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Exclusive: IHG’s Smits on finding quality staff, hotel school partnerships, more

Jan Smits_Headshot

BMIHMS at Torrens University are highly anticipating IHG’s Chief Executive for Asia, Middle East and Africa, JAN SMITS, visiting their Sydney Campus for their upcoming Leadership Speaker Series.

In the lead up to his visit, BMIHMS and HM put a few questions to him to get a sense of what their students should hope to expect from his discussion on July 27.

HM: With the rapid growth in the hospitality industry and the Asia-Pacific region in particular, what are some of the key strategies that you adopt to find quality staff?

JS: We are in the people business so being able to attract and retain high-caliber talent is crucial to the health of our organisation.

We are especially committed to developing local talent. An example of an initiative we run at a grassroots level is our global IHG Academy program. This is a work experience placement initiative in collaboration with local education providers and community groups – run in over180 hotels across the Asia, Middle East & Africa (AMEA) region, resulting in over 14,000 participants being trained.

We also use targeted approaches such as being present at major career fairs, making our presence known on jobseeker and career websites, and of course using our own IHG careers website to profile our employer brand.

In today’s fast paced working environment, the reality is employees – current and potential – are looking for quicker ways advance their careers. In the past it could take up to two decades before you’d reach the role of General Manager, which – to a university graduate or young job seeker – could be considered just too long.

To remain competitive and an attractive employer of choice to today’s talent, we’ve implemented a number of initiatives and programs aimed at accelerating career progression for high-potential, ambitious talent.

This includes our Future Leaders program, designed to fast-track young talent to hotel department head positions within a two-year period; and the GM Express program, launched in 2014 and again a fast-track program, this time for hotel high performers wanting to advance to a first-time GM role.

It’s this way of thinking, and offering initiatives and programs like these, that are helping earn us recognition in the market, including being awarded third position on Great Place to Work’s ‘Best Companies to Work For List’, in Singapore last year.

Personally I believe that talent attracts talent, so whether it’s our people proactively showing what it’s really like to work for IHG (via #LifeAtIHG, the hashtag used by our colleagues on their social media networks to help bring to life our culture) or them recommending friends (we reward colleagues for successful hires based on their endorsements), it’s proven really effective at bringing people with the right skills and culture fit into IHG.

HM: Have you benefited from the advantages of working closely with hotel schools to leverage staff?

JS: We enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with many schoolsthrough our IHG Academy program. IHG provides internships for their students – and ultimately the future leaders of our industry – and in turn we have the opportunity to work with the very top talent these schools have to offer.

Here in Australia we work with top hotel schools such as Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School, who we have partnered with for over a decade. In fact, many of our senior operations leaders, GMs and young talent have joined the IHG family from this school and others and enjoyed great success with us.

HM: What attributes do you look for in your management team?

JS: I’ve always been passionate about one fact when it comes to building my management team: the team needs to reflect the diversity of the region we operate in. I’m proud to share that my management is truly diverse – 8 nationalities out of a team of 13, a range of ages and different backgrounds, nearly equal in terms of gender. Diversity in leadership teams can unlock value, bring fresh perspectives and inspire new thinking, insights and stimulation to drive business and growth.

Other attributes that are critical to me include the inability to translate strategy into execution, agile management and the ability to navigate across cultural complexities.

HM: How do you lead employees across three such different continents?

JS: After working in and personally leading businesses that are geographically, culturally and socially diverse, I’ve come to realisethat clarity is the one recurring theme. We respect and celebrate difference when it comes to the way we live and interact – but we all have a common goal and absolute clarity as to what winning truly looks like for our organisation.

We have a very strong and unique culture at IHG, with values and behaviours that have been well embedded across the business – from my management team to all the colleagues working in our hotels. We are transparent about what great looks like and consistent in rewarding fantastic performance, as well as managing under-performance.

As we have such a large and diverse region I have empowered our individual sub-regions to drive in-year trading as they are close to the business and can operate with speed and agility, reacting to what is happening in market. I believe it’s important to give your leaders from all functions the freedom and space to do their job and not trying to get in their way.

HM: Advice to hospitality management students contemplating a career with an international hotel chain such as IHG?

JS: It really starts with a love for the industry and the heart of that is really people. If you have an instinct for service and a passion for connecting and communicating with people from all walks of life, then I can think of no better industry than hospitality. With an international chain your opportunity for career progression within and outside of your home country is really high.

Take the initiative, roll your sleeves up and get involved in projects and activities that may not fall under your designated job description. You never know what the experience will provide you or where it could take you.

Be curious about culture and places. Travel is a wonderful teacher, and this industry can literally take you places.

To watch the event live, visit the BMIHMS YouTube channel.

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