Opinion

What I wish I knew: a little kindness goes a long way

Eugene Staal, President of Penta Hotels, shares the biggest lessons he’s learnt since being in the industry and why he believes being kind trumps being right in business

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be kind? That’s one of the questions I ask myself before making any business decision. The answer is always the same: be kind. That doesn’t have to mean being a doormat – you can still be firm – but one core lesson I have learnt is to think before acting and to show kindness. Being right is often ego-driven and power-focused – and it destroys more relationships than it builds. Instead, open your heart, listen and get everyone involved.

Top-down leadership no longer works

If you look at leadership over the past 100 years, it has been very much top-down. Knowledge was king and those on the top would control those at the bottom. But things are changing and that style of leadership no longer works. Having knowledge no longer differentiates you from your competition – anyone can access information these days, whether by online resources or a consultant.

I believe in upside-down leadership. Let everybody think for themselves, and let everybody participate – you never know where the answers to certain challenges are hidden in an organisation. To really stand out, you need to create a leadership style that supports upside-down leadership, and the culture of imagination that goes with it, where ideas come from all levels of the organisation.

Kindness and upside-down leadership are two core lessons I’ve learnt during my career, which has spanned several decades. I spent 18 years working all over the world with Hyatt International, and was in charge of growth and branding for Radisson for ten years. I joined Penta Hotels two years ago and my mission has been to reimagine and grow the brand in a sustainable and responsible way.

Be kind towards the environment

Being sustainable and responsible is another form of kindness – it’s kindness towards the environment. I am passionate about the environment, and our core purpose at Penta is to leave everything better than we found it, and to give back to society.

There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 unless we act now. That really brings home the plastic problem, and hotels have a responsibility to play their part in tackling this issue. I want to eradicate single-use plastic from all Penta hotels. We already have been plastic straw free since 2018. We are phasing out plastic water bottles and trialling water filtration systems. In our bathrooms, we have no small plastic bottles and instead use refillable containers of soap from Zenology, a sustainable brand.

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Room at Penta Hotel
'In our bathrooms, we have no small plastic bottles, and instead use refillable containers of soap.' Photo: credit to Penta Hotels

 

I want Penta Hotels to be carbon neutral by 2030. As we enter a more energy-conscious era, we will be measuring what we are consuming and what we can save. This also applies to waste, which is big on our agenda. At our UK hotels, we work with Too Good To Go, a company that is tackling the problem of the 10 million tonnes of food that is thrown away each year in the UK alone (estimated to be worth £17bn). You can use its app to give your leftover food for people to pick up for a heavily reduced price.

Start with shifting mindsets

One of the biggest challenges with this has been changing mindsets – but this is essential, and it’s where you must start. Take the plastic straw. You don’t need to replace it with a metal or bamboo version to be more eco-friendly. If a cocktail is well made, you don’t need a straw at all. It’s about educating guests and changing mindsets.

People – whether they travel or not – should constantly be looking at the footprint they are leaving behind and asking themselves what they can do better. The first step for a hotel wanting to be more sustainable is to analyse what you’re already doing. Focus on these things and make them stronger. Look at your supply line first – what can be improved? Your brand is only as strong as your culture – so start with the mindset, and create a culture that speaks to your values, and to those of your guests.

Guest experience is changing

It’s no longer about just having a good shower and a decent bed. More people are conscious about everything from where they go on holiday to what toothpaste they use, and the carbon footprint for these things. People choose products and services based on what values the company has – they want to stay in a hotel that matches their values, whether that’s the environment, buying local or giving back to society. Being guest-led – knowing what the guest wants and anticipating their needs – will give a better guest experience.

 

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Person using laptop
Hero image: credit to cowomen, Unsplash
Topics
Takeaway
  • Being right is often ego-driven and power-focused, and can destroy relationships. Instead, open your heart and listen to others
  • The first step in becoming a more sustainable hotel is to analyse what you’re already doing and work on your strengths. Then, look to the supply chain
  • If you want to stand out, create an upside-down leadership style that supports creativity and allows everyone in the organisation to participate
  • Guest experience is changing – people choose products and services based on what values the company has, and whether these are aligned to their own

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