Growing up in Belgium, I was exposed to various career paths early on, but none attracted me more than the hospitality industry. Between listening to my grandfather’s rich tales of traveling abroad to tasting bold flavors in my mother’s kitchen, the excitement of the travel industry was alluring. Looking back, I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunities and tools at an early age to fuel my career. From working in various fine-dining restaurants in Belgium and France, to classic hotel school, to early assignments in Dubai and Bali, I worked extremely hard — but my success is also a product of my environment.
At a recent three-day intense leadership training with our team here on a private island in Hawaii, I found myself focusing on the incredible diversity in the room. Quite similar to a United Nations meeting, the faces represented different backgrounds, ethnicities, age demographics and education. And while many of us were raised cultures apart, we also had very similar upbringings, which ultimately led us down this career path. What also struck me as I panned the room were the leaders that were born and raised on the Island of Lana’i. While these leaders may not have 36 stamps on their passports or attended hotel school back east, they bring a truly authentic leadership style, unique perspective and cultural sensitivity that frankly is quite exhilarating.
This got me thinking. As we look at the next generation of hoteliers, do we solely recruit from the top hotel schools, or do we identify leaders in the community as our next managers in the making? After all, these individuals — who are born and raised with the teachings and values of the culture — make some of the finest leaders. They are often already unspoken leaders within their families and communities and offer an authentic and genuine perspective and leadership style that even the finest hotel schools cannot teach.
Take Lana’i — Hawaii’s sixth-largest island with a population of just over 3,000. There are only two resorts on the island — both of which are Four Seasons. A majority of the community works for the resorts in various positions. A few years ago, we created the Lana’i Assistant Manager Program to specifically promote and allow growth opportunities for Lana’i residents who were current Four Seasons employees. Now in its third year, the 18-month program allows the assistant manager to work in every department, identifying their strengths, interests and opportunities for career advancement. These team members have the opportunity for extensive training and mentorship with senior leaders and can gain a broad understanding of the hospitality industry. The program and formula works. The graduates have remained with the company in management roles throughout our organization, even though they had the opportunity to fly out of the nest, and as a result of their enthusiasm and success, there now is continued interest and more applications for this program each year.
As the general manager, it’s been wonderful to witness their transformation, and I am very proud to see how confident they have become. It’s truly gratifying to offer this unique opportunity and be such an integral part of people’s growth and development. Who knows, I may one day be working for one of them!
Whether you are living in a metropolis or on a remote island such as Lana’i, identify opportunities to connect with the community from a recruitment standpoint. I guarantee you will find some of the most hardworking, enthusiastic and natural leaders. It just takes the right program and the right person to help open the door to their success and allow the opportunity. Both your guests and fellow employees will benefit.