Case Study: Hilton

Shedding the old stereotypes of the hotel industry is essential if Hilton Worldwide is to meet challenging expansion targets in KSA

If Koray Genckul thinks he’s busy now, things are about to get a lot more frenetic for him. As senior director of HR for Hilton Worldwide across the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, he leads the people strategy that affects thousands of employees in 105 hotels. Within four years, that portfolio is set to double, and finding, training and retaining people to staff the new properties across the region falls squarely on his shoulders.

Genckul’s keenest focus is on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where Hilton has 10 hotels and 27 more in the pipeline, many of them in secondary cities. As it looks to triple its payroll, the business has three main goals, he says: to develop capability within the location, build capacity within the workforce and create future leaders. In short, he needs to attract Saudi nationals to Hilton, and fast, so they can be developed into the mentors and managers of tomorrow.

Having worked and lived in the country himself, Genckul is quick to dismiss old stereotypes and point out how attractive hospitality careers in KSA can be. Hotels offer around 100 job titles in departments such as engineering, business development and commercial strategy.

“You need people not just from hospitality schools, but from business, engineering and technology schools,” says Genckul. “We have departments for business development, revenue management and commercial. These are very high-tech oriented, intellectually demanding, cool jobs. Ten or 20 years ago, these roles only existed in the banks or financial organisations.”

Even so, he acknowledges that “the headcount in operational departments usually represents 85-90 per cent of the workforce”, which was the impetus for the Mudeer Al Mustaqbal (Manager of the Future) programme. It aims to develop Saudi nationals in catering, front office and housekeeping managerial roles within a 12-16 month period. After being piloted in 2013 at Hilton Makkah, four candidates graduated in 2014, and in 2015 the programme expanded to four hotels in three cities and admitted its first female candidate. This year, 12 more future leaders are scheduled to enroll.

“Young people nowadays are very career-oriented,” says Genckul. “They want to be general manager or director in the future, but in hospitality you probably have a greater chance of becoming a business leader if you come from operational departments. It’s not the only route, but it is the traditional one.

“We have a tracking system. I think the worst thing you could do is have such high [performance] programmes, enroll people, graduate them and then never talk about them. It’s important to track these people and continuously support them in their career.”

The intake has to remain small to ensure the candidates receive the training, feedback and support needed to succeed, but Genckul says Mudeer Al Mustaqbal is just one scheme in a “toolbox of programmes” that will address talent needs at all levels.

These include live days held with colleges, Careers@Hilton Live signature events with the Saudi Commission of Tourism & Antiquities – which promote hotel careers to youth in KSA and offer job shadowing – and YourJob_YourScholarship, which will employ 50 graduates of a government-funded hospitality scholarship programme.

There is also a concerted push to increase female representation in the company’s operations in KSA, with Genckul highlighting Abeer Fakeerh, assistant personnel manager at Makkah Hilton Towers, who acts as an ambassador for the business among fellow nationals: “Abeer has represented the female work sector in Saudi Arabia at recent HR forums in Abu Dhabi, and is a strong advocate of the economic and social progression of the nation.”

He adds that the company strives to create working conditions suitable for women in Saudi Arabia, and continually works to educate nationals on the different opportunities available. “We have the right advocates who can explain to Saudi women what it is like to work for us,” says Genckul. “We’re also considering the culture and local norms in terms of working hours and locations, so that we can provide the physical environment that they would feel most comfortable working in, with the right shift times.

“Today you won’t see a Saudi female team member doing a shift from 11pm to 6am, and that’s fine. We are realistic about these things and there are still many jobs that can be done during normal working hours.”

This harks back to Genckul’s thoughts about the evolution of the hotel industry as offering viable and diverse careers, rather than merely service jobs. And he speaks from personal experience when it to comes to challenging the way people think about the sector: “I remember my own parents, 30 years ago, discussing whether I should go to hospitality school. My father thought I should and my mother thought I shouldn’t. She thought I would become a waiter or a receptionist and that’s how they saw it. It’s great that this perception is changing.”