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An interview with Richard Hatter, General Manager, Hotel ICON

Owned by the world-ranked Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hotel ICON is both a luxury hotel and an unparalleled state of the art training facility designed to nurture the next generation of Asian hospitality experts. On the back of winning General Manager of the Year at the prestigious BMW Hoteliers Awards of Greater China 2018, as well as three Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) awards for their training initiative called We Love to Care—Richard Hatter, General Manager, Hotel ICON, sat down with HR Magazine to discuss his background, what the awards mean for the business and how the learning and development outcomes from the programme will affect business practices in years to come.
Iconic Vision
When ground was officially broken on the Hotel ICON site in 2009, many industry observers believed the concept of hospitality students running and maintaining a world-class luxury hotel was essentially flawed and that the project would surely fail. Employee 0001, as Hatter’s ID card displayed at the time, had a different perspective and today Hotel ICON is ranked within the top three of almost any trip advisory list for Hong Kong. Mr Hatter reflected, “Experience taught us that we could build a brand on our own. I wanted to launch a ‘heritage brand’ that was confident, stylish, individual and cool and that really considered who our guests were. I never wanted to just get into Gen X or Y for the sake of it—a ‘heritage brand’ is not just about how old you are. It is about how relevant you remain. Brands can never stop innovating—a heritage brand like ICON is timeless. It has longevity. It is well-recognised and accepted socially, culturally and politically. It has an established track record of meeting the needs of education and generating commercially excellent returns, exceeding expectations, and consistently delivering on their core promise and premise.”
Third Culture Man
‘Having a different perspective’ is a phrase that could be used to summarise much of Hatter’s life and indeed may be the key to his success. A third culture child, he spent the majority of his formative years leading a nomadic life as he followed his father, a member of the Ministry of Overseas Development, through Asia and Africa. Immersed in cultures foreign to an English child in the 1960s, the developing world became his teacher. What strikes you when you first meet Hatter is his authenticity. Hatter’s conception of hospitality, culture and inclusion is something that cannot be learned in a classroom—and the initiatives he has put in place for his staff have nothing to do with satisfying industry trends—they are a reflection of whom he is and how the world has transformed him to be.
Aside from being the hotel’s General Manager, Mr Hatter is also a lecturer, an Adjunct Associate Professor at The School of Hotel Tourism Management (Hong Kong Polytechnic University). His classes are melting pots filled with students originating from different countries and socio-economic backgrounds. Hatter expressed, “One tends to find common ground quickly when they have been exposed to many people of different cultural backgrounds, as I have. Children who have been exposed to more than one country have an increased global perspective compared to their peers and are far more interested in travel and the rest of the world. As a hotelier in a multinational business world, the ability to build cultural bridges can be invaluable as a mentor or a teacher. I have always felt more comfortable as a foreigner in a foreign land than a tourist might.”


We Love to Care
Introduced as a training programme in 2017, We Love to Care’s goal is to develop the skills and knowledge of the hotel’s interns and employees, with particular focus given to ‘excellence in customer service and in the understanding of emotional intelligence’. Hatter highlighted, “It’s a three-step process, the first of which is creating operational excellence. These are the technical skills. The next step is what we call aesthetic excellence. It’s the stuff that isn’t quite as obvious as you might think to a local person. It’s about how do you stand, where do you stand, just at the right distance in terms of personal space. To give the staff confidence and teaching them to adapt to what is, for many of the young locals, a pretty surreal environment. The third part is what we call emotional excellence, which is building rapport and creating moments and creating memories. How do you create a memory for a customer? We teach that and everything is very carefully documented with many examples of how it is achieved.”
Upon clinching the prestigious HKMA training and development award—the Silver Award for Excellence in Training and Development in the Skills Training category, Hatter discussed culture as crucially important in forming their training programmes. He stated, “I always tell my staff not to try and emulate the European style of establishments such as the Ritz Carlton but to follow their own core values. There is this beautiful Confucian concept of the ‘extended family’ that is ingrained in Asian culture. This sense of sharing is quite foreign to Westerners. As a third culture child, I became aware of this cultural conception where being humble, gracious, sincere were valued above all—these are really the hallmarks of hospitality, and these are the core values that we have worked to incorporate into our service. Hotel ICON really is this fresh interpretation of Asian hospitality. It all comes back to culture.”
As well as adding value to customer service, the programme also directly tackles internal issues such as diversity and inclusion. Hatter discussed,” By including empathy in our training programmes, we encourage our associates to take into account the experience and perspective of their colleagues, as well as our guests, especially when resolving issues. Managing conflicts and leading their teams towards greater innovation and higher productivity."
Thriving into the future
Following the success of the We Love to Care programme, Hatter was again honoured in November at the BMW Hoteliers Awards of Greater China 2018 where he received the prestigious General Manager of the Year award. On accepting the award Hatter said, “I am very honoured to be part of such a distinguished group of winners and nominees. The Hotelier Awards as an institution brings together top achievers and provides a collective motivation for all of us to grow as future leaders.”
For Hotel ICON, the mission has always been to develop a hospitality talent pool that will enhance Hong Kong’s position as an ‘intellectual’ centre. Further connecting Hong Kong and China with the rest of the world, Hotel ICON assumes an important role in promoting interpersonal ties as well as exchanges in the areas of education, culture and tourism and youth development. Hatter acknowledged, “We are thrilled that many of our staff have benefited greatly from the training. We are especially proud to see many of the young hoteliers whom we have trained rising through the ranks both at ICON and at other reputable hotels around the world and leaving their own impressions.”
Over the last seven years, Hatter and his team have increasingly found themselves sought-after in the industry as hospitality-related consultants. To meet the demand Hotel ICON has launched the ‘SHTM+ICON Consultancy Service’ together with The School of Hotel and Tourism Management (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University). The world has taken notice of Hotel ICON’s reputation and indeed watched with both excitement and envy as its star has risen. Long gone are the naysayers and Hotel ICON it is widely accepted and touted as a ‘Hong Kong tourism success’ worthy of imitation and emulation.