“Whoever has worked with me will tell you that I work with a firm hand but with a warm heart.” Mr Roderick Micallef, General Manager of Corinthia Hotel Lisbon, and part of the senior team involved in the design and development of all new hotels, described his work relationship succinctly but very effectively.
So what does Mr Micallef try to instil most in his colleagues? He barely waited for the end of the question. “A love and passion for their work. When you are blessed with this, you are bound to do more than is even expected of you. It is contagious; your energy diffuses itself in others and creates a dedicated environment.”
His warmth is evident from the way he describes his experience with Corinthia: “I have always considered Corinthia as my second family and just like any other family, there needs to be a sense of belonging and most of all a sense of loyalty, integrity and ownership.”
Was hoteliering his first love? “My love for hotels and tourism started at a very young age, when as a young boy, I used to follow my uncles and help out in the family business, selling tours on my Summer holiday breaks, and later on, in my young years, when I was trying to make some extra money whilst reading for my accountancy degree and juggling jobs between waitering, night auditor, and running a pool bar. I joined Corinthia at the age of 25, in 2001, after having spent the previous seven years working as an accountant with an audit firm. My initial years with the company were, in fact, as Financial Controller, starting precisely where the company started at the Corinthia Palace and later moving on to Corinthia Lisbon in 2004. It was meant to be a one year assignment but after all these years, Lisbon has now become home. Looking back, I can say that both my previous experience in tourism, starting at rock bottom, my love for business development, together with my financial background both as an accountant and later as a Financial Controller within the company, gave me the tools, life skills and understanding of the operation on both a micro and macro level and a strong foundation which I still find very useful in my present roles.
Corinthia Lisbon has won several awards under Mr Micallef’s stewardship as General Manager. Insider Plus requested him to walk us through them. “It’s always exciting to name them: World’s Leading City Hotel 2018 at the World Travel Awards, Portugal’s Luxury Eco/Green Hotel 2018 at the World Luxury Hotel Awards, Portugal’s Best Luxury Destination Spa, and Portugal’s Best Unique Experience Spa at the World Luxury Spa Awards 2019.”
Truly a fine collection of awards! They must be top in his list of satisfactions. Mr Micallef, smiled and with great sincerity, replied: “Winning an award for the hotel is a big satisfaction both on a personal level and also for the team members and we are ever so proud of all our achievements along the years. Having said that, nothing beats the pleasure and satisfaction one gets from having guests choosing us again over our competition purely because we have managed to engrave a memory, a good and long lasting experience which will leave them dreaming and hoping of them coming again, long after they have returned home. Of course the awards are great and they provide a good fuel and driving force to all team members to strive and exceed their goals and improve result, but they must not be seen as the be-all and end-all.”
How do the locals in Lisbon look at Corinthia? “The locals who remember the old Alfa as it was previously known, look at Corinthia as a breath of fresh air. The hotel came with its difficulties amongst the locals so it took time and perseverance to change its reputation and people’s perception. Today the hotel as well as the Corinthia Brand are regarded as one of the top 5-Star hotels in Lisbon, hosting guests from business to leisure, and is always in the forefront for innovation and new ideas. During this past Summer, locals considered it their safe haven and it was one of the few places in Lisbon where locals could still enjoy a certain amount of normality in a safe environment within our Soul Garden and the new Erva Terrace.”
Insider Plus could note from Mr Micallef’s behaviour and responses that he was a very dynamic person. Was this feeling correct? “In our business, once you start relaxing and feeling comfortable, your competition is already miles ahead of you. I get 101 ideas every day…not all materialise, yet I am forever seeking to work with a dynamic team who is constantly thinking outside the box, thinking of new and different ideas and setting out ambitious goals. I am forever trying to motivate and mentor people in this regard. All staff, whatever their post and grade, have to roll up their sleeves and adopt a hands-on approach. Dedication, integrity and passion are pivotal principles for me within the operation. My constant drive is to place the Corinthia Lisbon amongst the very best 5-Star luxury hotels in Lisbon in terms of quality, customer care and business achievements.”
Does that mean he is a driving force at the cost of listening? Mr Micallef sways his head gently and in a soft but convincing tone states: “I believe that everything in life has a purpose and our anatomy is nothing short of this. We have two ears but one mouth precisely because He wanted us to hear twice as much as we talk. Ultimately, nobody ever learnt anything by listening only to themselves speak! Listening is to me the first step towards good communication and building a strong rapport with superior, peers and subordinates alike. I am happy to say that this skill has helped me tremendously in growing and achieving a higher level of maturity and professionalism in my working life.”
Working with such intensity, he would need resting time. How does Mr Micallef spend his free time? “Free time is indeed a luxury for me. When I am not behind my desk, around the hotel or travelling, I generally have to contend with the never-ending to-do list at home, which my wife and lifelong companion very generously compiles. However, when I do get some time off, I usually enjoy spending quality time with my family. Normally we like to travel as a family, however in the absence of travelling this year I spent quite a bit of time gardening. I also enjoy walking along the coast, listening to music, swimming and of course enjoying good food and wine with family and friends. I might not have been born with green fingers, but along the years I have cultivated a love for gardens and gardening. I love to visit gardens centres and lookout for new species of plants, and then excitedly go home to plant my new acquisitions. When I do get some time, I must admit that I do enjoy a good game of snooker, especially when I win.”
