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Mövenpick’s Mark Willis on how to harness the power of millennials

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With the news that Mövenpick will open 11 hotels and resorts across nine countries during 2018 landing last week, I  headed down to the ambitious brand’s Bangkok office to meet Mark Willis, the group’s new president for Asia, to discuss his recent switch from Carlson Rezidor, his take on the new role and how Mövenpick are embracing Millennials. 

You’ve had an interesting and storied career within the industry, how did you start out?

I think a lot of people at the higher end of the industry come through from a very operational background. It doesn’t happen in too many industries, but I think it’s a huge plus. I came from the kitchen, stewarding and washing up in a hotel on Lake Windermere. From there, I worked my way up, through the restaurant scene in London, during the 80’s — the whole nouvelle cuisine period — in a number of feisty kitchen environments, with people like Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes and Gordon Ramsey.

Then I started to travel internationally and spent time in Asia, Africa and also the Middle East, before returning to the UK. Consequently I moved from the kitchen, into food and beverage ops and then management with Carlson Rezidor — that took me on a totally different journey, I went to Cornwall where I opened six hotels in a year, did my MBA at Oxford [University]  and, eventually, being in charge of the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, for the last six years.

How did you come to make the move to Mövenpick?

I’d been with Carlson Rezidor for twenty years, and so it wasn’t anything to do with the normal reason people move on, definitely not money or prestige etc. It was about the people that I had met and their vision of where the company wanted to go — I seriously buy into that stuff.

If you meet our CEO, Olivier Chavy, he’s a very charismatic guy, and I’m all about the people who are in the people industry. So as soon as I met him and a couple of other key individuals, such as our chairman Jürgen Fischer, I made my decision in a week. Also, I really wanted to experience Asia from a work perspective, and I’ve got three young children and I wanted to expose the family to new culture in a new environment.

How do you perceive your new role?

I’ve got to say, the role per se is somewhat similar to the role I was doing before. It’s about the development of the brand, and making sure we work closely with our business partners and our own GM’s, to make sure they get what they need. This office is a support office, we’re here to help.

For a property GM, technology has changed things dramatically in the last five or ten years. You still need to be the host, somebody who is focused on the hospitality and guest experience, but an understanding of revenue management and ecommerce is becoming critical to business. Not everybody has that understanding, but as a support office, providing that understanding is part of what we’re here for.

The young GM’s that are coming through though, they’re coming with this knowledge instilled already — it’s a changing environment

In 2018, the first three to six months are definitely about visiting the hotels and connecting with our GM’s to get a clear picture of where we would like to go, and then determine how we’re going to get there, in the short term and long term.

Other than that, when I look at the projects we’ve got coming in 2018? It’s a big year.

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In what way?

Well, we’ve got 11 openings as a brand globally, with eight in Asia. Including Mövenpick Resort Khao Yai, Mövenpick Asara Resort & Spa Hua Hi (below) and Mövenpick Resort & Spa Kuredhivaru (above) and Mövenpick Resort & Spa Boracay. I was in Hua Hin yesterday, and I have to say it’s a very special hotel. It’s very ‘Bali-esque’; very tropical, with wonderful rooms and lots of greenery and very open feeling.  It’s going to be stunning, absolutely stunning.

Millennials have had a massive impact on society, from your POV how has this changed the industry and career progression?

It’s a different culture now. It’s fast paced and Millennials want things very quickly; they need career goals and clear development structure. They want to know where this work can take me in six months or a years’ time. Whereas, when I started in the industry, years ago, the conversation began with work hard, and then let’s see.

But, it’s not money that’s the key thing. People are much more conscious, at a young age, of the work/life balance, and marrying their lifestyle outside of work to their career.

From a Mövenpick perspective, there’s a really positive approach to recruitment of young people into the organization, with for example, the MBA development programs that the company runs, and the Mövenpick Academy and Talent Development Centre. A message we are communicating, in a very solid way, through social media.

What kind of impact has this had on the way Mövenpick operate?

It’s very interesting. From an executive committee perspective Mövenpick have a group of Millennials, from both within the company and outside the company that sits within the executive committee.

I’ve only just joined and though I had heard about this before,  when I attended the committee for the first time — and probably because I’m old — I assumed,  that’ll just be a group of  youngsters who might chip in for an hour or so. But how wrong I was, they were fully involved through the entire meeting giving their opinions and feedback.

It was very, very interesting to sit and listen to a number of varying views, on topics where, as a seasoned hotelier of 52, I have historical knowledge, versus someone who sees everything from a young customer perspective. It’s a refreshing, enlightening and insightful experience I have to say.

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