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Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers: Jesper Bo Henriksen, GM, Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow, Russia
By Lily Lin, MBA, Ph.D
Jesper Henriksen has been the GM of Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow since January 2012. This is his sixth GM appointment with Radisson since 2002. Jesper Henriksen came through the sales career path. He fully understands the importance of delivering on one’s promises. Consequently, he is supportive of his staff to ensure that they carry out their promises to their customers.
What makes Jesper Henriksen stand out from the best of GMs is that he started working in the hotel industry as a bellboy at the tender age of 13. Since then, he has been an apprentice waiter, a cashier, a front office clerk, a night manager, a sales executive, and finally a GM — he loves to be a GM and simply cannot imagine not working in the hotel industry.
Jesper Henriksen is an hotelier through and through. With 1,300 staff, Jesper Henriksen has a big and an important job to do and he does it with such confidence and amazing grace.
You graduated from Schiller International University, Paris in 1991 but you started working for the hotel industry in 1980. Did you always want to work in the hotel industry?
I started working in the hotel industry in Denmark when I was 13. I wanted to earn pocket money. My parents said that I could work as a bellboy. When I went to university, I was not sure whether hotel business was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But the day I graduated, the hotel where I worked as a bellboy called me and offered me the sales manager’s position. Now I can’t imagine not working in the hotel industry.
You started your hotel career from the ground floor. You worked as a bellboy, cashier and front office clerk. What was your dream during those days?
I dreamed that I would be a GM one day. I was ambitious; I saw myself in a leadership position. Once I became a department head, I could see my dream much clearer.
You are Danish, but except for the early days of your career, you have always worked outside of Denmark. What attracted you to work in other countries?
I came from a family that traveled a lot. I’ve been traveling every two or three years. I wanted to experience international life. When you change your environment every so often, you get to work with different cultures and consequently, you constantly question yourself. Because of my traveling, I’ve learned to be open and patient with people around me.
Are there fundamental differences between working in Russia and in Europe?
The biggest adjustment one has to get used to in Russia is that everything is based on a bureaucratic process. The bureaucratic system is a part of the Russian culture. To survive in Russia, you will need a certain amount of patience. If you are not patient, you will get a heart attack! Of course, over the years things have changed somewhat! Nowadays, the Moscow market is dynamic and people are ambitious. You can feel the energy.
You were the Director of Sales for various Radisson SAS for a number of years. What have you learned in sales that helped you become a better GM?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that when you sit with one of your clients, you make a promise. If the hotel does not live up to your promise, it is you who will lose face. So, I’ve learned that if you promise something, you need to make sure that you will deliver. Therefore, I do give a lot of support to our sales people. They have to deliver, or they will face a big problem!
Your current position is your sixth GM position. What are the most difficult issues you are facing as the GM of Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow?
You get used to the red tapes! So, it is not my biggest challenge. My biggest challenge is to get enough qualified staff! The Russian culture is not a service-oriented culture. It was never encouraged or developed under the Soviet regime. The service culture started just recently. At the same time, a number of new luxury hotels are opening in Moscow. All hotels, both new and existing ones, need qualified and genuine hospitality employees; i.e., service orientation is in the staff’s DNA. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough qualified employees to go around. So, hotels are stealing staff from each other.
Russians travel a lot. When you travel, you pick up the idea what good service means, and you begin to acquire higher expectations about service quality. So, in a generation, things will become better but today, in our hotel, for example, we have 9 – 10 people who are full-time training staff.
As the GM, many people will look to you as a source of inspiration. So, who do you most admire? Why?
When I see our hotel staff, who would do their upmost to make sure our guests are happy, I really admire them! I admire those who dare to give genuine service!
It’s not an easy job you are doing. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Well, the Russian service industry has a long way to go. If I see everything from a perfectionist’s point of view, I will be quite demotivated. But, if I set big goals and at the same time, I also set many small goals, then as I achieve small goals, I am getting closer and closer to achieving the big goals. This helps to keep me motivated. In London, I see that everything is perfect. If I worked there, I think I would be bored to death!
In your opinion, what is the single most important issue for your employees?
Recognition! We have 1,300 staff. The most important issue for my employees is to be recognized as human beings, who are trying to do their best, who need feedback and training.
As the GM, if you had to make a choice, would you do the things right or would you do the right things?
I recently posted a question in our Facebook page (iworkinhotels.com): “Why do you think your GM is important to you?” Someone answered: “I don’t think my GM is important to me but he might be important to the company.” Do you agree with this statement?
It’s a very sad statement! It’s about the GM; it’s about his leadership! The GM should be important to everyone. A GM must make himself visible. This is like asking me whether I think the company’s CEO is important? Of course he is important because he gives me the vision!
You are an experienced GM. What makes you an effective leader?
I believe that the best tool for being an effective leader is walking the floor and talking to the staff and guests in order to have my finger on the pulse. I spend half of my time asking the staff about what they are doing, who are they talking to, what do they need, when did they last talk to guests, etc.
What do you expect from your employees?
I expect them to be honest. They need to do things right but if something goes wrong, tell me. I also expect them to respect each other.
What do you expect from yourself?
I expect the same thing from myself. For me, honesty is about actively listening to my employees’ problems, giving them feedback, or finding a solution for their problems. If there is no solution available at that moment, I will tell them that I can’t find a solution right now.
At work, what puts a smile on your face?
Seeing happy guests puts a smile on my face. When the guests are happy, it’s because my staff are serving them with their heart!
What puts a frown on your face?
When I see that a member of our staff is indifferent to our guests, it puts a frown on my face. To me, it means that the person has no respect for our guests, for me or for their colleagues!
What is your greatest fear?
Fear is usually caused by things that you do not have control over. You constantly fear that employees make promises to the guests but don’t deliver. Especially with a large staff, there are a lot of elements that are uncontrollable but you have to live with it; it is a part of the business.
What advice would you offer to those who are inspired to become a GM one day?
Do the right thing! You have to believe in what you are doing. The day you have all the answers, you should stop doing it.
You must be willing to do hard work and have long working hours.
You must dare to take risks.
Never lose sight of your guests.
Always keep your promises!
My eyes are on my current operations here in Radisson. I love to be the GM. It would be difficult for me to do something else. I love to walk the floors…
About the author
Lily Lin, MBA, Ph.D. is the author of a well-received book, “Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers”, in which she interviewed 44 hotel managers and executives from major international chain and independent hotels. She is also the partner of Lin & Pavelson B.V., the publisher of the book and the owner of wearehoteliers.com. Her blog can be found at wearehoteliers.com/blog.
Lily's management experience includes the positions of international marketing manager and VP of Marketing Management. She has taught in American, German and Dutch universities. For more than 20 years, she was the designer and the lead lecturer of a number of courses at the Hotelschool The Hague.
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