for long term guests. We have 69 studios, one bedroom and two bedroom apartment that are very popular, and we are running 95% of occupancy. We also have completely redesigned the horizon club floors that are located at the top three floors.
We got very positive guest comments about this major renovation. Shangri-La looks forward and continues developing and innovating. We prefer move on instead of relying on the past success.
在2019年初，中国大饭店完成了所有客房的升级。2017年底，饭店推出了69间全新酒店式服务公馆，包括开放式公馆、一居室公馆 及两居室公馆三种户型，为常住客带来家的舒 适。公馆出租率达95%。此外，升级完成的豪华阁客房及套房位于饭店十八层至二十层，将原有的客房和套间进行空间重组及提升，每一间都可欣赏到CBD的摩登楼宇，零距离感受都市的脉搏。
What they will first notice when guests arrive to the lobby is that we haven't changed anything. So, the lobby hasn't changed in 30 years. We are very proud of it and we have no intention of making any big change. Our guests notice the new edition of rooms immediately, and appreciate that we raise our goals.
Our hotel has been an icon in Beijing, and we said this is an icon redefined. We are in China, and our hotel has a combination of modern and contemporary, but we have a very strong Asian influence. I think it is important for people to recognize where they are and we want our guests to do a cultural immersion during their stay. We want them to know that this is Beijing. I get Peking duck for them and have certain amenities in the room of a combination of traditional Beijing and modern style. Maybe some of the staff is not speaking good English, but it is part of the experience to be here as well.
What delightful cuisines await your stay-in guests? What are the current promotions that they should not miss?
We run regularly several promotions. Our Spanish chef have prepared a special Paella promotion recently. We have added also Peking duck to our Chinese restaurant menu, and it is supervised by Shangri-La Master, Chef Yuan. He develops his own recipe by using traditional methods, and we have included in the menu of the restaurant Summer Palace in addition to our Cantonese dishes.
Three months ago we started to adjust our afternoon tea at the lobby. We tried to make it a bit more traditional, with musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments in the afternoon. On weekends we even have an orchestrea playing.
Firstly, you need to make sure that you're handling every person individually and recognizing their contribution first, and highlighting areas where we need to improve.
We are a big organization and it helps us to move people around here to find the best for our hotels and them. Shangri-La has 50 hotels in China, so if we have an open position somewhere else, I try to promote some of our best staff. We also can bring people to teach our teams here and improve some of our areas.
The individual approach by the management team is very important. It starts from the top and then it goes down. For instance, I interview personally each new staff that will join our hotel.
Are there any up and coming events in the following weeks/months at the China World Hotel, Beijing that you would like to mention?
We are preparing some important events, but maybe one of the most important will be a quite big event that we are organizing with the Malaysian government in September.
How do you manage the area of the four hotels under your responsibility to meet the changing expectations of guests?
I overlook four hotels, but each hotel has their own target. We are trying continually to find out new ideas to target better each market. For example, Hotel Jen is completely different than us, and last months they organized a tattoo event at Beersmith. It was a right thing to do for their target market. On the other hand, we are going to have a Malaysian food promotion event in September, maybe not the right fit for our other hotels.
So you need to understand who is your target customers, what they want, and how to deliver it to them. As we cannot do everything to everybody in the hospitality industry, we need to really focus on a few segments of our target customers.
Money is not the main thing. Hospitality is one of the worst paying sectors. What still drives people like me to get up in the morning and work until late is the need to share our knowledge to create leaders for the hospitality industry.
My first job in a hotel was a lift boy. You know, I'm standing at the lift saying “good morning” and pressing the elevator button. A bellboy is even a higher level than a lift boy, who only stands at the lift. My second job was housekeeping. So when the young people come today, they are exactly in the same shoes like I was at the beginning. It's the same with my senior management team. When they started in this hotel 30 years ago, they were telephone operators or waiters, and now they are directors.
It takes time to grow up and you should maintain your interest and dignity in the job, because it's very demanding job.
What was the unforgettable compliment which you have received from a guest and what was the story behind it?
I received many compliments on a daily basis and it is very hard to pick out one or two or three. But when a staff member went an extra mile to satisfy a guest and the guest write a letter or email to the General Manager personally, it makes me very happy. In addition we share these comments with the team and the concerned collaeges.
Do you live by a particular mantra or motto?
That's a deep question. Just treat people like you like to be treated. Very simple. I respect every job in the hospitality industry, from the cleaner to the management team. For me, everybody's the same. Everybody can call me by my first name. Communicating with every staff member at their level is very important.
I wonder where hospitality will go in 20 years, with AI and robotics on the horizon. Obviously, today you can already check In, get the key and open your room door with your phone, without interacting with people. Someday we will not have telephone operators or reception, or cooking, because it will be done by computers and machines. It’s an interesting point of discussion. But I'm sure there will be hotels in the future that will be specialized in service by humans, even technology maybe allow hotels to do most of the things by machines.
Shangri-La is looking all kind of technologies and innovating as well. We have a TDC (Technology Development Centre), where we have a prototype of the room of the future with different technologies. But I think will still important to have that social connection with guests.
We ended our conversation with Stephan Kapek, but we were delighted to listen all about his rich experience and leadership methods. He is a top executive, who loves Beijing and likes to be treated as everyone. He is responsible for the largest hospitality area in Beijing, the capital of the most populated country in the world. An ambitious man with incredible vision and dream to develop new leaders in hospitality.