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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW | Gerardus Dirks General Manager, Turn Around Manager, Startup Manager, Development Manager

Editor: Tell us about your journey. How did it all start? 

Fitting in a school system did not work for me, I was to creative, too much energy and too much interested to put things in practice. I started working when I was 13 years as an assistant in the kitchen and I was learned by my father, do not concentrate on the money but on the quality of your work, this resulted that with 17 years I won in a row three exhibitions and got an offer for the position Sous chef. In the military(obligated) I learned the "cooks" how to cooks creative with little products we received. For me an introduction to mass cooking and I tried every day to make it more special, which was appreciated.

After that I worked for 2 years in construction because Germany had Olympic games coming up and needed workers and I love architecture, probably my second choice in live, I love the creative part of architecture and design.
 I came back to Holland, wanted to study the higher hotel school but that was in that time only for sons of Hoteliers, a kind of private education.

I had the basic education of the hotel school, so I decided to study and work at the same time and got my degree in HR. 
My wife, at that time, came from Indonesia and I worked a year in a small resort on Medan and for personal reasons we had to go back to Holland, missing the ambiance and the people from that region and... the food.

I decided to start with my first business, which I bought from the bank and slowly it became a relation where I bought, renewed the business and sold it again as a healthy business, turned it around!

This was pretty successful, especially our coffee chain "konditorei "which had 24 pies every day, from which 20 were also for diabetics because we used only natural sugars, we sold thousands per month. I had 3 & 5 * hotels , did mainly all design and we worked different, we renewed the business. 
After 10 years I wanted a change, I did international trading and got to know Curacao, a Dutch part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and was invited by the pension funds of the Netherlands Antilles to initiate a resort on one of their properties and later I worked all over the Caribbean, including Colombia, as turn-around manager.

Living on an island with a family makes it sometimes difficult to leave and there was a management position offered with an online sales business and we grew to 500 staff members in 5 years time. 

That's how I came later to Costa Rica, for a turn-around manager position and to create a better concept for an online business. During those years I learned all the in and outsides of online marketing/ sales/ online customer service and online presence. I missed the hotel business and a Dutch friend of mine introduced me to a development company and when I arrived 6 resorts were in construction.

A few months later we started one of the resorts and during the year we had 3 resort openings, 3 were all year in construction and one resort was in the planning. Again my construction experience supported me and working with multi location resorts.

The last 8 years I go from one resort to another, as turn-around GM or Area GM at Tobago, to install systems, education, sales & marketing, motivate staff to higher levels and bring that special experience in the concept that makes each of these resorts a special experience for our Guests.

It is not job hopping, I simply go from one emergency to another. I work as consult, and made pre- business plans to invite JV partners and business plans, including finance.
 Al resorts I managed returned to profit thanks to motivated staff, supported by systems and being creative in finding solutions and listen to staff...... often they know so much more when you give them the chance to show it and finally or first, we need the Guests that appreciate what we try to create for them.

Editor: What do you think it takes to succeed in this industry? 
You have to have fun in working for other people, giving pleasure, fun, service, quality, excitement to the Guests, with in mind to make it a profitable business/ concept, to create a long term future for the business and the staff. I work 80-100 hours per week and it never feels like working and I strongly believe that probably 10% of the population has what is needed to work in a hospital or in the hospitality industry, for both you need a lot of love in your work, patience, flexibility, creativity, energy and you need the love to give the Guests the experience/ services we promise or even better. 
We as staff we need to have fun, we need to smile, we do this job many years and I want to work with staff that is 100% behind their job to service the Guests.

Nothing wrong with a staff member that says, I prefer to sell clothes, my answer "start doing what you really like, don't look to money, do the things you love. My son was asking me one day " I like to work, what do you think", and he was 14 years, on my question "what work you like to do", he said, "I want to cook, I love cooking". My answer "actually it does not matter for me what work you like to do, you can repair and sell bikes, as long you love to do it and try to give the best".

My son is now a chef in a Michelin star restaurant in Belgium, he loves his job! It is loving your job and willing to go just that step further to make it a success.

Editor: What are the attributes you look for while selecting or hiring? 
Strange enough I am hardly concentrated on staff education when I hire a person for a position. I need to see a team worker, that thinks in" what WE can do". I need to see a real smile, enthusiasm, flexibility, respect for others, service like, initiative and a clean presentation.