Insider Plus sought some information on Mr Micallef’s family. “I have been happily married for the past 18 years with my life-long companion, Fiona, who always encouraged me and supported me. I can firmly say that my wife is the reason I am who I am. As the saying goes: behind a strong man is an even stronger woman. We have three wonderful children: two boys, Benji aged 14 and Sam 6, and a girl, Sophie, aged 13.”
What does he appreciate most in a staff member? “Inquisitiveness, Integrity, Passion, Resilience, and Loyalty…in this exact order. They need to be hardworking and disciplined, of course. But first of all, I entice and encourage all colleagues to grow. The only way one can grow is by taking interest and being inquisitive. We are very proud to say that Corinthia Lisbon acted as a school to the industry in the last years as most of the professionals running other top hotels or even other sectors of tourism have worked with Corinthia Lisbon.”
And what irks him most in a staff member? “I have zero tolerance level for staff members who are not trustworthy, and those who do the work just for the sake of doing it without putting love, passion and pride in whatever they do. I must say, these are an exception. I have been blessed with an amazing team. Along the years a few have moved on, however there are a number of long-standing staff members who are literally family and have forever shown the best qualities. Just like in any other family, we do have our differences; however ultimately good judgement always prevails.”
How has COVID-19 affected the hotel? And how has he tackled the inherent dangers? “Luckily, we at Corinthia Lisbon did not waste time and we did not underestimate the strength of this virus and the level of comfort and safety our guests would have expected within our hotel. We invested heavily in all the possible and available health and safety measures one could think of, to protect our staff and our guests, and to make their stay with us as safe and comfortable as much possible in the circumstances. Having said that, this pandemic has hit the tourism industry very harshly and it is probably safe to say that we are probably the hardest hit industry in the market. Nevertheless, we have taken this opportunity to capitalise on this period to undergo preventive maintenance and other works, which would normally disrupt the operation when working at higher occupancies. We have also understood that people want to feel safe and comfortable without wanting to worry when they are trying to relax. As we do every year, we have seasonally opened our outdoor lounge i.e. Soul Garden and we had such a good reception, mainly because it is outdoors. It is a natural haven within the city and the product is obviously good, so we decided to extend the indoor restaurant Erva to outdoors. This was well received and in the short period of time we had to set it up, we managed to create a beautiful outdoor restaurant which managed to garner a good following and a good clientele. I like to keep a positive attitude and say that perhaps under normal circumstances we would have planned longer, debated and evaluated before doing it, and we might have missed out on an opportunity, which at the end of the day proved to be a marvellous idea. As the saying goes: when life gives you lemons…make lemonade.
How would he attract clients by describing Corinthia Lisbon? Mr Micallef must have thought about this before since his response was quick: “A home away from home where we aim to offer an impeccable standard of service that delights and surprises our guests in every way. The soul of the hotel is found in its warmth of service, matched by the elegance of its rooms and suites which are brimming with the vibrant Portuguese Spirit. We are a City resort with all amenities you expect in a luxury resort, we are able to serve our diverse clientele from leisure to business and ensure they all create memorable experiences.”
Insider Plus had a hunch that Corinthia Lisbon was full of generous colleagues who reached out a helping hand to others, so we queried about activities of this nature. The list was long: internal collections and donation of toys, clothes, crockery and tea cups for Solami Institution; donation to an animal rescue association (Zoo Union); breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant for children with rheumatic diseases (ANDAI); donation of helmets and other equipment to the Fireman Institution; two disabled interns who were doing a school internship were invited to do a professional internship; helped a child, Miguel, with medical treatments; donated slippers to assist Acreditar Institution; offered a good number of blankets to the Lisbon municipality to help homeless people; collected food items to help colleagues in need during these pandemic times…and more. Indeed exemplary!
What initiatives have been undertaken to emphasise a sense of Corinthia family? “This past year has been extremely challenging and the pandemic has affected all of us in some way or other. Besides the obvious impact on physical and mental health, it undoubtedly has hit most of us financially too. When the hotel closed its doors during the first lockdown we had a lot of fresh goods that would have gone to waste, so we took the initiative to create food baskets which we distributed to every staff member. We also created a fund whereby we raised money to buy food for some of our staff members who are struggling to make ends meet during difficult times.”
Before parting we asked for an experience of camaraderie between all staff. The response was indeed edifying. “Back in the summer of 2020 there was a huge demand for outside restaurants. So, I had a vision to create an outside restaurant…in just two weeks! The challenge to have Erva Terrace ready in such a short time and with all the financial restrictions was only possible because the team was fully committed to complete it on time. Everyone from all the departments came to give a helping hand and for two weeks there were no Mondays or Sundays; every day was working day. Myself and the Heads of Departments worked side by side with all the staff. There was such a great spirit, some funny videos recorded, but hard, hard work indeed! It was great to see this Corinthia family smiling and having fun while working. And we made it on time. On the day before the official launch of the Erva Terrace, all colleagues involved in the works were invited for dinner there, and guess who cooked? The Heads of Departments did all the cooking. It was such a pleasant time.”
What a fitting conclusion to our chat with Mr Roderick Micallef! Truly a man with a firm hand but a warm heart.