Mondrian Singapore Duxton's General Manager Robert C. Hauck On The Powerful Potential Of The Unconventional - Men's Folio
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Mondrian Singapore Duxton’s General Manager Robert C. Hauck On The Powerful Potential Of The Unconventional

  • By Charmaine Tan

Mondrian Singapore Duxton's General Manager Robert C. Hauck On His Team On Finding Unexpected TalentsMen’s Folio speaks to the new Mondrian Singapore Duxton’s General Manager Robert C. Hauck about his vision for Southeast Asia’s first Mondrian property, his one-of-a-kind hotel support team and his love for experiencing new cultures.

If you were to list the top few hotel chains that consistently give unforgettable experiences, all of the Mondrian Hotel’s international outposts would make the cut. Each has become a destination in itself. Without a doubt, this will also include their first property in Southeast Asia, the Mondrian Singapore Duxton, which follows their Asia Pacific debut with Mondrian Seoul Itaewon in 2020.

Both unchanging yet constantly evolving to embody new shapes and forms that best reflect the city the outposts are stationed in, Singapore’s edition of the Mondrian is helmed by well-travelled hospitality veteran General Manager (or mischief-maker) Robert C. Hauck, and is supported by a diverse team of “unexpected talents” who shed new light on what it takes to be a community when the right people are brought together. We speak to Hauck about his life leading up to Mondrian, the state of the hospitality industry, and how his idea to create the Avengers of the hospitality world came about.

Could you describe what you do for a living in 10 or less words?
I create experiences and challenge the status quo.

Now maybe in a bit more detail, what does the job scope of a General Manager entail?
A GM, or a leader generally, is a facilitator, you have to make sure all of your colleagues have everything they need to do their jobs with structure and clear directions, and give them freedom to work creatively and excel. I work with my team to create desire for our property, and I want Mondrian to be the beating heart of this extraordinary city, a catalyst to forge connections with like-minded people, innovators and the wild at heart

How then did your journey in the hospitality begin? Was working in hotels something you always wanted to do?
After boarding school, I actually joined the army, and after that, I started studying law. I knew that I didn’t want to be tied to Germany, I wanted to see the world. Since I was a child I have always loved hotels and restaurants. My path was either going to be the army or hotels, I always loved adventure and both fields offered that. I’ve now worked in 15 countries all over the world. When I began my career, I didn’t want to go straight to hotel school, so I started as a chef as I wanted to start in the industry from the ground up, this was important for me. I then went to Swiss Hotel School. 

Hotels can be incredibly exciting, but that depends on you. For example at Mondrian Singapore, it is enormously exciting because we are really pushing the envelope and doing things differently.

You’ve really worked your way through many Asian countries over the past two decades. What have been some of the most invaluable experiences accumulated after living amidst so many diverse cultures?
One of the most intriguing experiences I had was working at The Raffles in Cambodia. I had 2 people on my staff who owned a car, 6 people who had a moped and the rest who came on foot or bicycles. I built an incredible relationship with all of my team, it was a heavily unionized environment, and I have stayed in touch with so many of them. During Covid, many of them didn’t have jobs to support their families, so I helped support them. I treasure the relationships I have made during my career. I will always remember my team in Cambodia, these people who came from a very poor background and have worked hard to elevate their position and it is hugely rewarding that I played a small part in this. 

During my time in Sri Lanka, I was there during the Easter Sunday Bombings. When you go through a crisis, you forge a relationship that you can’t create in a normal working environment. These crises truly bring you together. 

In your view, how different is the hospitality market now compared to pre-pandemic? How has that affected your approach to your target audience, or changed the target audience itself?
I think the pandemic was a kind of cleanser for hospitality. Yes, it has had an incredibly negative impact around the world, but it also made people more humble. So many people in hospitality got laid off during the pandemic and many didn’t want to come back to our industry, which is understandable, as they weren’t looked after. Despite all of the negative aspects of the pandemic, it helped us to concentrate more on our people again. The danger is that hotels forget very quickly, and we risk going back to how things were before. 

Hotels need to change their approach and it became more employee-centric, in this way, as we are doing at Mondrian, you can bring in different characters, which keeps things interesting for guests. 

