October 12, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
Phone his office, and chances are good that you’ll hear a pleasant voice answer with “Navid, may I help you.” Not many luxury hotel managers will answer their own phone, and fewer still put on a waiter’s outfit, serve guests and bus tables for busy events.
But ask employees of Vancouver, Canada’s Sutton Place hotel to describe its general manager, Navid Sariolghalam, and you’ll hear: “A real person, cares, listens, inspires us to be better at our job, is someone you want to do good for and that’s why we love working here. That’s why so many of us have been here for over 20 years.”
While the hospitality industry is known for extremely high employee turnover, this hotel has many employees there well over 20 years. Its turnover rate is one of the lowest in North America.
They don’t just know how to train, but retain as well, and low employee turnover results in an enormous saving to employers, better employee satisfaction, higher income and superior customer service.
We wondered what was this hotel GM doing to encourage this stability? What lessons could he share with our readers?
And so, You and the Law had the pleasure of staying at the Sutton Place recently, put on our very best Sherlock Holmes costume, sat down with Navid and had one of the most inspiring conversations with a man who understands “what happens when you help the people around you do the best that they can.”
‘It all began when I was a valet parking attendant’
After graduating from Sacramento State University with a B.A. in broadcast journalism at age 21, the family moved to Vancouver, Canada, where a family friend offered him a job as a valet car parking assistant at a new, luxury hotel. Navid promised to work as a valet for two years — a promise which would be tested as people saw in him much more than a person who could only park cars.
There, skills which would serve him well were developed when “I learned that when you show real enthusiasm for the job — whatever job it is — and help the people around you do their very best, your efforts will be noticed by management.
“You must focus — not on money — but on doing the best you can for your employer, as that dedication will show your level of interest, which will result in recognition and advancement. Never fear that someone you train will take your job, and do not play hide the ball, because it is teamwork which spells success or failure of any business,” he stressed.
Noticed by hotel management for his dedication, Navid was repeatedly asked to work inside the hotel, earning much more.
“But from the discipline learned at home, I kept my word. And then the time was up and my employer said, ‘Navid, take that next step. Go into the hotel.’ I trusted his wisdom and advice, sensing that my future was in that building.”
And that was over 25 years ago. How many people do you know who have worked at one place that long? At the Sutton Place, the answer for many begins with the hiring process and a very different kind of job interview.
The face of your business are the people you hire
“I believe in the motto of Trust plus Caring = Loyalty. When you have mutual trust, and when you and your employees care about each other and doing a good job, this results in loyalty and the business will prosper,” Navid tells You and the Law, adding, “Employees who feel that management is engaged with them, and where they have a good time on the job, are the key to success of any business.
“But you need to hire the right people, and this begins with the interview process and knowing who not to hire. Here at the Sutton Place, everyone who applies for a job goes through three to four interviews, and often I will be involved in that process,” he points out.
“It is inviting disappointment — at the very least — by taking the first person who walks through the door or who says I just need a job, any job, as that shows a lack of focus. To me, chemistry, passion for the position and a true desire to work here is essential.
“You want to hire people who want to work, not just anywhere, but in your business, for you — that is critical,” the general manager of Vancouver’s Sutton Place concluded.
And the many happy employees of this lovely Vancouver hotel will certainly agree.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.