Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers has always been ahead of its time. Before coworking was even a thing, the city-center hotel turned its lobby lounge into a fluid and layered space with community tables and plenty of charging stations. The goal was to encourage both in-house guests and non-guests to use the hotels’ public spaces as work places.
Then there was the bubble tea experiment. A novel concept at the time, Taiwanese bubble tea was put on Sheraton’s menu by a forward-looking F&B team leader. Though it would be years before Vietnam’s urbanites caught the bubble tea fever, the seed was planted and bore fruit a few years later with the advent of social media marketing.
Keeping an eye out for the next big thing in hospitality is the property’s long-serving General Manager Scott Hodgetts. Today, he proudly gives Vietcetera an exclusive tour of another pioneering concept – the new Presidential Suite. A combination of luxury living quarters, a VIP meeting space and a majlis for entertainment and dinner parties, the suite offers a mutli-faceted experience that upends a traditional approach to designing a suite product.
An industry veteran of 30-plus years, Scott has several hotel openings under his belt, as well as a career where supportive mentors, serendipitous moments and lots of hard work combined to put him on a path to becoming a leader at one of the world’s preeminent hospitality companies.
We sit down with Scott to hear his life story as well as learning how Vietnam’s undergraduates can join Sheraton’s hospitality trainee program and turn their passion for travel and service into a fulfilling career.
Your background is in finance. How did the transition to a role in operations happen?
My exposure to hospitality started as a teenager growing up in Tasmania. Australian summers are all about the beach, so naturally I joined the Surf Life Saving club to be closer to the water.
Our clubhouse had a bar upstairs with a small banquet area. As a junior member, I used to do the clean-up from the night before. And once you were of age, they’d let you work at the bar proper. So that was my entry point. But after university, I didn’t start working in hospitality right away. I was at a crossroads and my mum encouraged me to try a number of different jobs and that’s how I ended up working for a pharmaceutical company, followed by a stint at a financial company.
And then I got word that Sheraton was recruiting for the pre-opening team. I applied and got hired as the Credit Manager. Technically it’s a back of the house job, but because my desk was right behind the reception, I started taking on more and more Duty Manager responsibilities. That’s when my boss knew I was bored (that and the fact that I applied for the Duty Manager’s vacancy!) but his solution was to give me more responsibilities in the finance department, not move me to operations.
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What was the defining moment in your career then?
About a year after I moved into mainstream finance, we hosted a divisional conference at my property. I was assigned as a ‘welcome ambassador’ to the Regional Director of Human Resources, Claudia. After I escorted her to the room, she turned to me and said: “Scott, what did you say you do again?” And I said, “I'm the Director of Finance.” And she just went: “Oh, before I go, I think you and I should have a chat.”
I thought I screwed up. My General Manager, Greg, was certain I screwed up. But what it really was is that Claudia had a hunch. She saw me as an operations person, not a finance guy. Shortly after, with Greg’s support, I interviewed for and was offered a job as part of the pre-opening team at Sheraton Saigon, my first overseas posting.
It was a crossover role between finance and operations, so I ended up being in charge of the Rooms Division while consulting the Director of Finance on the finer points of hotel pre-opening. So, I did that for a couple of years and then got offered the GM role in Indonesia.
Speaking of reinvention, do you find that you have to reinvent yourself from time to time after all these years in the field?
I think every time you move to a new property, you reinvent yourself. But on top of that, I read and I travel (not so much recently, unfortunately.) This broadens my horizon and exposes me to new ideas, which I then run by my team. Sometimes these ideas get killed, sometimes we put a twist on them and make them our own, some we fail to get off the ground. But you can’t accuse us of not trying!
We do this with local Marriott General Managers too, bouncing ideas off each other. Looking at each others’ products with fresh eyes and going, “I have no agenda, but I think this could work at your hotel.” Because sometimes you come up with a brilliant idea but it doesn't really fit with your brand’s DNA, so you pitch it to another Marriott brand. Sheraton, for example, is the world's gathering place, and everything we do ties back to this concept.
What is your advice for those considering a career in hospitality? Where does one begin?
We had a session in Hanoi with all the Marriott teams last year, as part of the Marriott Business Council, and we invited hospitality schools we work with in Vietnam to attend a presentation by Marriott leaders. The most revealing part was that all of us took a very different path to get to where we are now. Yet there is one thing we all have in common: we started as line-level associates and worked our way up.
At Sheraton Saigon, we work with 11 local hospitality colleges, employing 56 trainees at the moment. After graduation, many apply for a full-time job with us and it’s a delight to see them grow. You need to be at least 18 to apply, so they are usually first or second year hospitality students.
My advice is to always do the best you can and work hard. Eventually, somebody will recognize that effort and reward it. I know I speak for all the senior managers when I say that at some point in our careers there was that one manager who had belief in us and gave us that break that no one else did. If you work hard, always demonstrate a great work ethic and reliability, your manager will notice.
As a leader, when things get tough, you start looking for the most reliable person on the team, for someone who will get the job done even though he or she might be lacking in experience. If you have the right attitude and are lucky enough to have a manager in your life to notice your potential, say ‘yes’ to whatever is put in front of you and don’t buckle under pressure. If you pass the test, someone will take the risk and promote you.