Leading by example
When you have been in a property for three years, especially if you came on board a year and a half before its opening, to see it grow from strength to strength is very satisfying. Stefan Radstrom, GM of Grand Hyatt Goa is testimony to this fact. “When I arrived, there was just concrete, dirt and dust. It sounds very fancy to be the GM of a five-star deluxe hotel, but my first office was a wood plank and a garden chair, almost like a box!” he reminisces, adding that there is still a lot to do as it is an ongoing process.
It would seem that way to this construction engineering drop-out who became a hotelier by default. What started out as a summer job became a career choice; but it wasn’t as simple. “I got a summer job offer in a big hotel in Sweden — to work as a garbage man. I had two choices: either just do the job or be different, and I chose to be different. I was the best garbage man they ever had!” Radstrom laughs. This is a story that has become a part of the training sessions for every new employee at Grand Hyatt Goa. Radstrom, who has a two-hour session with every new employee, shares this story and goes through the brand’s mission statements with all of them as he believes that it is not just for the GMs and directors, but for all to know and follow so that it becomes a part of their culture. “I want to motivate people and let them know that our industry allows people to climb the ladder. Though it is not easy and you need go that extra mile and be very passionate — this is also where our industry has changed,” he rues.
What makes each experience special for this hotelier is the immediate response — like someone saying ‘thank you very much, that was absolutely wonderful.’ “Earlier I would be heartbroken at any complaint and would be demotivated. But realised that sometimes you have to be like a doctor and that is what I tell my team as well,” Radstrom admits. He does not feel that his work is his job, it is a lifestyle and believes that being a hotelier is like being a cricketer or an actor, “Your work is your passion”.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a GM is the opportunity to train and groom people. Learning from lessons in his career path, Radstrom feels that one needs to recognise potential in the team, “Because if you don’t lookafter passionate and good people, they will find somebody else who will,” he says, especially since it takes a lot of effort to get good people on board. Recalling the pre-opening and team building days of the Grand Hyatt Goa, Radstrom remembers going through 2,000 CVs every week to create the present team of 700 employees.
Having travelled all over the world, Radstrom admits that his stint in India has been the most interesting. “To be honest, India was not on my list of places to go. But when the opportunity came, I took it and haven’t regretted it one bit,” he admits. Who would if they are sitting in Goa at a property with beautiful gardens and magical sunsets! On a tough day, though, he does go by himself to the beach to gather his thoughts and lets the waves wash the day away.
One of the perks of being a hotelier is to host some of the most celebrated names, but the flip side is that you can’t afford to have anything go wrong during their stay, “Celebrities have everything in the world except privacy. When we have celebrity guests I treat them as normal people and that is what most of them want. There are exceptions though,” he stops just short of spilling a few beans.
Admitting that opening a new hotel is akin to childbirth, he feels that one needs to be prepared for unexpected problems and be ready with alternate plans. “I always tell my team that you should worry about things that are in your control,” he says.
Believing in leading by example, Radstrom is the first to throw in his jacket and work alongside the team. He has a very simple philosophy — “if I can do it, everyone can do it. Nobody is too up in the hierarchy. We need to keep it simple,” he says. He explains this by citing an example: after four-and-a-half years of construction, one needs to do a proper clean-up of the entire property, which in the case of Grand Hyatt Goa is 28 acres of land. So the property was divided into different areas and distributed amongst all. The entire pre-opening team of 500 was out picking up things in the middle of the monsoon, all over the property including the beach, and the clean-up took all of three hours.
Radstrom’s biggest fear is to work in a hotel where he cannot be proud of the property, as he believes that the GM is the face and only if you take pride in the property will it come through in your work. But how does he cope with a 24×7 work pressure? “On my day-off, I run away,” he laughs, “Because our job is very intense. You have people all day in your face, which I love, but if you don’t unwind, sooner or later it will get to you.” His last holiday was to Maldives as he loves to travel and “not to a busy place’.
One occupational hazard, he concedes, is the unconscious comparison even when on holiday. “We are on the job all the time —constantly observing and learning.” Wishing for a better balance in life, Radstrom feels that many a times hoteliers get lost in the passion for their work and work overtakes all else in life. “We hoteliers are a special breed — we can always make things work. Even if we are faced with a wall, we will find a way to get around it, under it, or over it,” he laughs.
His stint in India has brought home the truth that this country is made up of many smaller Indias and has so much to offer — food, languages, culture and heritage. So has he developed a taste for Indian cuisine? He admits that since the pre-opening days, when he ate Indian cuisine, he has grown to like not just the coconut-based dishes from the south, but also the onion and tomato-based ones from the north. “When I go to a new destination, I don’t want to be pre-occupied by what others tell me but create my own impressions. I like to revisit it after a few years — it is fun to remember that experience. And that’s very rewarding,” Radstrom feels.