Becoming a Leader with Simon Casson
On the 18th of March, the Enderun students had the opportunity to listen to a profound and intellectual conversation about the hospitality industry during the webinar, “Changing Seasons: Innovating the Hospitality Industry with Simon Casson”, hosted by Mr. Jack Tuason, and held by the Office of Career Services. The guest speaker, Mr. Simon Casson, is the President of Hotel Operations at the Four Seasons managing properties in Europe to the Middle East and in Africa. Mr. Casson shared his journey in the Four Seasons, discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the hospitality industry, and advised the younger generations to grow their skills, embark on a journey of self evaluation, become leaders, and keep positive.
To start the webinar, Mikaela Lopez briefly introduced Mr. Casson by stating that his career started out as a dishwasher in Northern England. Every time the door swung open and he caught a glimpse of the restaurant, he dreamed of being out there and contributing to the operation side of the restaurant. With this ambition, he became an assistant manager in Four Seasons Hotel in London, then hotel manager after 11 years. By 2005, he became Regional Vice President in Doha, Qatar then moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2011 to open the very first Four Seasons Hotel. Later on in his career, he pursued an education in Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland. Aside from this, Mr. Casson is also a board member of the Enderun Hospitality Management School. With that, he also grants scholarships, namely the Simon P. Casson Hospitality Leadership Scholarship Grant.
Aside from being a board member, Mr. Tuason also explained that Mr. Casson has been coming to Enderun for years, and has given talks, even to the pioneering batch composed of 80 students at that time. He did a great job in motivating them and kept ties in accepting interns as well. Mr. Casson has also become a key role model with helping Tuloy Foundation, a CSR project in Enderun where orphans who graduated high school are given the opportunity to study the culinary program offered in Enderun. Mr. Casson had the opportunity to speak up about his experience in helping Tuloy Foundation. He stated that he was truly impressed in meeting some of the students under the program because they have a sense of purpose. Despite their disadvantages that they have experienced in life, they still made the most of their advantages and saw the bigger picture for their futures.
Still on the introduction, Mr. Tuason explained that back in 2015, Mr. Casson made a commencement speech which was filled with optimism about the hospitality industry. He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative toll in every aspect of business and the economy. Mr. Tuason then asked what his advice would be for graduating students and for the students who sadly had to postpone their internship, and what his message would be to the students today. Mr. Casson answered the world is never static whether it be in the economy or in business. He monitors 41 hotels in Africa and the Middle East, and has had to make difficult decisions ranging from closure of hotels, reduction of payment to even unemployment. Regarding these “survival mode” changes that have been causing anxiety for students who are graduating and launching into the hospitality industry, Mr. Casson advised the students to grab any opportunities whether being online or face-to-face, such as online working or even enrolling for a Masters Degree Program online. This will then enable new graduates to polish their skills and be the best version of themselves in the workforce.
After discussing how the pandemic has affected the hospitality industry and what those graduating could do in the meantime during the recovery stage, Mr. Tuason questioned Mr. Casson about the recovery period outlook. He stated that the Business Market will not be recovering as rapid to that of the leisure and resort market. Mr. Casson emphasized on the fact that we need to look at this pandemic geographically because we did not all enter the pandemic equally, thus the stage of recovery and the way to end the pandemic for each geographical location will vary. Dubai has showcased itself to be a safe country due to restrictions and purchasing of vaccinations. When Dubai did this many individuals were able to travel for leisure, whereas when talking about corporate/business travel it is different. However, Mr. Casson indicated that he is optimistic that it will slowly but surely come back to where it was in previous years.
After, Mr. Tuason mentioned that in the midst of a pandemic, the Four Seasons Hotel opened a branch in Madrid, Spain. With this, Mr. Tuason wanted to know how it has been going despite the circumstances. Mr. Casson stated that the Four Seasons Hotel has a unique type of contract called generational contract. The Four Seasons Hotel in Madrid has been in the making for seven years, and has signed a contract lasting for eighty years. Thus, the decisions that are being made are all for the long run, talking about short term it has been brutal for the owners financially, that is why they need to make sure that they are backed up financially in order to keep the hotel afloat.
Embracing the change that has been happening and adjusting to the new normal at hand, Mr. Tuason then asked if all of these recalibration of practices, investments, policies, and mentality that has been learnt throughout these tough times will be able to revert back to where the hospitality industry was before. Mr. Casson indicated that the Four Seasons will always be led by science and doctors partners. “I think it is important in every way to look for the opportunity in crisis. I do not want to look about it just how quickly we can get rid of everything that has happened and start like where we were before. There are going to be some diamonds hidden within, things that we maybe should have always been doing and should have always been aware of.” For Mr. Casson, he is looking forward to maintaining and learning from what this pandemic has brought and that it will be far less dangerous in the coming years through vaccination.
Moving forward to the branding and culture of Four Seasons Hotels, it is known that they have a culture where employees grow and feel respected no matter which position they are in. Mr. Tuason then asked how the hotel managed to rise to the top without telling everybody that they are the best in service. Mr. Casson answered that there is a difference between a good hotel and a great hotel. A good hotel is defined only by the physical aspects, including design architecture, how beautifully it was built. However, a great hotel is defined by the excellence of its employees. The key to building a great hotel is by following the inverted organizational structure. Good management is important because guests are going to be facing these frontline employees such as the bellman and parking attendants all the way to the receptionists and waiters. They are the ones who make the business and express the culture exhibited in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mr. Casson also has high expectations for his employees and general managers. They have to nurture the environment of their employees, and in return, these employees need to be willing to grow in their capabilities and skills.
For the question and answer portion which was facilitated by Mikaela Lopez, many asked about how to stand out, how to work with your strengths and overcome weaknesses. Mr. Casson replied that getting comfortable with yourself and growing yourself is of the essence. The journey of discovering self and growing one’s self is not for everyone because not everyone is open to going through the self-examination process. However, successful people go through this journey and discover who they want to eventually become. Mr Casson’s skills and strengths came by being very observant but his weaknesses in previous years were not being as attentive, and overplaying his strengths, He had to learn it the hard way on how to stay true to himself. It is through this process of self understanding that you are really able to let yourself stand out and shine.
The next question asked was how the pandemic has affected and changed the hospitality industry, and how one prepares themselves to take on new responsibilities. He answered by saying that he is choosing to come out of this pandemic stronger because it is the responsibility of leaders to model optimism. Leaders need to be aware of individuals who are facing various problems by trying to support and listen to them.
In conclusion, this webinar has emphasized how we need to have fresh eyes on how we see things. It is without a doubt that there is chaos surrounding us but having a positive and understanding leader will help the organization to be better and to excel in their work. By recalibrating new regulations and having an acceptance of a culture in an organization is a key factor to build a successful business. There are always opportunities available despite trying times, and to advance in your career it is best if you grab that opportunity to learn, grow, and discover yourself further.