Stephen Teo was previously the General Manager of Granada Hotel Johor Bahru, and now a partner in a training company and also the Committee Member of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) Johor Chapter in charge of star-rating for hotels in Johor.
He has more than 20 years of experience in the hotel industry after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Hotel Management with Les Roches in Switzerland. Over the years, Stephen had worked with Hotel Beau Rivage, Geneva, Movenpick, Switzerland, Rot-Fluh Resort Hotel, Seestrasse, Austria and then back home with The Tropical Inn and Hyatt hotels in Johor Bahru, Sentral group of hotels in Sabah and the most recent being The Granada Hotel.
What inspired you to enter the hospitality industry?
My sister was my role model. She had graduated with a similar qualification in Switzerland earlier and had traveled and worked around the world. Being young, curious and raging with adventurous hormones, the idea appealed to me and so I ventured into the same career path as my sister. My adrenalin still pumps for the hotel industry and for the next generation of hoteliers.
In what position did you get started in?
I had started as a waiter and although my main job was bussing and waiting, I had to do other chores such as cleaning toilets, mopping the floor, washing the dishes, cleaning the windows, and etc.
These odd jobs may have seemed daunting and useless to what I had wanted to do, but in fact it was the very foundation of my F&B experience. As I rose to become a General Manager, I faced challenges with my staffing and operational matters but I could come up with innovative ways to overcome related issues that ultimately saved the day. So never look down on basics that we pick up in the earlier part of our careers.
What do you see as the future for a career in hospitality and in Johor?
My opinion is that if any young person out there is looking to excel in the hotel business, Johor is the right place to grow in. Unlike my colleagues, who have more than once expressed the strategic location of Johor as a reason for growth and a career in the industry, I look at it from another perspective.
The deluxe category hotel industry flourished in the late 70s with the arrival of The Tropical Inn hotel where I worked. That was the first wave when luxury hotels followed and emerged in Johor Bahru one after another in the 80s to early 90s with the Holiday Inn, the Hyatt, Pan Pacific and Sofitel (ACCOR) branded hotel chains. The industry became more mature and more internationalised here and many of us seniors were from that wave, trained in the traditional styles of hotel systems and service standards. Now we have a second wave, where the industry has evolved into one that is more trend-conscious, creative, and technologically-innovative with multi-tasking as the norm.
Johor is where the old styles and the new can be melded into a rich experience for new entrants into the industry. We guide them on the long-enduring but core standards of traditional hotel service, yet being free to adapt and explore their own ideas, giving reign to individualistic capabilities. Here is where we have an integration that can make being a hotelier an enriching, learning and growing experience; and there is no better place than Johor, where we are already witnessing the expansion of so many different categories of hotels – from basic Orchid, Boutique to 5-star city, beach, golf and resort hotels. There is so much to learn but so few people to take advantage of it.
In your current position, how can you ensure that there is a way forward for the local hotel industry and for those wishing to make it their careers?
I hope to guide member hotels on the needs and requirements of reaching and meeting certain standards that are categorised to differentiate us against one another in terms of service and facilities. The only way to keep our industry thriving is by being customer-centric. We need the diversity – and that diversity should be properly categorised and recognised by service quality, facilities and rates that can cater to a very fragmented but online-savvy group of customers. It is all here in Johor and within your budget and close to your preferred places of interest.
And for entrants into the industry, and particularly for those who wish to climb the ladder as hoteliers, I hope to play a part in inducting them into this differentiation. I benefited from having worked at varying categories of hotels – from budget to 5-star hotels, and it was a valuable learning curve for me.
What are your personal words of encouragement for new entrants into the industry?
Working in the hospitality industry is to work within one organisation with the most diverse functions under one roof. It is a rich, power house of work experience dealing with different people in different situations, and on a daily basis.
You are never stagnant and if you have an inclination to specialise in any particular area, you can get transferred into that and continue to grow. From a waiter I became a cook, then as a Sales person, F&B Manager before becoming a General Manager.
So, if you’re curious like me to learn new things or enjoy coping with new challenges, the hotel industry is for you and we welcome you with open arms.