Career in focus – Simon McGrath

Simon McGrath, chief operating officer of AccorHotels

1. What does your role involve and how long have you been in your current position?

As chief operating officer for AccorHotels in the Pacific region, the role entails overseeing more than 210 hotels and more than 10,000 employees. For the past eight years, it’s the diversity of the role and the industry which has kept my interest in the field and at the very core, the people. Aside from the overarching leadership responsibility, the role requires a strong growth focus when it comes to developing new business opportunities and growing the brand, as well as operating the company and assets on behalf of partners, all driven by strong sales & marketing initiatives, bound by a compelling loyalty program to ensure guest engagement and satisfaction.

2. How did you start out in your career? Why the travel industry?

At 17, my career started in the laundry of the Boulevard Hotel in Sydney, it was hard work, but allowed me to learn all facets of the industry in an accelerated way by completing a management traineeship. During this time, I observed and was intrigued by the complexities and various departments that hotels offered. Upon completing my traineeship, the doors opened up to so many opportunities, leading me to a career in international hotels.

3. Did you complete formal qualifications and how have they helped you in your career?

After finishing Year 12, I went to Ryde Catering Colleague for one semester, but what really interested me was working, which became more of focus. In saying that, I’d recommend people go out and get formal qualifications today, because there’s some great thinking out there and I’d really encourage those looking for a career in hospitality to tap into what knowledge is available.

4. What do you love about your job?

Number one, the human element. It’s the most satisfying and the most complex. It’s the part that really tests how good you are – the ability to build human relationships. Secondly, to put it quite simply, the hospitality industry is a very kind, caring and an enjoyable sector to work in.

5. What were some of the greatest challenges you’ve had in your career?

When you’re faced with a situation, even when you’re not at fault, that questions your values or compromise you, those are the greatest challenges. You have to find a way to manage the situation effectively. When in doubt, aim to do what’s right, all the time.

6. What factors are central to a successful career?

Be unselfish in the way you think, behave and operate to have a successful career, and you need to be competitive by nature, and exude confidence and positivity.

7. Is having a mentor an essential part of getting ahead in a career? Do you have one?

Having a mentor is not essential. A mentor should come naturally to you; it shouldn’t be a forced relationship. You don’t go and pick a mentor; a mentor will be standing right in front of you over many years. I’m a keen observer of people, and believe you can have a mentor in parts. I’ll take different elements out of different people and apply them to areas of my own life.

8. What are your principals for doing good business?

When doing business, always try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to make sure they win and achieve their desired outcomes from the relationship. In turn, be clear with what you need, and don’t be afraid to ask and expect a lot.

10. What advice would you give to others in the industry who would like to follow in your footsteps?

It’s an unbelievably satisfying industry, and it’s becoming more and more prominent as a key economic driver. Be consistent, work hard and don’t give up, because when you break through it’s such a rewarding industry to be a leader in.