I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in January 2003 as the un-official “number two” at the hotel, and a month later, my General Manager decided to take a few weeks off to get married, and left me in charge. As luck would have it, the dates overlapped the February 2003 “Non-Aligned Movement” Summit which was being hosted that year in Malaysia, an international gathering of states which are not aligned formally with or against any major power.
For security purposes, the lobby of the hotel was converted by the government into a mini-airport, with armed guards, police, and 2 giant luggage scanners, complete with conveyor belts and TV monitors that were manned by the Malaysian Police 24-7. We were informed that 2 obscure African nations and their Presidents had been assigned to our hotel. And their arrivals were both memorable.
The first delegation arrived with their entourage in their colourful national dress, and after going up to their rooms, the luggage truck arrived, and we began the process of unloading the bags. One particular bag caught my attention: a large white Styrofoam cooler with side handles, which was dripping from the lid with some sort of red juice, which we soon discovered was blood. Bird blood. As in “the President likes to eat this particular type of bird so we killed a couple of fresh ones and put them on ice in this cooler and brought them with us on the plane” type of bird blood. After discussion, we allowed it, because they brought their own Chef also, so we let him cook the birds in our kitchen.
The second delegation had a different specialty item that they brought from home: guns. Big guns. What I learned was this: apparently if you are guarding a head of state like a President or Prime Minister, the Malaysian government allows you to bring in a pistol or handgun, which must be declared upon arrival. But somebody on the welcoming committee forgot to explain the rules to this delegation, and they arrived to the hotel with massive hunting rifles and elephant guns.
Now mind you, it seemed that they knew that security would be tight, so they did make an effort to conceal the weapons, knowing that they would have to go through X-Ray luggage scanners at the hotels. So how did they conceal the massive rifles? They wrapped them up in … newspaper. Unfortunately however for this delegation, the Malaysian police were apparently using a “special” type of X-ray luggage scanner that was somehow able to penetrate the newspaper and identify that the large rifle-shaped object was indeed, a large rifle.
I wish you could have seen the reaction of the police officer who was assigned to the luggage scanner. He had spent the past 7 hours or so watching his monitor as mobile phones, watches, and laptops slowly scrolled by. When the giant hunting rifle came up on the screen he literally jumped out of his chair, eyes bulging, and started shouting what I later learned were very bad words. An international incident was unfolding, pistols were drawn, and I was in charge, in the lobby, inexperienced, and un-armed. Luckily the Chief of Police soon arrived on the scene, employed a bit of diplomacy, and sorted things out. The elephant guns and rifles were sent back to the aircraft, and the African security team was allowed to enter the building. And I immediately began thinking about another career…which took 10 years to materialize.
About the author
Steve Cokkinias is the Founder & CEO of InnSense Leadership (www.innsense.com) which he established in 2012 after a successful 17-year career in the hospitality industry that included senior positions with Ritz-Carlton, Westin, and Sheraton in the U.S.A, Caribbean, and Asia. An inspiring and sought-after speaker and executive coach, Steve has delivered energizing programs on service, leadership, and talent management to a wide range of international companies. During his 9 years as General Manager in Kuala Lumpur, his hotel was named "Best Employer in Malaysia" 4 times consecutively by Hewitt & Associates, earning him a place on Human Capital Asia's "Hot 40 - Asia's H.R. Superstars". In 2010, Steve was named Malaysia's "General Manager of the Year" by the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards. His new book, "InnSanity - Leadership Lessons from a Lifetime in Luxury Lodging", is due for release in early 2013. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecokkinias.