HOST 12 Cover Story

Post Date: 2015-08-13

Chris Glaessel, Founder and Managing Director of CIR | VIS™, has lived and breathed hospitality for more than half his life. He discusses his personal and career experiences, as well as his recent partnership with Singapore’s radio icon, Glenn Ong. By MICHELLE ZHU

Several decades ago, Chris Glaessel was doing what any young man in his late teens would have done: seeking odd jobs for pocket money. The German national first started off at the Dorint Kongress Hotel (now known as Pullman Cologne) in Cologne, Germany, working in the banquet department as a part-timer. 

“I figured out that if I only showed up for work once or twice a week, my absence would cause me to miss out on the exciting stuff. So I began signing up on an almost-daily basis, working six or even seven days a week,” he recalls.   

During his compulsory 12-month term in the German military service, he worked morning shifts in the officers’ mess as the headwaiter, serving meals to top generals and the like. Then, he would immediately head off to carry out evening shifts at the hotel upon knocking off, getting by with only two or three hours of sleep each night. 

It wasn’t before long that he was promoted to a supervisory role at the Dorint Kongress Hotel – earning about 20 Deutsche Marks (about SGD$15 – 16) an hour. He continued his vocational training in Hotel Management at the Hyatt Regency Cologne from 1997 – 2000. The stint took him through a whopping 15 different departments including housekeeping, front office, concierge, and even engineering. It was after completing his apprenticeship there that he became resolute in his will to grow in the ranks of the Food & Beverage (F&B) and hospitality industry. 

Chris has certainly come a long way since his days as a banquet part-timer, working his way up through various positions in luxury hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as expanding his experience in banquet and convention services. Upon graduating from Washington State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Hotel and Restaurant Administration, he went on to work at establishments in Germany, Singapore, and even Oman for Hyatt International. 

By the age of 30, he took up his first executive management position as the Director of Food & Beverage at Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai, overseeing eight restaurants and bars with more than 160 employees. He last held the position of Chief Operating Officer at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in Singapore from 2012 – 2014, a period which he describes as the “peak of (his) career as an employee”. 

Now 38, he heads his own F&B and hospitality consulting firm, CIR | VIS™, which was launched as in early 2014 and is based in Singapore. 

“We went public just in time with Food Hotel Asia 2014,” he shares.  

“The service industry is one of the most complex and unpredictable trades in the world, mostly because it is made up of individual people, personalities and characters who all have their unique interpretation and subjective opinion about what goes on around them.

“On a professional level, I saw the need to fill a neutral space in the hospitality industry that focuses in its core on the most critical part of any service: the people. My professional aim in founding CIR | VIS™ was to put guest experiences and employee experiences at the centre of everything we do for our clients, by design.

“On a private level, I wanted to be my own boss, while at the same time giving back to my beloved country of residence, Singapore, in a way that enhances Singapore’s brand through hospitality.”

Friends often describe him as “a Singaporean stuck in an ang mo (Caucasian) body” – a rather apt depiction given the ‘lahs’ and ‘lors’ that pepper his speech, which result from living and working in Singapore for about ten years. 

Aside from providing a range of F&B and hospitality consulting services ranging from talent profiling to performance management, to on-the-job training, customised operations training and even competition preparation, CIR | VIS™ has been increasingly involved in guiding culinary and hospitality graduates in setting up their own ventures in Singapore. 

“It’s a project that is close to our heart, because we are great believers in fostering the next generation of Singapore’s hospitality professionals,” Chris enthuses. 

“I am looking forward to seeing even more being done to attract Singaporeans to join the hospitality industry, because what has impressed itself on me about Singapore is that the government and the people work relentlessly to find new avenues of progress and innovation. 

“Hospitality is ingrained in the lifestyle of Singaporeans, and will forever be part of the attractiveness of the country.”

What are some of the projects that you are currently working on? 
Our guest experience designers are concurrently managing ongoing projects in Singapore, Indonesia, Dubai and Germany. They range from Quick Service Restaurants concepts, technology implementation and adapting solutions for hospitality players, developing a dynamic multi-use property, hotel and spa, as well as an integrated restaurant and multifunction event space.

