Amanda Hyndman, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Washington, describes how she has been able to combine her passion for travel and working overseas
Can you outline your current position? I have responsibility for all aspects of the business. It is a busy operation with 400 bedrooms, lots of meeting space, two restaurants and a spa.
What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? When I was a child, my family lived abroad. I loved our experience of the expat life and decided on a career in the diplomatic service, only to be seduced by the hospitality industry during a part-time washing-up job when I was still at school.
How has working abroad enhanced your career? My roles in Hong Kong and the USA have taken me out of what I now realise was my comfort zone and into unchartered waters. There are moments when it can feel like going over Niagara in a canoe - exhilarating! It forces you to develop new skills and be open to new ways of doing business.
What do you like about working in the US? Our guests have clear expectations of luxury and what constitutes value. They have no problem vocalising this, which makes it very clear when we are delighting our customers and, frankly, when there is more we can do. Their honesty is invaluable.
How does hospitality in the US differ from in the UK?
The laws and regulations around labour are very different and the heathcare reform and colleague benefit system are much more complicated than in the UK. I will certainly never take the NHS for granted again.
What could UK hospitality learn from the US? American guests and colleagues are very direct. We could learn a lot from that. I particularly enjoy how honest people are about being ambitious.
What could the US learn from the UK?
I believe firmly in achieving a sustainable work-life balance. I support the Americans' capacity for hard work, but not taking holidays is madness. Most people here have a holiday entitlement of only two weeks.
What has surprised you most about hospitality in the US?
The service culture's dependence on gratuity - 20% is a minimum expectation - can result in fawning and over-familiar service. On the positive side, many more people in the US see hospitality as a long-term career and stay within the same organisations.
What trends could we adopt in the UK from the US? The event planning structure is different here. Sales colleagues book the business but separate event planning and social catering teams deliver the event and are incentivised to add detail to the event, including upsell from F&B contracted minimums.
What advice would you give to anyone in hospitality wishing to work abroad? Make sure you find a decent organisation whose mission, vision and guiding principles you feel comfortable signing up for. Always do your homework about the location and the company.
â- Joined Copthorne Hotels on graduation from University of Strathclyde
â- Became general manager after six years, then managed three hotels for the company
â- Managed Waldorf hotel in London, under both Le Meridien & Hilton
â- Relocated to Hong Kong in May 2007 as general manager of The Excelsior
â- General manager of Mandarin Oriental Washington since 2008