Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Managing a world-class hotel

Peter Tudehope giving his talk after formal dinner

On Wednesday 14 March 2018, General Manager of Radisson Blu, Peter Tudehope, was the guest who offered words of advice to the Warrane boys. With an extensive background in hotels, he told them a bit about the journey that has led to his being the Regional Manager Australia and Pacific of Carlson Hotels Worldwide – Asia Pacific since 2009 and General Manager of Radisson Blu Hotel Sydney since 2005.

“It’s a career I’ve really enjoyed, and I still love doing what I’m doing,” Tudehope told the boys. He left school (a private boarding school in Bowral) in 1975, and while he enjoyed it there, he was unsure what to pursue afterwards. One of his father’s suggestions was hospitality – not a well-known industry at the time, but something that peaked Tudehope’s interest enough to give it a crack.

When he visited a hospitality school located at the old jail at Darlinghurst, he was encouraged to work in the industry for 12 months before beginning study to ensure that he liked it. With a contact at a Blacktown pub, this is where Tudehope’s career began – at a time when a beer cost just 35 cents, and on a night where a pouring mistake led to beer being poured all over him! But he stuck it out and began his studies at the Darlinghurst college a year later.

In 1985, Tudehope decided to come to Sydney, where he began work at the Intercontinental Sydney as the Night Manager. He learnt that working in a hotel could be very real, particularly when experiencing things like a guest who had died in her room (only to be discovered four days later as she had her ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door); or the man who had jumped off the building after losing his money at the nearby casino.

1987 brought new opportunities for Tudehope when he travelled to Manila, Indonesia and Korea to open different hotels. In 1989 he learnt housekeeping at the Willard in Washington – which he didn’t think seemed that hard until he had to clean the usual 14 rooms per day on his own. The next year he moved to Regent Hotel as the Rooms Division Manager where he managed a team of 340 staff from 65 different cultures. He opened more hotels in Las Vegas and San Francisco before joining the Carlton Hotels corporate office in 2002; where he stayed until his current role at Radisson Blu Hotels.

Hotels and dealing with humans

Tudehope told the boys about the reality of humanity that he had seen in the hotel business. “We see the best and we see the worst of human behaviour in the business that I work in,” he said, “and we’re often challenged very much ethically about things that we could or couldn’t do.” Tudehope’s dad, a doctor by profession, advised him not to take things too seriously – “Take your job seriously, but yourself not so much.” These were the words he offered his son after a particularly rough day on the job – including a guest’s dress being ruined, two cars being run into each other in valet, and a group booking showing up on the wrong date. On that same day, his dad had dealt with a triplet miscarriage, death and more, which helped to put things into perspective.

Other difficulties for Tudehope included unifying huge teams. As he put it: “One of the challenges you have is… so many people and so many different nationalities that you’ve got to make gel into one… how you manage those people and the different cultures and the different beliefs.” Another would be treating each situation in an ethical matter, when the business made it so easy to look at things financially. “Because technically you might not be doing anything wrong, but perhaps morally you aren’t doing the right thing by people,” he told the boys. One example of this was an instance where he was about $200K short of a target, and so worked out a way to shut down the housekeeping department. But upon seeking advice from a priest, he was asked to question this decision for the sake of the 75 staff who would lose their jobs. He decided not to make them redundant and they made the target anyway!

The boys also asked Tudehope about dealing with unpleasant customers; which he said was something they spend a lot of time to train staff on. “Because it’s very hard not to take things personally,” he said. “Always try and give yourself the ability to walk away and come back. Because by buying a bit of time, particularly when people are quite upset or anxious about something… the best thing you can do it say ‘let me look into it, let me see what I can do for you’… By giving that sense of listening and then trying to work out a solution, it’s better than trying to defend yourself; because quite often the temptation is to justify why something happened to someone else.”

(Photographs from the evening are available here)

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