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Fri 23 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Meet the Burj man of Dubai

Burj Al Arab general manager Heinrich Morio explains how his experience as a bellhop stood him in good stead for bigger and better things and discusses the art of making people happy.

Burj Al Arab general manager Heinrich Morio explains how his experience as a bellhop stood him in good stead for bigger and better things and discusses the art of making people happy.

What factors have helped shape your career in the hospitality industry?

I have been in this business for 31 years. I entered the industry when I was 17 and literally started at the bottom as a bellman. I was an apprenticeship in one of Germany's privately-owned luxury palaces, the Four Seasons in Hamburg. I cleaned and scrubbed floors at five o'clock in the morning, packed bags and was at the whim of the concierge.

We describe this property as the world's most luxurious hotel and with that comes the obligation to not just deliver and satisfy expectations.

I would be sprinting around Hamburg, running errands for the rich and famous. It was a very traditional but incredible foundation for my career and such a great place to learn the business.

The hotel had a fantastic philosophy in terms of apprenticeships and teaching people - that combined with the overall great system that Germany has anyway. After three years when you have finished, you really know the fundamentals of the hospitality industry.

I worked my way up from bellman to working in the restaurants, reception etc and graduated. Then, after my military service, which was at the time mandatory, I moved out into the world.

This was my main motivator to join the industry in the first place. Luckily the two wisest questions that anyone ever asked me were ‘what don't you want to do?' and ‘what do you dream of? I said ‘I don't want to sit for the next 40 years behind a desk in the same town'.

My mother said to me, in this case the hospitality industry is made for you. While there certainly were hurdles, we all have to overcome hurdles in our careers, if everything was easy we would not appreciate it.

One of the next best pieces of advice that was given to me was from my general manager when I finished in Hamburg. He said ‘always stay in the ‘five-star' industry' and that is what I have done.

Why do you think it is good advice?

At the time, and rightfully so, he said that in a five-star hotel, your clientele is refined, you are always in nice surroundings and you are always in the best part of town.

It is in the five-star sector that you are exposed to the fine art of running a hotel. It is a multi-faceted business that is made up of millions of details. It takes a number of years to appreciate how intricate, on the one hand a hotel is and on the other hand, how simple.

I have adapted this philosophy over the years, but we are in the business of making people happy. It doesn't take much to do that.

Where were you working before?

I was general manager of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, across the bridge. I have been with the company for four years and worked in the corporate office for two years prior to coming to Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

What makes you think that you are the right person for this job?

I am humble by nature so that is difficult to answer. If you want to be successful in this or any other business, one of the most important ingredients or qualities is that you care for people and their wellbeing.

You need to be able to communicate that care and combine that with humility to realise that it is not just you who is making that happen, but it is the people around you.

I think what qualifies me, beyond that is the ability to instill passion and enthusiasm in the people that I work with and the ability to get a team to work as a team and at the same time be an equal part of the team, not a superior part of it. I want to create a work environment where people have fun working.

An essential quality of anybody running any business - whether it is the most iconic hotel in the world or whether it is a 10-villa hideaway somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is that you have to have the confidence to be a good leader.

What makes a good leader? To me it is passion, enthusiasm and care for the people you work with.

On the point of the iconic nature of the hotel - Dubai has been identified by this hotel for so long - does this create pressure for you?

I honestly would not say that I feel any pressure per se, but I would say that there is a great deal of awareness for all of us who are associated with the Burj Al Arab, be it the management team and the colleagues who work here or Jumeirah that overall manages this incredible asset.

We describe this property as the world's most luxurious hotel and with that comes the obligation to not just deliver and satisfy expectations, but to create an experience for our guests that is truly memorable. I feel blessed to be part of that.

What are your plans to ensure this property stays at the top?

First of all I think we need to deliver on guest expectations. The building does a great deal of work itself, but ultimately the heart and soul comes from the people.

The Burj Al Arab, with only 200 suites, employs about 1800 people, which is probably one of the highest room-to-staff ratios in the world. That allows us to be ready for any type of request that comes our way.

We must continue to deliver this and we must continue to refine our service delivery and our personalised experience overall. At the same time, we must look into the future and see how we can build on the reputation.

You do that by looking at your physical product - how can we improve on the rooms? How can we make use of technology? How can we incorporate the latest design features?

At the same time we are looking to have the largest Rolls Royce fleet in the world, as well as a seamless arrival at the airport, right through to the check-in experience.

We will pick you up at the gate, take you to your private limousine on the tarmac and you go straight to the hotel and to your suite. These types of services are what our guests expect from us.

What do you enjoy about the job?

People - I am a person who gets satisfaction from the interaction I have with my team and guests. We are all in the business of making sure guests are happy.

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