Homey hospitality

Nopparat Aumpa is Banyan Tree's first female general manager. This is how she did it

Nopparat Aumpa.

Nopparat Aumpa of Banyan Tree Bangkok doesn't seem like your typical hotel general manager, possessing an autocratic personality. Instead, she is cheerful, down-to-earth, amicable.

The 48-year-old is the first female general manager of the hotel chain, and has served in her position for four years. She's one of the very first who have worked with the branch since its establishment in 1996. Just this year she pushed the Banyan Tree Bangkok to receive the Best Hotel Award among 38 properties in the chain. The Singaporean hotel chain is spreading branches all over Asia as well as expanding to America, Africa and the Middle East.

It's known in the world of international hotels that managerial positions are usually reserved for Western males. So for Nopparat, to be a female Thai general manager is a point of pride.

"They said I was selected because of my leadership and because there is nothing I can't do," said Nopparat. "I admit I'm not perfect, but I'm always ready for self-improvement. I'm also proud of being promoted as the first female GM of the chain, and glad to encourage other local employees to make it."

Nopparat kicked off her career right after graduation. Her bachelor's degree in history has nothing to do with the hospitality business, but realising that she herself is a service-minded person, she didn't hesitate to give it a try. Her proper education in the hotel business came later when the hotel owner encouraged her to take related courses at Cornell University in New York.

"When your work is something you like, it turns out to be easy," she said. "I love to take care of people, so working in a hotel suits my nature well. If someone asks me to do something, I want to make sure he will be impressed. It's also easy for us as Thais. I always want to present Thai courtesy and hospitality as characteristics of our nature."

Working by heart has resulted in awards. Nopparat was given the Service of Legend Award of Banyan Tree Bangkok in her first year of working. The same prize, but for the entire chain, was given to her again the following year. These prizes remind her to keep moving -- many times she has been assigned to help set up new hotels in different countries, including China and Mexico.

"I enjoy working to meet the deadline to make everything in the new hotel ready in time. It's challenging and great fun. I also like cultural differences, like how to turn those differences into service success. I have to make sure that all employees understand and are able to carry out their duties well so the hotel can run smoothly even when I'm no longer there. And it can't be successful by just telling [staff] what's what. I have to show them. The key is I have to be humble and respectful so people will be open to me."

As a general manager, Nopparat's responsibility covers tasks ranging from managing human resources to staff training. She sticks to her principle of the four Ps: people, processing, product and profits. All of the four must get better all the time.

"Among the four, people is definitely the toughest," she said. "To understand the nature of people of different generations I'm working with is important. And with customers, I have to make sure they're impressed and well taken care of. Even though some of them don't come back, at least the hotel's reputation will be passed on by word of mouth in a positive way."

To understand her staff, the general manager put herself in their shoes.

"If I was at the reception in the afternoon shift, for example, I worked as a banquet server to help set up an event in the morning, or if I was to work in the front office, I would spend my free time to see what housekeepers did. It's like I speak the same language as they do, so when they report to me their problems I can easily understand. I can advise them on how to solve problems and help them foresee the situation."

Nopparat said she treats all staff like family. Each month, she spends time mingling with staff to talk and let them share their problems.

With loads of responsibility, does she have time for nothing but work?

"That's not true," she insisted. "I plan my schedule annually to make sure I have time for my friends and family. I don't want anyone to drop out of my life. To do so, I prioritise things and try to be flexible, but at the same time understand there can be unforeseen situations sometimes."

Though Nopparat's life seems to be very well settled, there's something she still wants to improve.

"I should be concerned more about work-life balance, especially in health. I also need to slow down when it comes to leading people. I'm a fast person, and I rush too much sometimes, when in fact people want to take their time putting their hands to something.

"I want to continue working for the company and make it one of the best-rated brands in the hotel business. I also want to make both employees and customers happy. I've never thought that I would be here. I just do my best without giving up. If I fall, I just get back up and run faster. If I make a mistake, I don't worry, just don't repeat it again."

Do you like the content of this article?