Good service for good business


Edward Kollmer, GM of Thistle JB
Edward Kollmer, 44, is the General Manager of Thistle Johor Baru

I was born in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest with two sisters and we lived in Howth, a small fishing port north of Dublin where our father owned a German fine-dining restaurant.  We ran the business successfully for 10 years and I used to spend 4 days a week helping in the kitchen for about 8 years.  This was my early training in the service industry as I grew up learning from first-hand experience in the kitchen and one of my tasks was stocking up the wine cellar.

For working in the restaurant, I received a wage of British Pounds 1.00 per hour and I will never forget that day when I got a pay rise.  I was 12 years old when my father handed me a brown envelope and as I counted out my wages, I was thrilled to discover that I had a raise of 50 pence an hour.  At that time, a wage rate of British Pounds 1.50 per hour was a quite a princely sum!

 
Edward Kollmer with guests at an event
held at the Thistle Johor Baru
In 1988, I was given the option to study Economics or go to Hotel Management School and I did not hesitate to decide on going to the Shannon College of Hotel Management, a recognised college of the National University of Ireland.  All the experience I gained from working in my father’s restaurant came in very handy as I successfully completed my hotel degree.  The course required me to spend a year in London and another year in Switzerland, where I gained valuable work exposure, before I graduated and started a career in the hotel industry.

I joined Thistle Hotels & Resorts in the United Kingdom, a group that has overseas properties and was keen to explore and experience another country and its culture.  I was first assigned to a property in Cardiff before coming to Malaysia for the first time in 2011 and had the opportunity to observe the operations in our first two properties here, Thistle Port Dickson Resort & Spa and the Thistle Johor Baru.  In April 2012, I was assigned to Thistle JB and over the past 16 months, I had the privilege of seeing the business increase and our standards of service improve.

Kollmer receiving the Brand Laureate award from
Tan Sri Mohammed Hashim Mohd Ali [Centre]
and Dr K.K. Johan
Thistle JB is a home away from home for many expatriates in Johor Baru, among them company managers and chief executives, and these long-term guests have become my friends.  In our regular interaction, I discovered that human capital is a challenge faced not only in the hotel industry but also in their companies established in Johor Baru.  In fact, on separate occasions when the Malaysian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were guests in the Thistle JB, our conversation topic was also on this prevailing issue of human capital in Johor Baru!

The Malaysian greeting of a handshake with a gentle gesture of touching our heart is such a warm and genuine expression that it has been adopted at Thistle JB.  I believe in building on the natural Malaysian affinity for warm hospitality and a person’s inherent good qualities like what I observed in a long-serving security guard who warmly greets guests to make them feel welcome.  I felt that his gift in meeting guests’ expectations should be recognised and it was unanimously decided that he should be reassigned to a more visible role in the concierge team as a Doorman!

Kollmer chatting with me at the interview
 [Candid shot taken while I was unaware!]
I’m always impressed if team members used their own intuition and initiative and I remember observing a member of staff, who’s not with the Sales & Marketing team but yet went out of his way to answer a potential customer’s banquet queries.  He knows his product well, spoke with confidence and responded to the queries attentively for over an hour.  As the hotel industry is growing more competitive in Johor Baru, Thistle JB is working towards developing a world-class generation of service professionals in our team and later, when I learnt about what this staff member was doing, I commended him with, “That was world-class!”   

One of the significant milestones of Thistle JB was in September last year when our team supported Legoland Malaysia at their official launch and provided them with hospitality and support services.  Even our bakery spared no effort in baking and decorating a beautiful cake designed as a Lego brick.  With the rapid development of Iskandar Malaysia these few years, I’m proud that Thistle JB is part of the history that is turning Johor Baru into a vibrant and modern metropolis.

Another candid shot of my interview with Kollmer
held at the Thistle JB's Club Lounge
[Notice the gorgeous purple colour!]
Personally, I’m learning a great deal about the local culture especially having experienced Ramadan and discovering such a wide array of local food while sharing breaking-of-fast meals with guests and staff.  Malaysia has such a diverse and colourful culture, as I have seen in the classical dances and beautifully decorated kolam during Deepavali.  The Chinese lion dance was a deafening and unforgettable experience and I particularly enjoyed hosting a mega Yee Sang tossing event with some 200 guests in the last Lunar New Year celebration!

The success of Thistle JB is always a team effort and I was honoured to receive the Diamond Award for City Hotel (4 to 5 Star) in the Accommodation Category for Thistle JB in the Johor Tourism Awards 2012.  In June 2013, I received the Brand Laureate Best Brands Award 2012 – 2013 in Corporate Branding (Leisure & Hospitality) on behalf of the Thistle Hotels & Resorts Malaysia from Tan Sri Mohammed Hashim Mohd Ali and Dr K. K. Johan in a glittering event held in Kuala Lumpur.  While customer feedback is helping us improve our service standards and individual competencies, healthy competition is driving up our standards and I believe there is enough business for everyone in Johor Baru.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 6 August 2013

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