Marriott International President Asia Pacific (excl China), Rajeev Menon, speaking at the Future Leaders Forum. Image credit: Asher Milgate.

Esteemed leaders from IHG, Marriott and more shared their career learnings with the industry’s up-and-comers at the inaugural Future Leaders Forum which took place on Tuesday May 3 at SkyCity Adelaide.

Marriott International President of Asia Pacific excluding Greater China (APEC), Rajeev Menon, was one of the keynote speakers at the under-35s leadership summit, and spoke about the highs and lows of a career in hospitality.

Menon admits hospitality wasn’t his first love. He had hoped to pursue a career in the Air Force but less-than-perfect eyesight held him back and set him on the course to pursue his second love – hotels.

He recalled when he first came to Australia, during the recession in 1992, his experience of continuous rejection when job seeking.

“It was pretty tough – the unemployment rate was sky high, not like today,” he said.

“I gave 25 interviews and got rejected from every single one. I was basically told I had no Aussie experience, so I had no chance.”

Even when he eventually secured a job at the Radisson Century on Victoria Street, Sydney, he knew his future with the business was very uncertain when the GM that hired him was fired 10 days later.  

“Every evening over the next 50 days, the new GM would walk into somebody’s office with a pink slip and say ‘Thank you very much, you’re not required anymore,’” he explained.

The staffing levels at the 300-room hotel went from 149 down to 99 before things stabilised. Menon said it taught him the importance of being fair and upfront with people.

“If you’ve got to make a difficult decision like this, do it quick, be fair and don’t procrastinate, don’t prolong it,” he said.  

Menon’s career advice to young people is to take calculated risks and push outside your comfort zone.

“If you don’t find yourself investing the time in detail and having that passion, then you know you’re in the wrong place,” he said.  

“And nobody else needs to tell you that – it’s you yourself. But coupled with that ability to invest time in the details, also take risks, get out of your comfort zone and get into something that will push you, because nine times out of 10, that’s what propels you.”

‘We’re not curing cancer’

The Star Gold Coast Chief Operating Officer, Jessica Mellor, spoke candidly about her career journey, sharing work and travel memories from holidaying in Europe, lessons learned from work in hospitality and recruitment, and her determination to be successful in construction.

Speaking about her perspective on a career in hospitality, she said it’s important to remember it’s about entertainment.

“We’re not solving world hunger, we’re not curing cancer, we’re helping people have a great time,” she said.  

“And it’s really important to acknowledge that we’re not doing those really heavy tasks, so that we keep it fun, and we don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Being authentic

Mellor discussed how working in construction taught her about the importance of connecting with people and being true to herself.

“I knew the detail that were in our plans better than anybody and I would push back hard when I didn’t agree with something,” she said.

“I also accepted getting called ‘Darl’ a lot. I wore my pink socks to work with my work boots. I made sure that I was in the pub at four o’clock for knockoff drinks.”

She said this was just as important as knowing her stuff.

“It was making the connections with people and showing up as my authentic self that truly earned the respect of those who I worked with, despite my youth, gender and inexperience,” she said.

Mellor said that she continues to rely heavily on her ability to build genuine relationships to this day.

Business of branding

IHG Hotels and Resorts CEO – Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa, Kenneth Macpherson, talked about his career journey from starting out as a dishwasher before progressing to waiter at a restaurant, and later learnings from his time working with drinks giant Diageo in the UK.

Macpherson said there are many common business principles that he could apply to his career in hospitality, including branding, performance management and financial discipline.

“The Diageo business and IHG are both really obsessed about brands and that ability to position a brand so that it’s distinct, and to be clear about how you’re going to build it so that it drives value,” he said.

“Diageo does that for distributors and joint venture partners, driving value for them with their money through your brand, and that’s exactly what we do in hospitality … [With] joint ventures and partnerships, that transfers directly across to asset ownership and the models, particularly the asset light model.”