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"My advice: think big and work hard"

"My advice: think big and work hard"

As the first female general manager (GM) in India, Julia Tham illustrates the Group's commitment to helping new talent emerge. After a successful stint on Accorhotels fast tract program “GM pass”, she in turn has become an initiator, encouraging her team to boost their skills in order to take their careers forward.

Your career here in India recently entered its tenth year. What is it that ties you so closely to this country?

I've spent almost my whole career here, including the last five years at AccorHotels, although my initial experience was gained in France in small hotels located in Saint-Galmier and later in Belfort. It was a major change of scenery for me, as I'm originally from Slovakia. However, it was in India that my career really took off, and I became a GM two years ago. And I also married an Indian!


You were the first woman to be appointed as a GM in Accorhotels India. How do you view this achievement?

Originally at the beginning of my carrier, I hadn't set my sights so high. I was just happy doing my job and meeting the guests. It is only after joining AccorHotels that I discovered the vast opportunities and possibilities in front of me in my career. Becoming the first woman GM in India is my greatest achievement, even if having to assert myself as an equal to my peers is a constant challenge.


What are the other key factors specific to this country?

You need to be able to adapt to the culture here, to embrace it as it can be different from the western countries in many ways.  When taking decisions, dealing with vendors and even with staff, I have to keep in mind these cultural differences. One common examples can be time management: you need to keep some extra time when you planning your deadlines to make sure that you are able to complete things on time. On the other hand, I'm always learning things from my Indian staff whether this concerns traditions or the expectations of our Indian guests, etc. I suppose you could say that they are training me in these matters!


"Learning" is one of the key aspects of your career, as you undertook the GM pass intended for high potential hotel managers…

I was fortunate to be able to participate in this programme between January and December 2014 thanks to the support I received from my GM. Along with around twenty other employees from the Asia-Pacific region I was invited to an assessment centre to undergo tests... which I passed successfully! I had the opportunity to be supported throughout my progress by a mentor, a senior Indian GM. 


Without giving any secrets away, how did the selections go?

The first day is devoted to discussing your online test results. The following day, candidates are placed in different situations to observe their reactions. How would you go about correcting a mistake which has been made by a member of your team? How would you handle a complaint from a customer? You're also grilled on your knowledge, for example concerning financial aspects. Even your appearance is assessed by a panel comprised of senior GMs and the Sr VP Operations India.


After having successfully overcome the initial hurdles on the programme, what did you learn from it?

You set your own objectives in personal development plan, with the help of your mentor and property GM.  In my case, I was already familiar with some departments such as the front office and sales, but I learned a great deal more about the way F&B, housekeeping or engineering departments are run, right down to the last detail.


So now, are you keen to encourage talent and to pass on your own knowledge to others in turn?

I want to encourage the talented individuals in my teams to get on and succeed, particularly women. It can already be considered a success that one of them has become the department manager. As I often say: think big and work hard... The sky might seem high but you can reach it.

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