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COVER STORY: One Leader, One Team, One Operation, Dialogue with Ugur Talayhan, Managing Director of The Astor Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Tianjin, The Westin Tianjin and Sheraton Tianjin Hotel
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One Leader

One Team

One Operation

Dialogue with Ugur Talayhan, Managing Director of

The Astor Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Tianjin,

The Westin Tianjin and Sheraton Tianjin Hotel

By Annie Ly


With over 27 years of extensive experience in the hospitality industry Ugur Talayhan, an award-winning innovative thinker, joins the Tianjin hospitality scene to breathe a new lease of life to not one, but three, of Tianjin's most iconic luxury hotels. After a long career working amongst the many different Starwood Hotel brands all over the world and achieving great success under a range of roles, from Executive Chef to Food and Beverage Director and more, Mr Talayhan takes on the admirable role of managing The Astor Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, The Westin Tianjin and The Sheraton Tianjin Hotel. This month, we spoke exclusively to Mr Talayhan about his successful career and his vision for some of Tianjin's top world-class hotels.

A47V6756 small aAre there any key moments in your life that have got you to where you are today?


I've always had a strong sense of entrepreneurialism, even from a young age. At the age of 6, I used to take a big cold bottle of water along with a few cups and I would go and sell water to people who played football in the nearby fields. My family were always very surprised as to where I got my ideas from but I think I've always had a good eye for seeing what is really needed around me and making the most of these kinds of opportunities.


cover01I began my first official job at the age of 15 as a chef's assistant; washing, peeling, chopping in the kitchen. Later, I became 'Chef of the Year' in Turkey at the age of 20. That for me was a life-changing moment. I became well known for my skills and it spurred me to carry on this route. The Turkish Government even selected me to be the Director of the Turkish Culinary Team. At the age of 22, I started travelling around the world. Later I became the Food and Beverage Director and transferred to London for course training and work experience.


London is a great city to hone in your culinary skills. I studied at Westminster College with the likes of famous chefs like Jamie Oliver. Later, I continued my studies at Thames Valley University for Advanced Culinary and Hospitality Management. The more I did and the more I learned, the more I knew I loved this job.


I loved cooking. In 2001, I was recognised as one of the Top 3 chefs in Britain. It was a great achievement. One of my General Managers advised me to leave the kitchen. Initially I said no because I enjoyed being in the kitchen, but he made me realise that it is better to make that transition at a young age. He told me, "It doesn't matter how good you are, you will always remain in back of house when you should be in front of house." That was an eye-opening discussion for me and so I became the youngest ever F&B Director and Executive Chef for the Starwood Europe Division at the age of 29. I enjoyed the front of house role because I could lead more people and have a greater impact.

A47V6772 eYou are responsible for managing three of the most iconic luxury hotels in Tianjin. What are some of the challenges you face under this role and how can you overcome them?

I was the first Executive Chef to be simultaneously made an F&B Director in Europe, after which started a trend for the rest of the continent. For me, the role is of course challenging. It is not easy to manage three hotels and three different teams at once but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel is very bright. One of the biggest challenges I face is not being able to be in three locations at once, but so far I love working with three different locations, teams and brands. Luckily I am very familiar with all of the brands. I have had experience of working under the Sheraton, Westin and Luxury Collection, so I know what each brand requires. On top of that, I have also had experience working for The St Regis and Le Meridian; so knowing most of the brands allows me to drive towards what the guests need.

A47V6675 cAppointing one manager for three hotel brands is a new concept and model of leadership. Will this be the latest trend in hospitality management?

Going forward, I think it is a good model. One of the advantages is that the owner is the same across the three properties which is financially beneficial. Being able to merge departments and appointing just one Financial Controller, one Director of HR or one Director of Sales and Marketing and so on, allows one good idea to be rolled out across three different hotels. It makes processes much faster, smoother and more efficient in terms of decision making. I see this as a good and positive trend, especially if there are others willing to work as hard as me to make this model work.


ExteriorPM FWhat are your thoughts on the nature of competition in Tianjin's luxury hospitality industry?

It's a very competitive market in Tianjin and it's very dramatic. We must not forget the main purpose of hospitality for the sake of remaining competitive. It's a tough market and the biggest winners are consumers. If we continue to compete with each other in such a way that rates continue to be reduced to record lows, we forget that we are here for business. Owners and companies must make profit. It is great for consumers because I have never seen such top brands at such low rates before. But the message I am trying to bring to market is that we should not keep reducing rates just to attract business. We should offer what we have to, provide quality and excellence and I'm certain that guests will continue to visit us for the best quality experience, regardless of price.


We must keep the integrity of the hospitality industry intact. If you keep reducing the price, you reduce something else. With it comes reduction in quality and then it becomes difficult to run the business in the long term.


With your international experience and the things you've learnt over the course of your career, are there any lessons China can learn from other countries or vice versa?

At the heart of Chinese culture is family and along with that comes gatherings, being together to eat and drink. That could be more prominent in Europe and other countries. The focus for China should be to be proud of their culture and show that to the rest of the world. The people of China are hard-working. They don't mind working long hours with challenging work and this is something they can impress on other countries.


鍠滄潵鐧Likewise, there are many great hospitality brands in China at the moment but this needs to be recognised in the global industry. There has been a huge improvement in the Chinese hospitality industry in the last five years and it continues to get better and better.


I'd like China to look at the hospitality industry as something very special and not something to be looked down on. I started this job to make people happy and improve people's lives rather than just serving. We are here to create experiences and not be seen as servants. I'm here not just to make customers happy, but also have a positive impact on my staff, which will in turn have a ripple effect on their own families and kids. This has always been a goal of mine, wherever I go.


What has made you remain in this industry for so long?


利顺德翼夜景外观图Starting very young and seeing that I can make people happy is the reason I started and continued.


I always wanted to join the five star hotel industry because the people are elegant. The clientele are what makes it attractive.


What is the future of the hospitality industry in China?


China should look at the positive side of what they can gain from this industry. There are so many opportunities arising left, right and centre. Companies are growing and the industry in China right now is booming with so many different brands. Consumers are also more aware. They know what they want and know what they expect, and they don't mind paying for top quality service.


There are currently more budget hotels in the market which provide more simple and basic experiences. This segment will continue to grow. But, the luxury segment will continue to be successful and I see this segment as growing also.


Do you have any final comments?


The future is now. The only way to achieve greatness in this industry is by working together to make things grow in an efficient and effective way to achieve excellence.


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