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5 Life Lessons with Dean Winter – Managing Director, Swire Hotels

What it takes to make it in the hospitality game


Dare to be different

Hotels wasn’t my first love, it was the love for food. I actually started off my career as a chef, with a plan to see the world and be a chef on cruise liner. Working as a chef was great fun, hard work and instilled a sense of attention to detail etc., but I was always more interested in what was happening beyond the kitchen, in the dining room. Who were the customers, why did they choose the restaurant, what wines were they ordering? This drove me to study ‘hospitality’ rather than culinary arts and lead to a move to London where I became a management trainee with the Savoy Group of Hotels. I had never been interested in hotels but this time with The Savoy Group made me realise it was my vocation and I dreamt of being a General Manager one day. Life is not always about following the same path or sticking to a plan, but when you challenge yourself to do something different you will discover a new passion or even pick up new skills that would actually put you on the right path.

Always look after our people as they are the most valuable assets

Be a good listener and empathise. Building a strong team is vital and our people are the heart of our brand. Taking care of their wellbeing and keeping open communication to listen to each other, helps to create a place where everyone feels focused, appreciated and supported.

Much has been talked about this approach to our people's culture and I feel extremely passionate about how it dovetails with how we differentiate as a brand. Our whole purpose of ‘thinking differently’ about everything that we do, is built upon the youth, energy and ideas that the majority of our employees bring to their roles every day. A cast of millennials that embrace the fact that every day and every guest is different.

Culture of No Blame

I once read an article about a CEO who started a process called “the blameless post-mortem”. The idea points out that when things go wrong, it’s important to look at whether the company’s systems, leadership or processes was at fault instead of blaming individuals. This actually helps to find out what’s the real problem in order to work out a solution to it. And this is the kind of company culture that we strive for at Swire Hotels.

Not all guests are the same, hence service is not a cookie cutter process

Realizing that a growing number of guests don’t want to be fawned over or fussed, or worse, spoken to in an insincere or scripted manner. I once witnessed a luggage porter in a hotel, who fought over a trolley-case with a guest, in an effort offer assistance’. The guest neither wanted or needed help with the smooth Rimowa luggage, nor did they want it to leave their sight. This was the moment I realized that guests were changing. And anybody who knows Swire Hotels will appreciate that our approach is far from formulaic, and the current pandemic has only increased our appetite for innovating and improvising, something which will continue for many years to come.

Empower people

in order to get the best out of someone, you need to let them know you trust them. Add to this the notion that it’s ok to fail, then you develop people who build a genuine passion for what they do. They feel trusted and secure and above all, allows them to be themselves. This in turn, creates memorable and genuine interactions with our guests, which defines us a brand.

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