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It is not where you start, but where you finish. In this special series, four hotel industry veterans share their climb from entry-level rank-and-file positions to be General Managers today, including Carlton City Hotel Singapore‘s Darren Ware who had started as a Front Desk Receptionist. Find out what drives these #LeadersOfHappiness.

#BizofHappiness #Workforahotel #PassionMadePossible

How long have you been in the hotel industry? It’s been 24 years.

It’s been quite a journey for you, having climbed all the way up from the front desk to become a General Manager. How would you describe the experience? Fun, definitely. And I’ve learnt to have a lot of patience. I started out as a Front Desk Receptionist – which is basically at the bottom. I knew I wanted to be a General Manager (GM) someday, so I worked backwards. I identified the key positions I needed to hold in order to go on that path to becoming a GM, and I worked really hard to get those positions, one by one.

It was a lot of hard work, but plenty of luck as well. I was blessed with the right opportunities to grow and great people I have worked with and led. I’ve been given chances to be a Front Desk Receptionist, Front Officer Supervisor, Chief Receptionist, Duty Manager, Front Office Manager, Director of Rooms, Rooms Division Manager, Resident Manager, and now a General Manager. There were some hurdles along the way, but instead of beating myself up and giving up on my goal, I just found other ways to achieve it.

Looking back, honestly, I consider myself very lucky. I was promoted relatively fast during the first four or five years of my career. I had the right opportunities, and it really proved that even if you’re starting from the lowest level, if you’re willing to put in the extra effort, you will be rewarded.

What were some key takeaways from the different roles you’ve had? Having started from the front office, I learnt a lot about how people at different levels think, and how they work. I’m able to understand the different processes and the different ways of running various departments. Having that experience helps me as a GM and a leader, because my team knows that I don’t just talk the talk – I’ve walked the walk.

What made you decide to join the hotel industry in the first place? I was attracted by the concept of hospitality – the act of being hospitable and the satisfaction and happiness you get from it. I thought that was really interesting and I wanted to be able to do my part to cultivate a global community through sincere service and heartfelt interactions with guests from all over the world.

Do you enjoy what you do? I enjoy it, of course. I think from the very start, I’ve always been someone who loves to interact with people. A lot of people who don’t work in hotels don’t get it. They ask us, “Why do you do what you do? And get scolded for no reason?” That’s true, some days are tough. But in those eight hours that you spend at work, even if just one person smiles at you and thanks you, you’ll go home with a smile on your face. That satisfaction makes it all worthwhile.

What do you on a daily basis as a General Manager? As a GM, my focus is on making sure that my staff are happy. I try to create a culture where everyone is happy, respected and appreciated. I believe that if we can foster a positive culture at work, everyone will be happy to come to work. They’ll be smiling and greeting each other and having fun – and that enthusiasm will then spill over to the entire hotel environment and in their interactions with our guests.

How did you learn the necessary skills to become a General Manager? A GM is essentially a leader. And I think my biggest influence was my late father, who imparted a few important lessons to me. First, always be the better person. Second, even though you’re at the top, your success is determined by the people around you. So make sure to treat them fairly and with respect. My rule of thumb is to always set people up for success. Once they are successful, they’ll deliver success and you’ll all be successful together.

What was the most memorable experience in your career so far? I once had this guest who stayed with the hotel for three weeks. In the first week, we started getting a lot of complaints from him – and the complaints were a little strange. He claimed that he was being watched, that there were cameras planted in his mini-fridge, his phone, and everywhere in his room.

At the time, I was the Resident Manager at the hotel, so I had to deal with him. I spent the next two weeks of his stay listening to him and spending time with him, to reassure him that everything was in order. We’d sit outside his room for hours, just talking, so that he would calm down.

I learnt another important lesson from that experience. When you work in a hotel, even when a guest is being a little demanding or even unreasonable, you just have to show them that you’re willing to listen and care.

What do you love most about working in the hotel industry? Apart from being able to create happiness every day, I’d say that the perks of working in such a vibrant industry are pretty good as well. I was fortunate enough to be presented with the opportunity to work abroad and to manage some of the most exciting pre-opening hotel projects overseas.

In addition, training opportunities and career advancement prospects are abundant. I had the privilege of participating in the highly-regarded General Managers Program at Cornell University that was fully sponsored by the company, where I crossed paths with many respectful individuals in the industry. All these opportunities helped me grow as a person and as a professional in the hotel industry.

Would you say that you’ve had a fulfilling career? Why? Yes, I have. It all boils down to people. Being able to guide the people I’ve worked with, having the opportunity to teach them and watch them change and improve, is very fulfilling to me. It’s also great to see the people that I have led become successful in their careers.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt during your time in the hotel industry? I guess the most important lesson to learn in hospitality is to be strong mentally, and not take criticisms personally. Human nature works in a way that when one party is being aggressive, the other party will get defensive. And if you get defensive when a guest is mad at you, your mind wouldn’t work properly and it’s very hard to keep things professional.

So sometimes you can’t take things personally. If a guest is demanding something, know that the guest is upset with the situation, not you; try to focus on solving the problem for the guest. You’ve got to be flexible. After all, I believe that some rules were made to be bent – not broken, but bent. This mantra comes in handy very often, because we’re a people-driven business.

Do you have any more goals that you hope to achieve in the future? I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved so far. I just want to guide my younger staff members and hopefully raise the next generation of leaders in the hotel industry. I want to continue to lead my team and inspire them to be the best they can be, in whatever role I am in.

What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Be prepared for hard work – there will be long days, there will be a lot of sacrifices you’ll have to make. And more importantly, show genuine care and respect for the people around you, guest and colleagues included. Do everything sincerely, and you’ll be able to make a lot of people happy.