Generation Emigration

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Managing a luxury hotel in Hanoi

WILD GEESE: Philip Jones, general manager, Mövenpick Hotel, Vietnam: A graduate set off for the US as our boom was starting. He wound up in Dubai and Vietnam

Fri, Nov 30, 2012, 14:15

   

CIARÁN HANCOCK, Business Affairs Correspondent

WILD GEESE: Philip Jones, general manager, Mövenpick Hotel, Vietnam:  A graduate set off for the US as our boom was starting. He wound up in Dubai and Vietnam

Philip Jones: "I saw my life getting sucked into a mortgage at 23 and probably not seeing much more of the world."

As the economic slowdown bites, the Vietnamese economy faces its most challenging period since 1999, but the south-east Asian nation’s emergence as oneof the region’s “tiger” economies remains one of the great development success stories of the past 20 years.

It is set to remain an exciting and challenging place to be in coming years, and one man well-placed to witness the transformation is Philip Jones, general manager of the luxury Mövenpick Hotel in downtown Hanoi, capital of Vietnam.

“Coming to Vietnam I thought, ‘wow, I’ve got the opportunity to see a country really emerge, as it’s undergoing so much change and development, coming out of the shadows as it were,” said Jones (37). He comes from Celbridge in Kildare and went to school at King’s Hospital, before taking up history at Queen’s in Belfast after completing A-levels in England.

Jones then began a four-year programme at Cert, graduating in hotel and hospitality management in 1998. “When I left Ireland, it was 1998. Things were really starting to boom. Friends were buying homes, and there was still great hope and opportunity in Ireland.

“But I kind of took the view that, having been very frugal going through school, and having the money to buy a house. I saw my life getting sucked into a mortgage at the age of 23 and probably not seeing much more of the world,” he said.

Broadening horizons

While studying at Cert, Jones had worked at Barberstown House in Kildare, but felt he needed to go overseas to broaden his horizons.

“Someone said to me: ‘you people working in small hotels, that’s all you’ll ever be good at’, and I remember taking a little offence and saying ‘I’ll take great delight in proving you wrong one day.’ Two weeks later I was on a plane to the States.”

He landed at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, where he started as desk manager and worked in a variety of roles.

He worked with Ritz-Carlton all over the US, including Kansas City, Washington DC, Boston, Reynolds Plantation in Georgia, South Beach and Atlanta, where he still has a home.

In November 2008, he moved to Dubai with Ritz-Carlton, and his time there included stints as resort manager at the Madinat Jumeirah and the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the artificial island, Palm Jumeirah. He left Dubai and Ritz-Carlton last year and, since January, has been general manager at the Hanoi Mövenpick.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve traded up in terms of comfort because no one in their right mind would argue that Hanoi is more convenient or comfortable than Dubai or the US. That doesn’t mean it’s worse; it just means it’s different.”

Although Jones had been in senior management roles at Ritz-Carlton by the age of 33, this would generally be considered too young to take over the position of general manager.

“Mövenpick were willing to take a chance on me as a first-time general manager,” he said. “It’s extremely energetic in Vietnam and things happen at a reasonably fast pace. Thirty-seven per cent of my guests are Vietnamese, travelling up from Ho Chi Minh City, and they work predominantly for international organisations in Vietnam. There is a very international way of doing business and Vietnam is starting to get on board with that,” he said.

Many Vietnamese have been educated abroad or have had overseas exposure.

“The Vietnamese learn incredibly quickly. I was talking to someone at Google recently and they said the number-one activity in Vietnam on the internet is not social, it’s getting information. People are very keen to learn,” he said.

He urges prospective emigrants to plan carefully.

“If you are thinking of coming out here, come visit the place first.

“It’s best to come out here with your eyes wide open. If you come blind, do as much research as you can. Vietnam and Asia is not going to be for everyone; it is very different. That said, it’s a tremendous amount of fun and it can be a great learning opportunity.

“It’s not quite as advanced as other parts of the world. Here you are forced to learn and adapt in other ways,” he said.

For Irish graduates there are opportunities.

“I would say probably [in] telecommunications, technical jobs in electronics – Vietnam’s exports of mobile phones have risen by 91 per cent this year alone. That sector is booming, outpacing growth in textiles, which has always been Vietnam’s bread and butter,” he said.

It’s not all smooth-sailing – changes in the legal sphere have made it more difficult for foreign lawyers to operate.

“Hanoi is an expensive city. If someone is taking a job here, they need to check if their package is good enough, or if they have a plan to survive if they are coming here without a job. Always have that plan B in the back of your mind.”

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