In one project, we have the rare opportunity to be part of refining the guest experience for a globally-recognised, multi award-winning transportation hub, which will make use of traditional mystery shopping and data-mining through state-of-the-art technology on an unprecedented level.

We have great respect for the development of tourism in the Middle East, so it was very opportune to be engaged by a Dubai-based developer to craft an entire hospitality concept for their upcoming hotel property with more than 500 rooms. Considering that the EXPO 2020 will be held in Dubai, this project has really put CIR | VIS™ and its philosophy on the international map of Innovative Hospitality Design.

It was announced earlier this year that Glenn Ong joined CIR | VIS™ as its Director. How does he contribute to the company?  
I brought Glenn on board for a number of reasons, but the most important one is undoubtedly that he doesn’t beat around the bush. He says it as he sees it, and the team and I value this trait in him immensely. It is important to have individuals on the team that keep clear of preconceived stigmata, and that uphold a neutral perspective as much as possible. Apart from my wife Caroline, Glenn is someone who keeps me grounded.

His role is largely of advisory nature towards always maintaining the Singapore DNA deeply embedded in our services, and since he is much more Singaporean than I will ever be, it has been a winning combination so far. He works with the team on a strategic level, due to the fact that with his career background, he is not considered a hospitality subject matter expert. However, where his expertise of being in close touch with a wide network of people comes in handy is in the relevance and perception of CIR | VIS™ among the public and our clients.

Tell us about how you came to know Glenn. 
Glenn used to be one of my guests at THE LINE about ten years ago. We gradually got to know each other better, and he began trusting me as his host on many occasions. Eventually, that trust led to a growing friendship that has seen many changes in both our personal and professional lives. As I was shaping the foundation of CIR | VIS™, Glenn expressed his excitement about what I was creating, and asked me if he could be part of it. Everything finally fell into place in January this year, and we joined forces as a dynamic duo in its own right.

How would you rate Singapore’s service standards in comparison with that of other countries? 
Overall, I think Singapore is doing a decent job in managing its service standards, given all of the obvious challenges it is facing.

I do however agree that doing the same thing over and over again will not bring the desired different result. We welcome campaigns and initiatives such as SkillsFuture, Smart Nation and GEMS, because they are very much in line with what we believe. My team and I are looking forward to share our take on further improving Singapore’s hospitality standards to eventually make them an international benchmark of quality.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest hospitality challenges of today? 
The topmost challenge I see is that the industry has grown faster than the talent pool of professionals. This is not only apparent in Singapore, but all over the world. The pressure of consumerism and materialism on the youth closely follows this, which drives potentially talented, passionate hospitality professionals towards ‘fast-money’ careers and away from a time-consuming career in service.

Then there is technology, which in most cases, clutters the hospitality industry because it simply automates existing old-school processes without innovating. Very few of us in the industry are gifted with the talent of being good administrators, so to force us to detach from our people skills in order to acquire tech and statistic skills is quite a tall order at present.

Another challenge on my list is the industry-specific training and education that is currently available. How can we retain traditional hospitality principles, while packaging them and transferring them with the means of modern teaching methods?

5 Minutes with Chris Glaessel
Startup Mistakes that F&B Business Owners Often Make 

• Everyone wants to sell the product, but many fail to analyse the location or the customers that they are selling to. 

• People tend to spend too much on buying new or expensive equipment. There are tons of similar businesses closing down every week, as well as hotels and educational institutions going through renovation all the time – they’re sure to have plenty of used equipment to sell off at affordable prices. 

• The costs of starting up a business, and bringing it to a point where it’s 
self-sustaining, is often underestimated. 

• Too many high-end restaurant owners invest too much in chinaware and glassware, forgetting how easily they break. It might look fancy but in the long run, they will have to replace the broken wares out of their own operating costs, which will cut into 
their cash flow.

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