Gearing your engineering

Engineering is one of the domains of “unsung heroes” amongst a hotel’s staff. They work behind the scenes — in the back rooms, in the basements, in dark corridors — to provide seamlessly pleasant experiences for guests as well as fellow employees. For many, the challenges faced by a property’s engineering team are so far removed from the mainstays of hospitality journals (for example, sales and marketing, social media techniques or the latest in F&B) that they’re practically unfathomable. 

Paul Singen
Paul Singen

To me, this is all the more reason to investigate these issues, and to help me out is Montage Laguna Beach Director of Engineering Paul Singen.

Larry Mogelonsky: What is the role of the chief engineer?

Paul Singen: I oversee all engineering operations including property-wide capital project enhancements. I am a member of the executive committee, environmental impact committee and safety committee, and I play an integral role in strategic planning for the resort. I lead a team of engineers ensuring all initiatives and processes comply with pre-established compliance regulations.

LM: How many people are on your staff?

PS: I have 22 associates total, including Engineering Manager Jeff Lashbrook, 19 full-time associates and one part-time associate, as well as myself.

LM: How do you staff for any eventuality?

PS: Eventualities can come at any time day or night. All of my staff are trained as emergency responders and have in-depth knowledge on how to handle nearly any situation that arises 24/7. In the event that an eventuality is apparent, we will utilize all resources to help mitigate or correct the issue right away.

LM: How do you manage maintenance, preventative maintenance and emergency needs?

PS: We use a program called HotSOS to assist us in managing our PM program. This program is fully traceable and allows us to stay on task in scheduling PMs. This is a very important part of our success. By completing PMs on time, we prolong the life of the equipment, which in turn saves us money.

LM: Can you give me an example of an emergency situation where your team was tested?

PS: A few months ago, our laundry main drain backed up and caused approximately 400 gallons (1,514 liters) of water to find the path of least resistance, which happened to be a toilet. Water flooded out of the toilet in the meeting space, down the hall and then caved in the F&B and retail office ceilings.

Once we received the call and arrived on scene, we immediately smelled laundry detergent, so we went up to the laundry room and stopped all of the washing machines. We had approximately 25 associates extracting water from various spaces. We called in a water remediation company to completely dry out all areas, remove drywall up to 20 inches (51 cm) and remove all damaged carpeting. In the process, we couldn’t sell two meeting rooms and displaced more than 20 associates from their office space for three days.

LM: Do you get forwarded TripAdvisor reviews where there is an engineering issue?

PS: As an executive committee member, I do receive them once per month. The version that I receive is on a more global scale and doesn’t drill down into major details. For anything that needs addressing, our GM will advise the appropriate manager directly.

LM: What advice can you give individuals who want to take on the role of being a member of the engineering staff?

PS: From an entry-level perspective, they need to be open-minded and great with multitasking. Engineers will have up to 15 calls or projects to complete each day, and they will likely differ from day to day. More specialized positions such as a mechanic or a painter will need at least five years’ experience in their trade to be an eligible candidate for hire.

LM: How important are ecological trends in terms of your evaluation of new technologies?

PS: We are so in tune with ecological trends that we hired a director of sustainability, Mark Slymen. Mark works on all sustainability initiatives for Montage Hotels & Resorts. I am an environmental impact committee member with Mark, and we discuss new potential property initiatives coupled with rebates, amongst other things.

Let me give you an example of how this works. About three years ago, we realized that our garage exhaust fans were on 24 hours per day seven days a week, so we called a company out to look at installing variable frequency drives at each motor location along with the rebate from Edison. The project cost US$20,000. We are saving US$40,000 as a result (six-month payback).

LM: What advice do you give other hoteliers in understanding the role of engineering?

PS: The role that engineering plays in hotels is extremely important. We interact with every department in the resort, whether installing a keyboard on a desk or fully renovating guestrooms, ballrooms, offices, spa, cabanas and restaurants. We have to ensure that all engineers are fully trained and capable of responding to fire or life safety issues, preventative maintenance and job-specific training involved in keeping up with new technology.