We were honoured to interview Matthew Cooper, the General Manager of JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul, who recently became a finalist for General Manager of the Year 2017 – Asia. Read about his journey and how a particular comment he received at a young age inspired him to become a hotelier.
My career journey began with studying fine art, as I was a rather creative student with artistic ability. However, I decided to leave art school after realising that I was not doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At first I felt a little lost because art was all I knew, but I soon landed myself a role working part-time in a hotel restaurant kitchen. One day a positive comment I received from the GM of the hotel inspired me to consider becoming a hotelier.
Soon after, I began my journey by enrolling in a culinary school before going on to complete a degree in hotel management in Brisbane, Australia. I found myself a part-time job in one of the restaurants at the Capricorn International Resort in Queensland Australia and I constantly found myself drawn to the guests and enjoyed striking up conversations with them. Eventually I asked the GM if I could change position and I was soon cooking eggs at one of the food stations. I worked my way up to become the Chef de Rang and then onto Restaurant Manager for one of the fine dining Gueridon restaurants.
With my growing interest to learn more about other departments in a hotel, I applied for a position on the front desk as a Duty Manager. My career developed further after I met the pre-opening team for a new Marriott hotel, and I was invited to join them. Ever since then, I have been with Marriott International for the last 20 years, working across various roles from Front Office Manager to Director of Rooms, Director of Food and Beverage and now the General Manager.
2. Can you share with us what you feel has been the most valuable part in your career development to date, that has enabled you to get to where you are today?
I have never waited to be promoted nor to learn a new skill. I often set personal goals and learning targets in order to develop and progress in my career. As a GM, having cross discipline experience in both rooms and F&B, has allowed me to be a very agile operator and to manage the hotel with a more holistic view of what’s required across departments. I believe that the most important thing is the support and guidance from significant mentors in my life. Those who were not afraid to tell me the truth and highlight areas for improvement. One of my most meaningful mentors was Bart Buiring, the Chief Operations Services Officer of Asia Pacific at Marriott International. He taught me the art of taking care of people by putting their careers before my own. His way of maintaining a vast network through meaningful engagements inspired me. I believe that true luxury goes beyond the logo and design, it is the service and communication that makes a hotel exceptional.
Through my regular visits to Universities and Colleges as a guest lecturer and student counsellor, I would say I’m considerably active in the Hotel Management education system in South Korea. Building grassroots relationships is key to securing future associates. Winning this award would allow me the opportunity to continue this and give credit, as I love being a mentor to young passionate Hoteliers. Although it would be a wonderful way to acknowledge and inspire future leaders, I have no desire to leave operations and become a lecturer, as I have a great passion for guest services and the energy of working in a hotel environment.