NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 9 – French-Canadian hotelier Serge Simard is a man whose carrier spanning 30 years has grown through a deep passion and enthusiasm for his job. Simad discovered his calling at the tender age of 17 almost by sheer coincidence, but once he did it was a case of ‘love at first job’ attempt.
Born in Montréal about 50 years ago, Simard began his illustrious career as a dish washer at a fancy resort in Canada and just one experience at the hotel was enough conviction for him to beg leave from school over the weekends to attend to what he had identified as his true calling.
Q: Describe the early days of your career?
A: Unfortunately my family couldn’t afford to send me to the university so I began washing dishes in a fancy restaurant part time while in high school. And while at it I realized that I enjoyed the job so much that I asked the principle at my school to allow me to skip school on Fridays so that I work through the weekend.
In two weeks time, I was moved to the kitchen and then the restaurant, worked in accounting then as a sales manager. By 22, I had made it to Director for Catering and Conferencing Services at the (hotel) chain. At this position I was managing over 100 people.
Interestingly despite not having a degree I grew up very fast in the business by ensuring that I always had a mentor. I always took a course when I needed to and you know when you love something it’s so easy to learn. I had passion, more passion and more passion for what I was doing.
Q: Has the lack of a degree in any way hampered your career growth over the period?
A: I have never looked for a job. Except the first job when I was a dishwasher. You get into the industry and you get to meet everyone and as a result your passion and good performance, (the contacts) keep on referring you for jobs when they arise.
Q: Why the particular interest in food and beverage?
A: Food is like the ‘sex appeal’ of the hotel business. You always remember a hotel for the good food it serves and because the waiter has in mind what you drink and the way you like it. That is the culture I would like to instill as the new In-Charge of the Fairmont chain.
Q: Considering you have worked almost all over the world and especially in the more developed countries why did you choose to come to Africa?
A: Over the last 10 years, I was Vice President of Food and Beverage of Fairmont Global. We opened many hotels around the world. While in that position I was always on the road traveling like a mad man. I finally got tired and so I asked my boss if I could go back to operations. So when this position opened up I took it. My wife is born in Uganda and so coming back to Africa is like one of the best things ever for her.
Q: How has your experience been since you came into the country?
A: My experience has been very positive. I have met quite a number of key people in the industry and I continue to meet them. I have also visited a number of the local lodges which I must admit are quite good. My children are also dying to come for their first safari ever.
Q: What are your plans for the East African Fairmont Chain as the Vice President Food and Beverage?
A: My first priority is to understand the East African tourism market as you know the world economy is in a bad situation currently.
It is also time for me to go out and meet all the important people in this business which I will do through hosting various networking events, especially at the Norfolk.
I want to use food as the point of difference from other hotels in the country. I want people to feel at home when they come to our hotel. I want to run ‘status’ hotels.
On the other hand my responsibility is anything Sub-Saharan and we are looking for opportunities in South Africa, Seychelles Mauritius and this will involve talking to investors and looking for opportunities in these countries.
Q: What is your first impression of the Kenyan Tourism industry?
A: Kenyans are very hospitable and welcome, the weather is beautiful and the variety in the product range is unbeatable. From safari, to culture and the beach plus the animals.
Q: What would you say are your strengths as a chain Manager?
A:I work very closely with my colleagues. I am very involved. The much you try to understand your customer is the much you need to understand your colleagues.
I like training and am a maniac at understanding how my customers like their drink and food.
I don’t understand ‘second best’. I don’t believe in the cliché that ‘this is Africa ‘so we can cut corners.
Q: Your weaknesses?
A: Since I don’t accept second best, I can be portrayed as a very demanding man. But I think if you keep on asking and demanding you get the best.
Q: What do you look for in a prospective employee?
A: I hire people because of their attitude. I have hired people though I don’t have a position for them to fill. But because of their positive attitude I hire them then look for the position.
If you hire someone with a positive attitude and quality-driven you get quality through consistency, managing people closely and surrounding yourself with the absolute best
The secret of a successful leader is his management team.