A day in the life of an expat General Manager or it’s lonely at the top…

The hospitality business of the 70’s and 80’s is, in many ways, unrecognisable from the environment we see today. Technology, increasing labour costs (and decreasing staffing levels), increased tourism and travel, and the rise of the hotel management behemoths, just to name a few, have all played their part in the re-shaping of our industry.   However, it is interesting to consider that at this point, the daily routines of a luxury hotel General Manager are still very similar today to those of earlier times, only to prove little has really changed over the years.

I have worked with General Managers for many years, whether for them, with them or listening to them as a recruitment firm executive. I could relay so many stories that I could probably fill half a dozen books full of anecdotes detailing the wise, wacky, weird and occasionally wonderful events that become part of the daily lives of General Managers.

It has often been said that no two days are alike for a GM, with the axiom “people, product, profit” drummed in at a formative stage. This idea guided the activity for the week, month and year. The only real difference today as I see it, is the relative weighting of the “3 P’s” as perhaps there is far less emphasis on people (guests and staff) and far more on profit.

It appears though that interference from owners seems to be a major factor that stresses many GM’s because they are caught between their employer (the management company) and the owners of the property or in many cases an owner representative that parades his ego in front of the GM at every opportunity. I recall a conversation with a GM who moved from an owner/operator hotel to an internationally managed property, who told me that it took him 6 months to realise he was not there to make money for the hotel owner, but to make money for the management company!! In today’s world of a myriad of fees and charges, matched with complex management agreements, these can be two entirely different things…

This of courses places the GM in an unenviable position trying to please both major stakeholders. Add to this the rigors of ‘servicing’ owners & associated family member and management company executives demanding endless reports on trivial matters, as well as more mundane requests for the GM’s time and it is little wonder that many hit the bottle…

While still very junior in the management team of one luxury property, I witnessed one of those experiences that has never left me, when the fairly headstrong GM of the hotel had to deal with owners. The old patriarchal owner himself was marvellous, but unfortunately his spoilt brat children had their ego’s and used every opportunity to show the GM who was boss!

It went so far that one morning when the GM arrived in the lobby, he thought he had entered the wrong hotel finding the lobby had completely changed overnight. Layouts were rearranged, new furniture appeared, an abundance of plants and flowers had been installed in the most un-aesthetic way imaginable; it didn’t look anything like a hotel lobby, but more like a funeral parlour that didn’t match the design or interior whatsoever. So, the GM had his morning surprise only to be topped by a huge bill for the furniture, plants and flowers that were delivered that night, courtesy of one of the owner’s children. He then had to explain to his management company boss why his monthly p&l was so out of line.

Having worked in many so called developing countries in the 70’s and 80’s the GM was often at the mercy of owners and sometimes even the military and police. Many people who have worked in Africa would be able to confirm that when some so-called VIP (perhaps military dictator😊) would arrive in the early hours at the hotel, it was apparently “essential” that the GM get out of bed to personally escort him and his entourage to their rooms. There would be a good book or film script in some of these stories alone!

So a day in the life of a GM was never dull, getting up at midnight to shake hands with VIP’s or friends of the owners; having some corporate head office executive in the house who demanded constant attention; a suicide in room 412 or just simply a domestic dispute between a married couple who managed to  demolish the room; entertaining travel agents – always on a free trip; or simply getting out the crystal ball to justify why the business wasn’t as good as expected – of course no reason was ever acceptable by either owner or management company.

The solution for some GM’s was to hire a good No 2 and ‘delegate’ absolutely every part of the day to day running of the hotel to them whilst they patrolled the bar and restaurant, delighting guests, accepting compliments for the exceptional job they were doing and no doubt drinking the profits in the process. They were the personalities that ‘had’ to attend every cocktail party in the hotel (and in town) assuming that they were not on the golf course by 11am or on their surfboard by 4 – ah, all in a day’s work…

But in their defence, it was always good to have a highly visible GM during those years – something that hardly happens these days because they are all occupied with writing reports, crunching numbers or replying to emails and social media comments.

Ah, the joys of ‘full accountability and responsibility’ is the life of the GM – (read punchbag for owner or Area Vice President having a bad day!). It’s always good to have someone to blame for that poorly designed kitchen provided by the owner when they decided to cut costs by removing the cold rooms, or a budget shortfall due to the fantasy GOP figure that the management company promised to win the contract!

Still the GM toils on, collecting a ‘fair days’ pay’ for his 16-hour day – although the hourly rate is now getting dangerously close to that of the Chief Steward…

So what of the future? More of the same or will things start to change?

Will robots replace hotel staff and so eliminate the need for GM’s as we know them? Certainly, for many hotels the GM is becoming a scare commodity as GM clustering becomes the norm, replacing GM’s with Resident or Hotel Manager’s to reduce expenses in the endless drive for more profit.

Ultimately it will be guests that suffer from the commoditisation of hospitality, and as paying customers will have the final say in how far standards are allowed to fall before they act with their feet.

In the meantime, the GM will carry on, doing his/her best to be all things to all people, a jack of all trades, until the next drama unfolds or report request hits the email inbox…

About the author

rsz_karl_faux_ccKarl Faux is a veteran Hotelier and Managing Partner with Elite Search – a leading hospitality recruitment firm.
For more information about Karl and Elite Search visit http://www.elitesearch.com.au and The Elite Hotelier http://www.elitehotelier.net

4 comments

  1. Sadly so dammed true, the stories I could tell.

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  2. Dear Karl,

    Very well said. This is the reality about GM’s in now days . “the lobby had completely changed overnight” , is the less that can happen.

    There are in now days Owners that still living in the mid ages , walking in the main lobby with the gun , threat and blackmail employees to pay him 2.000 Usd in order to let them go etc etc.

    A friend of mine who had the unlucky experience to work in Erbil, upon his arrival he found out that the employees was sleeping in rooms on matresses without linens, they were placing their clothes on the floor as the owner was not willing to provide one basic closet and they were eating 7 days continiously rice and soup. NO breakfast no DInner…..He had several fights with the owner until to set up 3 meals per day.
    The morning he was creating the employees menu with the Chef and after an hour the owner was sending SMS to the Executive Chef telling him…dont dare to set up breakfast and dinner.

    On the top of the employees worked 12-14 hours per day, no OT, no day off, no medical insurance, and the daughter of the owner has decided to to provide the public holidays only to the local employees. According her orders the expatriates were not entitled for holidays.

    Several people were dismissed by the owner because she doesnt like Black people, Syrian people, Indian people , they have rejected even a employee with experience in RItz Carlton and Anantara just because they didnt like his name. If you were unlucky to be included on this list they never paid your salary, when you were dismissed.

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  3. and everybody is still wondering why airbnb became so successful 🙂

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  4. Roger Baldwin · · Reply

    its a great piece and so very true….. I to often wonder where it will end up I ve seen some tuly Great GM’s lave the industry just for the reasons you have cited … Does Clustering really achiive cost efficiency…. I ve seen this in my own field and still don’t think its a true viable solution … Short term bottom line sure … Long term never works…….

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