In June 2018, Amanda Hyndman, a seasoned hotelier with more than 30 years in the hospitality field, had just started working as the general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London.
Two days later, welding work sparked a blaze. The fire occurred just a week after the historic 181-bedroom hotel re-opened after a $130 million refurbishment. Fortunately, the company had a textbook evacuation in minutes, and everyone was safe. However, the hotel had to be closed indefinitely.
Turning Catastrophe into Triumph
A week after the fire, Hydman met with all 600 of her colleagues — how Mandarin Oriental refers to their employees — to introduce herself as the new general manager. She had three main messages for her staff: The hotel re-opening date is not clear, everyone will be paid in full, and please do not look for another job. In a competitive labor market, Hyndman understood her skilled employees could be whisked away by other hotels. With the high value that the Mandarin Oriental places on understanding employee engagement and the company culture, Hydman said it was a “no brainer” that she had to take strategic leadership action to look out for her people.
“We had to make people whole on their earnings,” she said. “They could take care of their families and we wanted to keep them.” This included accounting for the service charges, commission, and tips that colleagues were missing while the hotel was closed.
As unexpected as it was, the incident opened the doors for colleagues to work at sister hotels around the world, including in Japan, China, South America ,and the U.S. With the help of technology, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group was able to understand the skill sets and language abilities of their people. In addition, 450 employees rallied together to donate 40,000 hours of volunteer work to thank the local community through their Fantastic London campaign. They worked with several organizations such as the London Fire Brigade, Kitchen Social, which provides healthy meals to children during school holidays, and The Passage, a charity for the homeless.
When asked about the positive media coverage of the hotel’s charitable works, Hydman, who was named “Hotelier of the Year” at the 2019 Virtuoso Best of the Best Awards, said she was surprised by the attention. She had simply been focused on creating an employee experience that demonstrated the company’s commitment to its workforce.
The focus of Hydman’s support has always been her colleagues, who were also humbled by their experiences serving their community. When the hotel fully re-opened in April of 2019, she said the staff was re-energized about its work and operated as a stronger team.
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Kirsten Allegri-Williams is chief marketing officer for SAP SuccessFactors.