In this issue, we focus on Callie Tan, the Group General Manager of GoodHope Hotel Johor Bahru.
Callie started off her career in Finance as an Accounts Executive attached to Hotel Equatorial back in 1987. It was her first job after graduating from HELP Institute in Kuala Lumpur. Her salary was very low then and she had to support her family, so she moved on to other industries where she could get a higher pay. Little did she know that eventually she would return to the hospitality industry. In 2001, she was approached by the owner of GoodHope Hotel to become its Financial Controller as well as fill in the role of the General Manager which was left vacant. From Financial Controller, Callie officially became the General Manager in 2006 and then as the Group General Manager in 2013.
What inspired you to enter the hotel industry?
It was by chance and very much a bread and butter issue. However, I could say that “the challenge was in my making”.
Previously the “Paradise Hotel”; GoodHope Hotel in Skudai was acquired in year 2000 while still under receivership. When I joined, the hotel was in a bad shape and in desperate need for a revamp and manned by staff with extremely low morale. With my little operational knowledge, I had to start from Ground Zero, working late to check the floors even after the staff went home. I listened to staff’s grievances and tried to make things better. I took Sales & Marketing by the horn and drove for revenue, but I also became a threat to those who had taken advantage of the absence of a General Manager then to benefit themselves. I didn’t receive any cooperation, and during month end the suppliers came knocking on our doors for payment whereas the staff’s payroll needed to be taken care of too.
It was really tough and it took me 2 years of hardship to turn the hotel around so that it is able to sustain on its own. On hindsight, seeing my labour flourishing into fruits must be the source of my inspiration.
What are your strengths?
A doggedness to right what was wrong. I could easily have walked away any time during the two hardest years by telling the owners to find someone else for the job, but I didn’t. I had so many employees’ survival to think about as well as my own.
Other than with figures, numbers and statistics I have no other strengths. Just a woman’s instinct, empathy and a determination not to be ‘bullied’ out of the hotel! Later, I realised the importance of creating a good work culture and therefore, I created the motto of “Honesty and Quality” within the hotels.
Relate ONE example of an incident that made you feel that being a hotelier is the right job for you?
I clearly remember one evening when we had two wedding events – one was a Sikh wedding of 800 guests and the other a Chinese wedding of 200 guests. We had shortage of manpower but the staff morale was at an all-time high. Everything went on without a hitch. One of the wedding guest who was a hotel General Manager himself complimented the team, and said he was very inspired that a 3-star hotel could deliver 5-star services. It was sweet on the ears and the spirit.
For me, seeing the staff working their best and above adversities, made me proud that I must have done something good!
What do you see as the future for a career in hospitality and in Johor?
Whether it is a 3-star, 4-star, 5-star hotel or even a basic BnB lodging – there will always be potential for growth in the hotel industry in Johor. It is an evergreen industry where people always need to get away once in a while, to travel and to see places and the need for a place to sleep. Although we can see ever-increasing trends where technology gradually replaces people in certain sections of the hotel, but we still need people to man that technology and the perennial human touch that is the core of services. There is always a need for new blood to inject new breath into the industry.
What are the opportunities open to them within your own hotel?
Although a 3-star hotel, we pride ourselves on always providing new entrants with something unique to learn. We are not located in a central city area, neither are we a resort with many facilities. In fact, we are off the main track but these challenges are what make us unique in terms of our business strategies. “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”, and I strongly believe that those who work here will come out resourceful, creative and be able to think-out-of-the-box. At the same time, learn good corporate and humane values.
What are your personal words of encouragement for new entrants into the industry?
If you have “PASSION” and take great pride in being a hotelier, I believe even a security guard can be become a General Manager one day.
With the hotel, the world is your oyster. There is always an opportunity to grow in all positions. But true to the spirit of a hotelier, I only encourage those persons who are keen to learn about people, enjoy meeting and serving people to apply for the job.
They must not be fair-weathered people and run away at the first sign of ‘danger’. You’ve got to be flexible, be willing to learn and carry a sincere smile on your face against all odds. It will be worth it at the end as you become a specialist in your area with the surety of climbing the ladder of hospitality success.