SCMP Saturday, January 6, 2001


ADVANCEMENT

On course for a top career in the hospitality business

PATHWAYS by MARK REGAN

In this column, Education Post talks to people from all walks of life about the route they have taken to further their careers.
Name: Peter Borer.
Job: General manager of The Peninsula, Hong Kong, and regional general manager of Peninsula Group Hotels in Asia.
Was it your ambition to be a hotel manager? In a way, though as a teenager I was interested in acting or being a diplomat. I was born into a 'hotel family' in Switzerland so I had a good early insight into the business, and my parents encouraged me.
What did you study in senior school? In Switzerland, we study 12 subjects and you have to take them all, you can't specialise. It was a horrible time because I hated all 12 subjects.
What did you gain from it? I didn't like school as I was a happy-go-lucky child and school tended to interrupt the fun. I was thrown out of public school because I was so disruptive and sent to private school. There they understood my needs and coached me through.
How about further education? I went to Lausanne Hotel School (www.ehl.ch) in Switzerland for three years. The first year I studied being a waiter, the second a cook and the third an administrator. After Lausanne, I went to Cornell University School of Hospitality and Management (www.hotelschool.cornell.edu) in the United States for further study. I wanted to specialise in finance and marketing. I didn't complete my studies because they wanted to send me back into the kitchen and I had already done that.
What did you gain from further education? I had been a bit of a wild child and I learned how to be disciplined. I accepted it at Lausanne because the subject interested me and I learned a lot about different cultures. There were 56 different nationalities in my class.
Was there a defining moment in your education? Yes, when I flunked every possible test and my father tore his last hair out. I was the youngest in the family and my brother and sister passed all their exams with flying colours. I didn't. The important thing was my parents were understanding and didn't treat me like a village idiot. They realised perhaps it was a phase I was going through and kept their confidence in me.
Do you like your job? I love it. Totally. I have had very few bad moments.
What skills are required? I have to maintain harmony among hundreds of employees and guests and shareholders and make sure the hotel maintains profitability. Financial skills are very, very important. But most of all you have to be able to deal with the unexpected.
How important is a person's education when you recruit? Pieces of paper are important but what you take out of a course is what matters. You can go to the finest school but still be a complete idiot. The person's character is more important, especially in this industry.
What should students look for in a further education course? Before you choose a course you should already have an idea of what you would like to become. Ideally, a young person would experience working in a hotel before making a choice about this or that course. A gap year is a good idea.
What local courses would you recommend? The Chinese University has a very good degree programme in hotel management. There is also the Polytechnic University's degree in hotel, catering and tourism management.
Overseas courses? There are many excellent courses in Europe and the US, but also many bad ones looking to rip off Asian students. Do your research and make sure it's a reputable school.
Any jobs going? Asia is a good place to get into hotel management, there are more opportunities. I became GM at 40. In Europe, it is almost impossible before 55.