 A little trick is when I ask " Can you start tomorrow?" The answer shows me, the willingness to work, respect for the company they work for at that moment and how clever they are in giving the right answer. Meaning the ones who read this, know to expect this question and can be prepared
Editor: What according to you can trainees do while they are training at hotels to make it a win-win for them & the hotel/unit? I support 100% to have trainees working for us. I am willing to put 30-40% of the time in education, especially the first weeks.

They will have their mentor and both make the same shifts. They have to learn not only to talk and write reports but also to use their hands where needed.
They have to learn we all have a position or a title but if needed we work where it is needed to maximise the experience of our Guests.
In case of an emergency , and I see all staff is busy with their tasks, and see the dishwashers can't keep up with the speed needed to supply kitchen or restaurant with clean plates etc.

I am the first that will support the dishwasher and probably will ask a trainee to support me with this. Results and experience for the Guests only succeed, when we are flexible and all agree we support each other to reach that goal.

Editor: Tell us a little about your average day 

Emails at 6.30am, then a walk over the property, one daily staff meeting or every other day between 8-10am.
F&B/ Financial/ sales/ marketing staff after that. Individual meetings with staff on the job. Handling visitors, I love to negotiate and contracts, handling channels, receiving special guests. Checking everything goes by plan and by concept and expectations of the Guests.
Late afternoon a walk over the property, checking work, looking for Guests satisfaction or see if things are missing.

A short reservations meeting. At evening a walk in the restaurants, talk with Guests, hearing and handling requests quickly. Preparing in the office a list for the morning meeting or working on middle and long term plans and have individual management meetings, to talk about experience, future and plans. I do not like that we are all busy with our self and systems and the time left is for the guests, it has to be almost other way around, the guests are the center of the business.

Further I always take a couple of breaks a day, time to have a good laugh if possible.

Editor: How do keep abreast of all that is happening in hospitality? 

Nice question, I like to be a leader not a follower, although I will be the first to copy something when I think it would work on a resort that I manage. I do not feel a relation with other resorts as competition, we simply try to do the best we can and we are not afraid to be different, out of the ordinary, sometimes revolutionary, to renew something in a totally different way.
I stimulate the staff to come with ideas and learn them to give "stupid opinions' throw it out because one "stupid remark" can trigger something in another person's mind and then you hear "I think that will not work but maybe.. we can do it like this".

That thought would probably never be there if that so called "stupid' remark was not made. This results in meeting that we hear " Can I make a stupid remark" and it feels good when we communicate on that level. It means we feel free to talk, we share, we have respect for each other and we create..... and Google will tell us when we have questions we cannot answer or we have ideas and want to see if something similar is done.

Editor: Two reasons why this industry is awesome! 

It is never boring and I love to stimulate and give the chance to staff to grow in their life and work.
It is inspiring to see Guests to be happy, a business dinner perfectly served and handled, privacy given and the meeting is successful.

A family with kids having a great time together thanks to a little extra efforts of the staff by their own initiative... I love it. 

Editor: Two things you would like to change about the industry. 

Systems are nice but asking Guests to adept to our systems should be limited where possible. We are there to adept to our Guests and not other way around. Yes we have a concept and sometime a Guest had another perception of the concept (we learn here) and we still try to give him/ her what they expected if possible. We need to make surprising concepts with staff that supports it. Too often I come in Resorts and hotels and I see a boring staff. Too often I call for a reservation and I do not feel the drive, from the staff member, to sell the place to me, no connection is made, no emotion is picked up.
This business is emotion and staff has to learn to recognise the emotion and stimulate these emotions, to make it a success for the Guests and our business.

And... important to me, when a Guest wants to have a pancake at 9pm, we do not tell him that he can have it only at breakfast, who are we to tell when and what a guests can eat, you want a tenderloin at 8am... you get it! Business hotels is a little different, more etiquette but still we will not judge and tell a guest what and when, it is up to the guests and we try to service the guests as good as we can. Change... we have to be ready for change, the moment we stop... we are behind and change is fun, it keeps us sharp, it is fun to learn and never stop learning.

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