Chris Glaessel Interview with Thomas Wai
1) What position do you hold in your organization today? (work, charity, free-time, etc.)
I am the Founder and Managing Director of CIR | VIS Hospitality Consulting (www.cirvis.com.sg). I work hard, play very little and I keep in touch with all aspects of the business to make sure that the character of the company stays in line with our original vision, mission and philosophy. I have the pleasure of working alongside three exceptional individuals who I treat as equal colleagues and contributors to the company’s successful journey.
Work obviously never stops or sleeps, and the needs and challenges of the business are always present 24/7. But I do try to keep fit through regular exercise, mostly road biking around Singapore, and the occasional run around the Barrage at Marina Bay and the parks in the East.
My wife, my son and I enjoy organizing charity events on a humble scale, and we contribute wherever we can to grassroots organizations, our church community, and to the circle of friends and colleagues that have grown dear to us over the years.
2) What would you consider your greatest success?
I don’t like to describe success as any single destination in my distant or recent past; I rather enjoy looking back at a series of extraordinary memories and experiences that my 20-year hospitality career has enriched my life with. I have had the opportunity to open a number of hotels and restaurants in junior and senior roles, and these experiences certainly carry a lot of weight in terms of learning and personal development. However, I feel that the greatest success I have had is based on my growing network of friends and acquaintances within and outside of the hospitality industry. I enjoy engaging and interacting with people – it gives me tremendous satisfaction to coach, train and inspire others.
3) What is the most important thing you have learned in your business?
I have learned that “build it and they will come” is a treacherous philosophy for any start-up. Adaptation is key to the success of any business. Change is a constant and the truth is seldom obvious.
Having said that, I found it important to maintain a firm grip of personal principles, good business practices, ethics and people skills – in these areas, no business should compromise in my opinion.
But it becomes hard to continue on the path idealism, if the economic pressure on the business is making its leadership so hungry that contracts with business partners and clients with lesser ethics and low-quality practices are signed because they may be the only ones who can pay the bills.
4) What do you wish you had known prior to coming into your role?
I feel the journey of two years that I have gone through as entrepreneur and business owner has brought me an immense amount of learning. This ranges from the breadth and wealth of available technology solutions for businesses, applications, resources, angel and venture investments, government subsidies, all the way to the importance of a supportive private life. I also wish I had known how important it is to have personal tenacity and the talent to again and again motivate oneself to get up in the morning to follow one’s dream.
5) What challenges did you feel the least prepared to handle?
I felt most challenged not by operational difficulties, by projects or by any of the administrative issues a business has to deal with. What I wasn’t adequately prepared for was how much of personal reflection and overcoming of adversity it would take to deal with disappointments, rejections and failures.
It is rather simple to motivate a team to deliver great work if you’re in a comfortable place; but if you feel the entire team is drained and if you are personally affected then it becomes very hard to maintain professional composure, to give direction and to turn the page and move on.
6) What would you want your successor to know if you were mentoring him/her?
I would want my successor to understand that it is essential to clearly distinguish between the different “hats” a leader has to wear and to fill different roles, to consider all the possible paradigms that one can think of, and to understand that a leadership role in any business requires selflessness, extraordinary dedication and a source of inspiration. That not only comes from the things we read and learn in our professional life, but also important is to thrive on personal interactions, well-meaning advice and mentorship from those who have been through the journey of a business leader before.
7) What did you want to become as a child?
Just like many other boys at my young age, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Or at least the pilot of a commercial airliner. I actually signed up for the tests to become a fighter pilot during my National Service in Germany, and I was ready to take it all the way. Until one day I met a former Mig-29 pilot for a chat over a cup of coffee. He told me about all of the exciting training that he went through, the missions that he flew and the youthful excitement that he had had during his career as a fighter pilot. It was all I wanted until he came to the story about when he had to eject from his aircraft on one of his training missions. When he told me that he had suffered permanent spinal damage, I figured that it would probably be better for me to keep my feet on solid ground and find a career in which I would not have to go to such extremes.
So since I had always loved to be in and around hotels probably from the age of six onwards, joining the hospitality industry, going through a full-on training and apprenticeship, and eventually applying for some of the best luxury brands in the world was a logical choice.
8) What adjective describes you best?
Tenacious, which I feel goes very well with the nickname I have often been given: “The Hospitality Hulk.”
9) Is there anyone you would like to meet and why?
I used to have a long list of people who I would love to have met in my life, but unfortunately they passed on too early for me to ever get the chance. Among them were personalities such as Sir Peter Ustinov, Steve Jobs, Stephen J. Covey and Lee Kuan Yew.
Although I had the pleasure of hosting many events attended by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew during my professional career, I would have really enjoyed to spend just an hour with him to soak up his amazing aura, his wealth of knowledge and his inspiring view of the world.
So I guess the top of my list is currently occupied by Sir Richard Branson. I truly admire how he has dealt with adversity, failure and success in his life, while he at least gives the impression of enjoying what he does and caring about the people around him.
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