What was your first job in the accommodation industry and how long were you in it?
From 10 years old I worked in my parent’s hotel – the Orana Motor Inn at Kaitaia on New Zealand’s North Island. I watched them work hard and it instilled a strong work ethic in me. I had to do the dishes, make beds and clean the pool. I couldn’t wait to turn 13 because (under New Zealand licensing laws back then) if you were the publican’s son or daughter, at age 13 you were allowed to serve in the bar, so that was my great ambition at that age – to get out of doing the dishes. I worked there on and off and during school holidays, until I left school to go to William Angliss School of Hospitality in Melbourne.
Those early days taught me a great deal about customer service. Good hospitality is really very simple – you have to be responsive to people. It’s relationship-focused and so you need to ensure you hire the right people who share your vision. That is paramount.
Can you tell us a funny, embarrassing or memorable story involving you from the early part of your career?
As a child I had some health issues and I had another setback when I was about nine years’ old. I fell on some bamboo when I was playing sport with my friends and was in hospital for three months.
I think these experiences helped create my drive and passion for life and gave me a different perspective on situations. I learned from an early age that nothing is guaranteed, and we don’t know what is ahead, but if we have a positive attitude, we empower ourselves to respond in the best way possible when we come across a setback.
We all have to overcome fears at different stages of our lives and for me, to overcome my fears I have had to face them head on. Those who know me would not believe that I used to be afraid of going in the water. Now you can’t get me away from the surf. I was also claustrophobic so decided to get my dive ticket. I was afraid of heights so I applied to get my pilot’s license. On my first solo flight I nearly crashed the plane.
It’s the fears I’ve had that have empowered me to challenge myself. I didn’t completely conquer my fear of water, but I found a way to control the emotions associated with it, and also turned these fears into something I am passionate about. It’s all about the perspective you take on the situation. You have to stay positive.
We are all going to have experiences in our lives that create fears or anxiety – some are bigger than others, but it is how you deal with them that makes the difference. You need to have a positive attitude and look on the bright side of everything. If you are focused and committed to your own individual development – and this is an ongoing process – you can overcome anything and achieve anything you want.
At 19, I decided – why don’t I start my own transport business? Dad wasn’t impressed as he had put me through boarding school, and I had just completed Hospitality College to go and become a transport operator, but that’s what I did for a while. The business went well. I ended up having three trucks and ran it from 1984 to 1988. I built it from scratch to a worth of NZD$1 million. I sold the company in 1988 and went back to the hospitality business.
I don’t think there was a particular memorable moment in the early days that shaped me, but rather a chain of experiences, along with a whole lot of commitment and focus, and that never ends. It was a combination of my childhood experiences, family business, travelling and working overseas and starting my own business.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to young people assessing whether hospitality or tourism is right for them as a profession?
It is an amazing industry that offers a diverse range of opportunities. I have been fortunate to work for hotels in London, Asia, the Middle East, New Zealand and across Australia and believe you can achieve anything if you are prepared to work for it.