Today at Mondrian, we are trying to give joy and glamour back to hospitality with our diverse hiring approach. In a saturated market like Singapore with lots of wealthy clients, how can you create a guest experience for them? You need to forge true authentic relationships, any hotel is only as good as the people who bring it to life and Mondrian has given me the freedom to do something truly innovative and really cast the net wide in taking a new approach to assembling a team. Sometimes it is the simple things that are luxury or ultra luxury.

Mondrian Singapore Duxton's General Manager Robert C. Hauck On His Team On Finding Unexpected TalentsSo what drew you to Mondrian?
I was intrigued by Mondrian because it has incredible potential. It isn’t well known in Asia, but if you look at the original hotel in LA it has an incredible vibe, it’s not just a hotel it’s a destination. This is for me what embodies lifestyle and hospitality.

I like having flat hierarchies and this entrepreneurial approach to how we do things, this approach has helped us to hire great talent in a very short space of time. For example one of my team comes from an incredible high fashion background and normally wouldn’t have considered working in our industry but she loves the brand and was intrigued.

From an asset standpoint, for a potential owner, our strategy will give a good and fast ROI compared to more traditional hotels. This could be a role model for an asset, put together a great brand, strong restaurants and bars and a diverse hiring strategy and you can create something really special.

Post-pandemic, guests are looking for something real, honest and different. A lot of brands promise a lot and can’t deliver. In lifestyle, we can only deliver if it’s connected to all touch points. How we treat each other, our colleagues, the flexibility we give, and providing a platform to find fulfillment in the work place.

Mondrian is no stranger to diversity and is well adjusted to constantly shapeshifting its look and feel to not just blend in, but also celebrate whichever new culture they are placed in. What makes Mondrian Singapore Duxton stand out from the other hotels of the Mondrian family?
Mondrian as a brand always wanted to be a bit controversial, we are elevating this to another level. This is exemplified by our hiring…we give opportunities to people who would not otherwise have them. We have a great mix; from very seasoned, experienced hoteliers to people who have never worked in hotels. We are creating our own Mondrian Singapore Duxton DNA. We are provocateurs in this sense.

Mondrian Singapore Duxton's General Manager Robert C. Hauck On His Team On Finding Unexpected TalentsHow then did the idea to create a team that resembles what seems like a Mondrian “Avengers” come about? Especially where and how to look for these special profiles — what is the “it” factor you look for?
This all started when I was on holiday back home in Germany early this summer. I was watching TV and saw a report about Ah Seng, who had been in and out of prison for 30 years. I was so touched when I saw this, I hadn’t even signed my contract in Singapore yet. I was intrigued by his story, so when I arrived here the first task I gave my Director of Talent was to find this gentleman. It wasn’t easy, it took us 3 months. 

That’s how this all started. 

We ask ourselves, how can we play our small part to make a difference in hospitality? We can’t all go around hiring from each other, hospitality used to have prestige and glamour and this is less so today. People from different backgrounds need to understand that you can use hospitality to sharpen your skills, your entrepreneurial spirit and spark creativity. 

We look for talent where other people aren’t looking. In Singapore, hotels are relatively conservative, but when you dive into the real Singapore there is so much creativity in bars, restaurants, art studios, photography and sport. People in a lot of these fields would never normally work in the hotel industry because they think they don’t have the skillset or confidence to pursue it, therefore Ah Seng is kind of a catalyst to show people to believe in themselves and believe in their strengths.

How does having such an unconventional team further enrich your envisioned Mondrian experience?
First of all, we have to give the confidence to our team to provide a level and approach to service that is a bit different from other hotels. We have started to gain momentum, we are building up people’s confidence and a unique profile of characters and we will forge special connections with our guests through the character of our team. 

Mondrian Singapore Duxton's General Manager Robert C. Hauck On His Team On Finding Unexpected TalentsLast but not least, what is one thing we can look forward to seeing, doing or experiencing at Mondrian Singapore Duxton?
I want Mondrian to be the beating heart of this extraordinary city, a catalyst to forge connections with like-minded people, innovators, and the wild at heart. From the Hollywood Strip to the Lion City’s Duxton Hill, Mondrian will bring its signature blend of art, glamour and culinary flair into Singapore’s most vibrant neighbourhood.

We don’t just talk, we execute and welcome people who are a little bit different with our mix of very experienced hoteliers and people from different backgrounds. It’s also important that the members of our team who sadly got laid off during the pandemic, now have an extra level of passion, energy and motivation to give the best experience to our guests and show that they still have it.

Click here to catch up with our December/January 2023 issue.