Gottfried Bogensperger: Chef works his way up to GM
Before the era of information technology (IT), high school boys in Austria were required to take up carpentry while the girls studied cooking. To be in the company of pretty young women, Gottfried Bogensperger and a buddy took up culinary arts. Bogensperger enjoyed it that he eventually took formal education and went on to be a chef at the Hyatt chain.
Today, he is the area vice president and general manager (GM) of Grand Hyatt Manila, which is 70 percent-owned by Metrobank and 30 percent-owned by financial services group Orix of Japan.
Although the 461-room deluxe hotel is still on its soft opening, Bogensperger predicts it will flourish upon completion not only because of the location. Other establishments are not as “forward-thinking,” he observes.
Nod to the rice terraces
He explains Grand Hyatt hotels are large in scale because they cater to a broad spectrum of clients: from the guest who enjoys the intimacy of the boutique hotel to the meetings, incentives, convention and exhibitions (MICE) market.
Designed like a jewelry box, the 1000-capacity ballroom is the first in Asia to feature a show kitchen. Keeping the MICE market in mind, Grand Hyatt rooms are larger. The standard room ranges from 42 to 53 square meters. Yet again, a first in Asia among the Hyatt properties, the Grand Double provides two queen size beds (with generous space in between) and two separate bathrooms.
So far, the hotel has been attracting corporations and individual business travelers.
“We don’t go by nationalities anymore but by segmentation—IT, manufacturing, [business process outsourcing], banking and pharmaceutical. If you’re in a business hotel, you don’t know why guests come just by looking at their passports,” says the executive.
Grand Hyatt hotels have four to six food-and-beverage outlets. Coming soon, The Peak will consist of two levels of entertainment areas and bars and a top level that provides a 360-degree view of the city skyline.
The design of the multitiered lobby with a water feature under the stairs is a nod to the Banawe Rice Terraces.
“Filipinos will be proud. This is their hotel,” he says. “What makes this hotel different is that we engage with communities.”
Another example, The Mighty Duck farm in Laguna produces duck for the No. 8 China House, which claims it’s the only Chinese restaurant in town that serves authentic Peking duck.
Instead of fresh fruits, the rooms are supplied with complimentary banana chips made exclusively for the hotel. Likewise, the hotel’s craft beer is created by Engkanto Brewery; the cherry tomatoes are locally cultivated by an Israeli, and the coffee comes from the Cordilleras (with a little help from Arabica robusta beans from the Latin countries for a smooth blend).
“By sourcing locally, we lessen the carbon footprint. Although it’s a modest contribution, we believe it’s important to make a difference,” says Bogensperger.
On the plate
The executive has worked for Hyatt for 33 years. “It’s important for a young person to align yourself in a company that shares your beliefs. Even if Hyatt is big, it’s still a family. Every GM is your friend who’s there to support,” he says.
After graduating from hospitality school in Salzburg, Bogensperger joined Hyatt as a chef. He was posted in Asia where he has spent the last 30 years. For eight years, he served as executive chef in Hyatt Johor Baru, Malaysia, Seoul and Singapore.
Once he hit a career plateau as executive chef, he decided to take on an administrative position.
“As a chef, you are microfocused on the plate. As food and beverage director, you oversee how the business runs,” he says.
Bogensperger invested his time learning about other aspects of the hotel.
“When you are interested in your property, it is not limited to your department. It’s not that you have to become a specialist. You need a broader understanding like how to bring teams together. If you are a GM, it doesn’t mean that you are ripe. I see management like a locomotive. Everybody is on the same level and understands their roles. I may not always be right all the time because I have a lot to learn,” he says.
He was promoted to general manager in the former Hyatt Hotel and Casino (now New World Manila Bay).
Finicky with details, Bogensperger was involved in the preopening and construction. “You work twice as hard and three times longer than everybody else. I knew every room and pipe more than the engineer,” he says.
Running a casino hotel is different from running a regular hotel. It got busy after 9:00 p.m. Room service was at its peak from 4:00 to 7:00 a.m. after the gamers called it a night. While businessmen liked intimate places, the casino hotel required a karaoke room. Business travelers preferred food cooked a la minute. Gamers were too engrossed at the gaming table that they didn’t mind if the food sat for two hours.
During his tenure in Manila, he met the Ty family, owners of Metrobank, who were regulars at the Chinese restaurant, Lili.
After five years in Manila, Bogensperger was assigned to the 620-room Grand Hyatt Shanghai to improve the business.
“If something is not functioning, it’s either the people or the owners who don’t know what they’re doing or they’re meddling,” he says.
On his first year, he sacked 300 staffers. “There was no synergy nor team play,” he says.
Bogensperger started by firing his secretary who undermined him and underestimated his capabilities.
He then brought in eight people from other Hyatt properties for the key positions. With a revitalized and efficient staff, the hotel made a dramatic turnaround.
Meanwhile, the plan for Grand Hyatt Manila in BGC was hatched in 2006. The construction started in 2007 but was suspended during the global economic meltdown in 2008. It resumed in 2012. The Ty family requested Hyatt headquarters for Bogensperger to be posted in the Philippines.
Over the past months, Bogensperger slept in over 100 rooms in Grand Hyatt Manila, making sure every detail was in order.
“It takes at least three hours just to check the room. How does it feel? Do the air conditioning and refrigerator work? Take nothing for granted,” he maintains.
Bogensperger’s total commitment to the job is one of the secrets of his success.
He is proud that he developed six general managers, several food and beverage directors and chefs. He guided them, told them their strengths and limitations and how to keep on growing.
“Be passionate about your business. Don’t think that you know everything. More than knowledge and skills set, be engaged with people. You rely on so many of them. You can only be at one place at one time. The hotel is a 24/7 job.” —CONTRIBUTED
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