Off hours: Waldorf Astoria’s boss likes to keep his weekends as busy as his hotel

Hotel boss likes to keep active either through tennis, golf or dune bashing in a 4x4 or on a moto bike.
David Wilson, the general manager of the Dubai Palm Jumeirah Waldorf Astoria. Anna Nielsen for The National
David Wilson, the general manager of the Dubai Palm Jumeirah Waldorf Astoria. Anna Nielsen for The National

David Wilson is the general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, a role he moved to the UAE to take on in August 2015. Before that, he was managing director at the Ritz-Carlton Beijing and the JW Marriott Hotel Beijing, and had worked in hotel resorts around the world, including senior positions at Shangri-La Hotels and at Hyatt Hotels in Indonesia, Australia and the United Kingdom. A British national, he is married with two daughters aged 27 and 24.

How do you spend your weekend?

I like to stay active by playing tennis every weekend – I have a great tennis coach who gives me a hard time! During the Dubai winter months when we have the perfect weather for it, I love sailing and relaxing by the beach. Due to the busy nature of the hotel, I tend to have shorter weekends as I often work but Dubai has so much to offer that there isn’t a weekend that goes by that I am not active or enjoying the beautiful outdoors.

How did you become a general manager?

I had a job at one of the best restaurants in our local area during school summer holidays. I started out as a commis waiter, clearing tables, polishing cutlery, serving teas and coffee, but by the end of my holiday, I was serving appetisers and desserts. When I finished my father asked me if I had enjoyed it. When I replied that I absolutely had, he said I should go and study hotel management. I was always interested in hospitality and never had the desire to do anything else.

What is your go-to gadget?

My most used gadget is my iPad. I constantly use it for reading books and magazines, and keeping up to date with emails – it’s easy to use while travelling as I have everything on one device. When it was introduced, I thought it would not be useful at all as I had an iPhone, an iPod and a computer. Because of this, I remember Steve Jobs’ statement: “For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I think this is very true in the hospitality and service industry.

What was the lowest point of your career?

I have never really had low points but have had some learning experiences and challenges that have helped me grow in my role. In 2002, when I was general manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Bali, one of the worst bombing incidents in the country took place – it changed the face of the tourism industry overnight. Rather than it being a low point, it was something we had to deal with and grow our business in new and innovative ways.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

The industry is diverse. You have to decide which part of the hospitality business you would like to specialise in – for example, for conference hotels or luxury hotels the requirements are different. I always advise people to set their goals from the beginning, work with people who will mentor you and give you exposure to the experiences you need to develop. A key aspect of working in hotels is being passionate about what you do, because that sets you apart.

What is your most indulgent habit?

It is certainly not a healthy one but when the occasion is right, I enjoy a great Cuban cigar and a glass of nice well-aged rum.

What do you have on your desk at work?

A family photo, dining and leisure magazines, my iPhone, iPad of course, my laptop and some Montblanc pen ink.

What can’t you live without?

For business, definitely my iPhone. For my personal life my wife – she is my best friend and my rock. As the saying goes, behind every successful man there is a strong woman.

What car do you drive?

I have a Land Cruiser that I love to drive in the desert. Every year, we have the Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences that I take part in. It is an exclusive opportunity for our Diamond guests to test drive and view some of Lamborghini’s newest models. I am currently in between motorbikes – I’ve had a Harley Davidson Fat Boy for the last few years but I enjoy riding the KTM in the desert. It’s a fantastic experience.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

You have to plan ahead, make plans and be well-organised. It’s important to mentally separate yourself from work when you are away. Otherwise, you are not much use once you do get back to work. It is important to recharge and spend time with your loved ones.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Four Disciplines of Execution – a management book about achieving goals by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling.

If you could swap jobs with anyone, who would it be and why?

Roger Federer. I love tennis.

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Published: February 16, 2017 04:00 AM


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