Michael Wu, from Hong Kong and the USA graduated from the Bachelor in Hospitality in 2004. He is currently the Senior Food & Beverage Manager – Corporate Operations / Openings at Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts in Hong Kong.
His frank answers to our questions have given us plenty of food for thought!
- You’ve worked for many leading brands: Grand Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and many smaller brands: City Links Golf Lounge, Jackie Chan’s Café Limited, Wasabisabi Japanese Restaurant…. Was this a deliberate strategy to get a wide range of experience, or was it the quest to find the perfect job?
This is a very good question. Not many people understand this but as a 22 years old Assistant Manager – Café for Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, I wanted to see what the hospitality industry had to offer.
I decided that as a young hotelier, I needed to explore the hospitality industry. Therefore, I decided to give myself 5 years to explore and try different sectors within the industry to see what it was like, while I was still young and single.
Happy to say, this journey has taught me many things, more than what I would have learnt if I stayed in the hotel industry. This is evident because when I returned to the hotel industry, I could see a tremendous difference in the way people think and act compared to myself, in that these experiences led me to be more entrepreneurial in the way I do things and think.
- Why did you choose Les Roches, and not a different hotel school?
At that time, back in 2000, there were only a few schools worth considering when it comes to hotel education in Switzerland. It was either Les Roches or Lausanne; and at that time, comparatively, Les Roches had a better English program. Another reason would be because Les Roches is the BEST! It was not a difficult choice to make.
- What was the first thing you thought when you arrived in Bluche?
Oh s**t…. I’m screwed. (This is true!)
It was in January 2001, when I first arrived. It was cold, snowing and it took 2.5 hours to get to the school from the airport as we took the bus pick-up. It was a lot to take in, as it was a new environment, people did not speak English too much and a complete 180 degree difference in environment and comfort zone as I was used to. However, over the years as time passed by, I have come to enjoy, appreciate and to love Les Roches and Switzerland. Studying in Les Roches is truly a way of life and definitely not just a school. I really enjoyed my time there, probably the best 4 years of my life.
- What were the top 3 lessons you learned there?
I have learnt to be independent, to solve my own problems and to help others along the way, remembering that you yourself were once a newbie.
- Which faculty member made the biggest impression on you and why?
1. Emilio Varini – Just awesome. I have always enjoyed his classes. He gave me room to learn and to develop my thinking ability and most importantly, to challenge the material that was given to us. (That was always fun. I’m sure Emilio Varini would still remember who Michael WU is).
2. Another member of faculty that I had fond memories of is Maurice Sinigalia (aka ‘the godfather’). Another awesome teacher who was cool to work with. Although at times during service he would scare the s**t out of you, but it was fun.
My best memories was when lunch service came to an end, everyone needed to stay in their seats until all service has been complete and Sinigalia would stand in the middle of Salle Manger and give a signal before you could leave. Once he gave that signal, everyone in Salle Manger would get up and leave at that same time. It was quite interesting.
- Your education path looks interesting. Tell me about the journey into hospitality and law?
Well, after completing a BBA degree from Les Roches, I decided to embark on an MBA degree from UNLV in 2006, while working in Hong Kong. I thought that having an MBA would be useful somewhere along the road. In 2010, I had one of those sudden thoughts that you should continue to learn when you can and decided to do something completely different: to study law. Law was a subject that I have been interested in since young. It was not easy, 3-4 nights a week from 7pm-10pm for 3 years. A total of 4-5 subjects a year from basic law application to procedures.
- What have been the most complementary things your managers have said about you? Does that reflect in anyway on your education at Les Roches?
Organised, quick learner and well…. ‘oh you went to Les Roches.’ My current boss actually went to Glion. So we have our own little comparison going from time to time. I showed him that Shangri-La sponsors Les Roches basketball team and asked if they did the same with Glion …….hahaha.
- People say Les Roches is like a big family; a lot of people we interview talk about the connectivity post-graduation and how brilliant the ‘family’ network is. What is your experience of the alumni network?
Well, during my time in Les Roches I have come to know a lot of people. To this day, our ‘family’ network is still very strong and I am in contact with many of them. Indeed, this school is very good in creating a network that last a life time. A lot of my friends in Les Roches have ended up being my kid’s godparents or vice versa.
- Any special message for us? We are about to celebrate 60 years as an international school.
Focus on the hospitality aspect of the education. Certain things should not be changed because they are the backbone to traditional/old school hotel education. If lost, then what are we working so hard for? Don’t be sucked into the commercial aspect, focus on what we do well and do that well.
- The culinary specialization of the BBA now takes people to Jordan, to the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. Would you have liked to have done that? What about the Global Degree, which allows you to rotate through campuses in Switzerland. China and Spain with your classmates?
No. I think this is a bad idea. It may be a great idea in a commercial sense but would hinder the quality and reputation of the school when it comes to quality Swiss hotel education. Many schools that expand too rapidly or expand due to a commercial purpose end up losing their original reputation of being the best. This also applies to restaurants as well. Many people would die to study in Switzerland, as it is a symbol of a world class hotel management education, that’s why it’s so valuable. I believe that China and Spain may have their own commercial attractions, but education wise, I strongly believe one needs to do their time in Bluche. As an alumnus that went through the old system, I understand the needs and requirements that it takes to succeed as an hotelier, that’s what Les Roches International School of Hotel Management taught me.
Do you agree? Is he right about the new courses? Do they dilute our focus or add something unique?