Deeply passionate about the environment and education, we talk to Hotel Ciputra World Surabaya General Manager Christiane Wasfy about the hospitality industry, being a female authority figure in Asia and unlocking the hidden potential in her team.
Q: Would you tell us why you chose the hospitality industry as a career?
A: I’ve been taking care of guests and resorts all my life; my parents owned a farm with a guesthouse, as well as a small hotel in a winter sports area, in Austria near the Italian border. We spent the summer hosting guests at the farm and the winters at the lodge. I actually studied economics to avoid a career in hospitality because my parents never seemed to stop working, but I found I missed the variety and excitement!
Q: What is it you most enjoy about the industry?
A: I’m a people person; I just can’t imagine working in an office, seeing the same people every day. I love the challenge, the diversity, handling situations, as well as having the chance to travel the world and experience new cultures.
Q: Top management positions in hospitality still tend to be dominated by men. Have you found it to be especially challenging being a woman in this role?
A: Sometimes the competition with men can be tough, but we have advantages too. I think as a woman, it is natural to manage and care. Managing a hotel is just like running a household, but on a larger scale.
You know, even though we have patriarchal cultures in Asia, there is also great respect for women in authority and in leadership, even in government. Mothers also have a very significant role in the family, as well as there being respect for experience and age. I actually think that Western societies can be more difficult for women. In Asia, when you show care, compassion and strong leadership, your team will work well for you.
Q: The majority of your career seems to have been in Asia. Do you prefer working in Asia, or is this just coincidence?
A: I spent most of my early career in the West, but I was keen to explore Asia. By chance, I came across a position in Burma, below the level I had already achieved, but I was excited about the opportunity to live in a Buddhist society as I’d been interested in world religions since I was in college. That was the start of my Asian adventure.
Q: When you worked in Bali you were the Environmental Chair of Bali Hotel Association. Are you especially passionate about the environment and are you incorporating environmental care into Hotel Ciputra World Surabaya?
A: Yes, I am very passionate about the environment and sustainable development. When I worked in China, there were a lot of fires happening in shanty towns where people didn’t know how to safely use electricity, so we initiated a program called Safe Kids Prevent Fire, where the hotels went out to all of the schools to run awareness training. It was so successful that it was rolled out across China.
In Bali, I was very involved in beach clean-ups, reducing the use of plastic and such like. There is less scope to be hands-on in Surabaya, but in Hotel Ciputra World Surabaya I have implemented energy saving, waste sorting and other initiatives. I think perhaps here what is most important is teaching all of our employees to be aware of environmental issues and sustainability. I also intend to get involved at the school level. I really believe that teaching the children is how to effect a lasting change.
Q: Your hotel works with Ciputra University’s hospitality and tourism students. How important do you think this is?
A: Teaching practical, useful skills is another passion of mine. I approached Ciputra University to find out if there were ways we could cooperate and prepare the students for their futures in the hospitality industry, so I and several of our managers started teaching there. This makes the internships much more beneficial for the students and hotels and will become a permanent part of the curriculum in the new educational year. We are also keen to do something similar with the vocational schools.
It has been good to see that the female students are inspired when they see that they can rise to become a general manager.
Q: You are a fan of Alan S Gregerman, whose work on business strategy, innovation and hidden potential helps companies to unlock the genius in their people to deliver the most compelling value to their customers. How do you implement this in your work?
A: At the end of the day, it’s not about how great your balance scorecard is. You work hard and try to provide the best service not only to your guests but also your staff. Alan says you are surrounded by geniuses and should encourage innovation and creativity in your team, but in Asia, while the people have plenty of ideas, they tend to prefer to wait for instruction. So it’s about creating an environment that recognises this and nurtures the team. I have my team take responsibility for situations and decide what, if anything, needs changing and allow them time to come up with solutions.
Change is vital these days, we have to find a way to stay in tune with customer demands and stand out. It’s the small things, I believe, that can make the most difference.
CIPUTRA GOLF, CLUB & HOTEL SURABAYA
Jalan Mayjen Sungkono No.87-89,
Gn. Sari, Dukuh Pakis, Surabaya,
Jawa Timur 60224, Indonesia
T: (+62) 3151201000