JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, the well-known beachfront resort in the north of the island, earlier this year announced their newly appointed General Manager Matthias Y. Sutter. Phuketindex.com was honoured to have him share about himself, his past experiences and his vision for his new challenge in Phuket with JW Marriott.
Matthias Sutter is originally from a little town close to Zurich, Switzerland. He grew up along with three siblings in a little village of about 682 inhabitants where, meeting on the street, everyone greeted each other by name.
What motivated you to go into the hotel industry?
I started hotel management school when I was about 26 years old. I originally enjoyed my teenage life – every day on the golf course and I dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. But in Switzerland, it’s not very recognized to have sport as your job. So that didn’t work and my passion was then for architecture. I decided to study architecture for four years and at the same time play tournaments but I still felt like I wasn’t really fulfilled.
Only when I organised private party events in my early twenties it started to get my interest. I had a big birthday party and I turned it into a public one. While nobody knew it was my birthday, many people came up and said thank you. All my best friends worked behind the bar and we had such a fabulous time creating together, making the guests happy and it was very successful. I thought this was something I wanted to follow so I started hotel management school at home in Zurich. Later I went to Chicago and since then I have never left the industry.
What attracts you to work in other countries?
This is now my 11th country to live in and some countries I have had a chance to return to like Thailand. I used to work in Bangkok before and I think the most rewarding aspect is the culture, the people… people make a place. I’m always asked where it is I like the most. Shanghai, Chicago, and Zurich – I can’t really tell. I think at different ages you have different priorities. But it’s definitely always the people who make the place happen, different cultures, sometimes different religions but at the end of the day we are all citizens of the world. I think when you work in the hospitality industry, you have healthy exposure and it gives you a better horizon than being stuck in Switzerland the whole time.
At work what puts a smile on your face?
My colleagues. Throughout the whole day, I see their interaction with each other, interaction with the guests. It’s when I see them advancing their career and also on a day-to-day basis when they achieve small successes. I think in hospitality, the beauty is when you get plenty of positive feedback and that always puts a smile on my face especially when it’s created by one of my colleagues.
As you’re a new face on Phuket, how do you plan to start your new journey here?
My first priority was to take the time to get to know the team because I’ve just started here and I plan to be here for five years. I don’t think my goal was to make changes from the beginning. This is a mature property with mature colleagues so at the moment it’s my task to learn from the team, to understand where we are, and then from there to move in the right direction with the right attitude.
What are your top goals for JW Marriott and Phuket Island?
This resort really offers endless opportunities but we have saying in Switzerland, ‘you can’t be at two weddings at the same time’ which means that you really have to focus and obviously here we have to focus on families and weddings but I also think JW Marriott should be a place where people meet, activities are held, where people come to learn something about wellbeing, sports and fitness but also in terms of society events. That’s why it’s really important to first understand the market and the people here in Phuket.
What makes JW Marriott different from other resorts?
There’s an endless list I could share with you. I think first of all it’s the team; we are one of the more mature properties here with mature team members. I’m always amazed how many long-term employees we have since the pre-opening who have a lot of knowledge and know our regular guests well as we have a lot of guests who come every year. It’s a very unique property, the space is enormous, with 14 different restaurants! So the choices are here. It’s like its own little world and this is what other hotels would not be able to compete with.
What makes Marriott the employer of choice?
I think it started from day one when Mr. Marriott, the founder, said ‘employees first’ he also said ‘look after your team and they will look after your guests’. That’s what he said in the beginning and now after 90 years, we still live by this concept. Whatever we do, every strategy, every event, it’s always our people first in terms of taking care, in terms of their career development, wellbeing and many different aspects. I think that is what to look for in an employer of choice. You want to have a sense of belonging. You want to feel being a part of it and I have to say that since day one I’ve had it myself. That’s what I try to pass on to my team.
We’ve heard that you launched ‘To the Journey’. What is that and how this relate to JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa?
There are many journeys I always say and what we see of the journey is the journey with our company. There are different associates and colleagues. So many are retired, so many have left and then have come back. Some have been with us for 20-30 years. So their journey has been down different paths. We come to a crossroads and either you go left or right. I think the Marriott’s journey shows there are many different ways but the company places priority on you and yourself.
What advice would you offer to those who wish to become successful in the hotel industry?
Choose your employer carefully. Choose the employer who chooses you because you are you, because of your strengths, your skills, and your personality. Don’t try to fit in the pattern which you think is expected. I think it’s good when you let people go to their potential and give them the confidence that they’re doing the right thing. Of course, you have to have guidance along the way, the company needs to fit your pattern with the right guidance. I think the company of choice is the one you know you are going to be the first priority, not just one of the candidates being hired for whatever reason. When you make your choice, make your choice because of the people, the culture, not about the amount of dollars involved. I think during the early days, it’s very important to start on the right track with the right fundamentals. Later on once you understand industry, you may have different motivations for what you choose in your career. But in the early days, it’s absolutely necessary to begin with the right company.