Interview with Dirk-Jan Rijks

5 August, 2015
  • 12 min read
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The first interview of this series took place on 30 September with our alumni Dirk-Jan Rijks. Dirk-Jan is the Vice-President of Global Human Resources of Accor’s Luxury and Upscale Brands, who works and lives in Singapore. He graduated Hotelschool 1991 and then toured the whole world, working in the hospitality industry. We would like to express our gratitude to Dirk-Jan for sharing his story with us:

His career path

After his graduation, Dirk-Jan started working in the Caribbean, where he worked for the Avila Beach Hotel as an F&B manager. During his time there, not only Queen Beatrix stayed at the hotel, but he also helped transform the hotel, doubling the amount of hotel rooms and adding an additional F&B outlet.

After three years he joined Hyatt International and was in charge of the F&B operations of the first Hyatt Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan. There he discovered his passion and talent for training and was soon asked to take over the Human Resource Manager position.

From 1998 to 2001 he was the HR Manager and responsible for two hotels in Israel and two hotels in Egypt, making him be present during critical times as the Intifada and 9/11. In 2002 he moved to Moscow, where he was part of the opening team of the Park Hyatt for a short while. Then his path took him to Dubai, where he was in charge as the HR Manager of the Hyatt Regency and then to Cairo, where Dirk-Jan became the regional Director of Human Resources.

In 2008 he changed companies and became the Vice President of Human Resources for Sofitel Luxury Hotels in Asia. In April of 2014 he was promoted to Vice President Global Human Resources, Service & Attitude for Luxury & Upscale Brands for Accor and moved to Singapore.

His connection to the Netherlands and the Hotelschool:

Even though Dirk-Jan left the Netherlands in 1991 to make his path in the hospitality industry, he still has a strong connection to the Netherlands and the Hotelschool. This is what he told us about working in Singapore:

“The Senior Vice President is my neighbour and he is actually from Holland as well. With him I sometimes speak Dutch and we can still talk about Stroopwafels and Pindakaas. Whenever we go to Holland, we get Stroopwafels and I always have Pindakaas and Appelstroop in my reach as well.”

And about staying in touch with his former classmates:

“Last week I was in Holland at the gathering with my dispuut “Partycolare”. What is interesting is, that I am probably one of the only few that have really continued their career in international hospitality. A lot of Hotelschool graduates from my year go on to do a masters. Either they go to Nijenrode or somewhere else to do a masters in marketing for example. Only very few actually stay in hospitality. In my dispuut, there are quite a few entrepreneurs, meaning they run their own businesses in Holland or do party catering and events and they do it quite successfully.”

His work (and trends) in HR:
Currently Dirk-Jan is the Vice President of Global Resources for Accor. Therefore he keeps a keen eye on the developments and trends in the Human Resources of the hospitality industry. Here are some of his thoughts:

About trends in Human Resources:

“We have one program where we are in the final stages of rolling it out to the hotels. It is called “Priority and resolution” a training module around complaint handling, but instead of calling it complaint handling, we are now teaching our employees to treat complaints as priorities. It is a different mind-set, a different way to look at it. Another thing is, we are now launching an F&B blended learning program where we are partnering with an external company to apply blended learning with e-learning, short videos in YouTube style and coaching and mentoring from the F&B manager in the hotel. It is something very new, it is not the old fashioned e-learning. It is really going to another level, a blended learning approach, which makes it really fun for employees to go through the learning materials, because they can download it on their tablets or their mobile phones, so they can learn and pick up new things whenever they like.”

And about developments in the hospitality industry:

“I think what is still important today and was probably 10 years ago, is that there is a high turnover in the hospitality industry in general and the only way to overcome this challenge is for the leaders to lead by example and to walk the talk. If the leader or the manager is not doing so and does not work close on the floor with his people, they will walk away. So the focus on developing middle-management is key and sometimes the hardest part, because you can have a very good waiter or receptionist, but that does not mean that they will be a good manager for their organization.”

About Dirk-Jan’s future ambitions:
“My biggest ambition would be to work at a Hotel school one day. Maybe not in Holland, but at a Hotel school in Asia or in Africa. I would not mind being the Susanne Stolte of South Africa or in Vietnam. I think, with my background experience of having worked in hotels and doing human resources and training, I can add value to the education ofyoung students.”

His advice for today’s students

Dirk-Jan certainly also has some good advice for today’s students at Hotelschool who would like to follow an international career in hospitality:

What is key:

“If you have chosen the Hotelschool to really stay in hospitality, go international as soon as you can. That is number one.”

How you will be successful:

“When you are young, probably single, but especially when you are young, it is easier to make the international jump. If you are a little bit older and already set in certain ways, you are less likely to make that jump. It is also possible to work in France, in Spain or in Germany, which is also something I see some of the graduates doing, but if you truly want to go international, go as quickly as possible and in the beginning, be extremely flexible, also in terms of what is being offered to you. Later on, you will pick the fruits. If  you are willing to make that investment in the beginning, then later on, when you become a department head like a director of F&B or General Manager, you are able to earn a good salary and have a good income. And today, I believe you can become a General Manager earlier than in the past. You can be the General Manager of a Novotel e.g. when you are 30 or 32 years old. Novotel is a mid-scale hotel brand. It is four-star-based and we hire people into the Sofitels and into the Pullmans from Novotel. It sometimes works like a stepping stone.”

What to focus on in school:

“My advice to students today, is to learn Mandarin. That is a language which can help. Brazil is another country that is up and coming and they have huge shortages of people in the hotels, and who speak Portuguese. Another upcoming market. So the possibilities are still here. Like I said in the beginning, people might have to be a bit flexible in the package that is being offered. I think, if you want to come to Asia, the hardest step is the first step. Once you are here it is easier, because people look for potential employees with Asia-experience, when they are hiring.”

About the author

Hotelschool The Hague

Hotelschool The Hague was founded and funded in 1929 by the hospitality industry to create a central place where industry partners could gain and share new insight, skills and knowledge. Since its foundation, Hotelschool The Hague has become an international hospitality business school specialised in hospitality management, offering a 4-year Bachelor in Hospitality Management. This degree course is also available as the accelerated International Fast Track programme. Our 13-month MBA in Hospitality Management is designed to deliver the next generation of hospitality innovators.

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