Meet the man putting the heart into hospitality

The hospitality industry – despite its veneer of glamour and excitement – is not always a popular career choice for young people. Long hours, lower pay than others in industries and very hard work mean that for many young people the hospitality industry is often seen as a short-term stop-gap when studying or as a last resort while looking for something else.

This is something that Peninsula All-Suite Hotel GM Chris Godenir has fought to change.

Chris believes it’s time that the industry changes its attitude towards employee appreciation, appropriate remuneration, and trust between employees and management. He has set out to make his hotel, a member of the Dream Hotels and Resorts group, a flagbearer for a new approach to the hothouse that is hotel management.

“Up till now, the hospitality industry has historically been a place where the employee is not valued, where they are not trusted,” he says. “We make rules and regulations to control the 20% of the people in the industry who are there for the wrong reasons. But we don’t realise that we are suppressing the motivation and talent of the other 80%. We should look at it the other way round and loosen up so that we get that 80% to fly.”

His hospitality journey

Chris took a long and winding road toward his current position. He spent many years roaming the globe taking jobs in various aspects of the hospitality industry, from high-end London hotels to Hong Kong restaurants. But when he reached his 30s, he experienced a literal crash that shook his world to its foundations and made him re-evaluate his life.

“I had a car accident,” he says. “Not many people know this, but I was in the hospital for seven months, in a wheelchair for a year, and a year and a half on crutches. I lost everything and had to start all over again. This made me really think about what I wanted to do, up till then I had been drifting.

“So, I went back to the hotel where it all started – the Edward in Durban – and decided to make this a career. But at the same time, I was going to use this career and the things I had learned to do what I could to change the attitude towards the industry.”

Innovations at the Peninsula

Chris believes that too many hospitality companies are rigid and inflexible in management.

“It’s all about ticking the boxes and keeping people inside the structure,” he says. “I wanted to flatten this structure, bring management closer to staff. I wanted to build trust, and to listen. It is hard to get that trust, it took a long time. Trusting your staff means that you are giving up control, and it means adopting flexibility and tolerance. This is difficult for a lot of managers to do.”

Apart from changing the relationship between management and staff, Chris introduced three innovations to the Peninsula during his 18-year sojourn as General Manager: a five-day week, full medical funding, and an in-house careers academy.

“At the moment, people work six days on, one day off,” he says. “There is not much you can do in that one day. So, we brought in a five-day week. Also, we pay medical aid in full. So, our more entry-level employees don’t have to spend all day in a queue at a clinic. This has cut down on absenteeism. It might cost a bit more, but we are making that back with increased productivity.”

The Peninsula’s academy programme is also a gold standard in hospitality. “We get school leavers, and we train them. We promote in-house, so people grow along with us. Our retention rate, as a result, is remarkable. Our people just don’t leave. But we are not just investing in our people, so they don’t leave, we want to invest in our people so that they add value and grow along with us.”

Chris’s life mission is to change the perception that the hospitality industry is not just about waiting on tables or making beds.

“This should be regarded as an attractive industry,” he says. “There is something for everyone, a job for everyone. With better salaries, so people can live on them, and training, and flexibility and trust and benefits, we can change the perception of this industry and get people excited about coming here as a fulfilling career.”

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