Landis Taipei General Manager Newman Yen, a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry, has spent much of his career at the landmark hotel in Taipei’s bustling Zhongshan District, where he says he feels most at home. Although starting out in food and beverage, Yen’s management training and the sage guidance and encouragement he received from an employer who took a personal interest in his career success readied him for his current role overseeing the Landis’ overall operations.
Yen took time out of his busy schedule to connect virtually with TOPICS Senior Editor Jeremy Olivier in June. The two discussed his experience learning about hotel management in Switzerland, his devotion to supporting staff in their careers and providing guests with the highest-quality personalized hotel experience, and how he’s chosen yoga and running as a way to de-stress, stay in shape, and build camaraderie with colleagues. An abridged version of their conversation follows:
What did you study in college? How did it help prepare you for your eventual career?
I majored in philosophy at National Cheng Chi University in Taipei, where I learned about both Eastern and Western thinkers. I’ve always had a great interest in human thought and learning about the connection between human ideas and behaviors. I love to communicate with people, which is why I decided to join the service industry.
How did you become interested in a career in hospitality?
Normally, if you major in philosophy, you choose a career as an academic or a writer. But my personality naturally led me to work in hospitality. While working at my first job at the Ritz Hotel – which is now the Landis Taipei – the opportunity to meet so many different people from all over the world helped grow my affinity for this industry.
This newfound passion was also what encouraged me to travel to Switzerland, where I studied hotel management at the Hotel Institute Montreaux. During my three years there, I trained at a historical hotel in Zurich for seven months – a very worthwhile and rewarding experience. I also found that what I was learning in that program was actually very similar to the lessons I’d learned on the job at the Landis Taipei.
What is your fondest memory of working in hotels over the past three decades?
I have had many wonderful memories but would add that all of them involved our guests, great colleagues, and knowledgeable bosses.
In terms of guests, my experiences working in several hotels under the Landis Group (which in addition to the Taipei location, has included stints at the Landis Inn Lotung, Landis Taichung, and Landis Resort Yangmingshan) really put me in touch with travelers – mostly businesspeople – from many different countries. I have been very happy to learn from them, especially their ideas.
As for my colleagues, we have a very close-knit work culture here. We work so well with each other. I have been blessed to experience this kind of synergy at all the hotels I’ve worked at.
Lastly, I have been fortunate to learn from my superiors, who have been very successful in their careers and dedicated to their work and employees.
My greatest devotion has been working at the Landis Taipei. It is a beautiful boutique-style hotel with a French art deco design and an incredible 40-plus-year history. Even now, regardless of modern demand or competition, we maintain our art deco concept when renovating our rooms and restaurants. I am grateful to have such a dedicated team and hotel owner, as this has enabled us to continue our mission of providing unparalleled service to our guests.
Did you have anyone you would consider a mentor in your early career? How did their guidance help shape you as a professional?
After graduating from the program in Switzerland, I came back to work at the Landis Taipei. At that time, the General Manager was a Frenchman named Andre Joulian, who ended up becoming a coach and mentor to me. He had a strong background in the hospitality industry, particularly in the food and beverage department, and led the sales team to participate in many overseas events.
In those early days, I lacked the confidence to be put in charge of a full-service hotel. However, Andre encouraged me to take advantage of an opportunity that had opened up to manage the Landis Lotung. At the beginning of my tenure there, he would come every month to check in on me and even came to visit me when I later started as General Manager at Landis Taichung. I really admire Andre’s professionalism and attitude toward work, both of which have shaped me into the hospitality professional I am today.
What was your experience managing hotels in China compared to those you have worked at and managed in Taiwan? What are the similarities and differences between their respective hospitality industries?
I had actually never been to China before going to work there in the early 2000s. I was fortunate that the owner of the hotel I went to work at in China had once been a guest at the Landis Taipei. His concepts about business and service were thus very similar to what I had grown accustomed to working at the Landis. In addition, most of the hotel’s guests were international businesspeople from Europe and Taiwan.
The only difference I experienced was related to the associates while working at the hotel in China. Initially, the managers had to work hard to train them to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to provide personalized service to guests.
It is predicted that Taiwan will at least partly reopen to international travel by the end of this year or early 2023. What are some measures that you and your team at Landis are taking to prepare for the return of international travelers?
Over the past two years, we have focused our efforts on talent training in order to continuously improve the quality of service we provide to our guests, ensure the professional development of our associates, and bolster employee retention.
We have also installed iPads in each of our guest rooms to enhance their hotel experience. With these devices, guests can remotely control the lighting or air conditioning in their room, or call for different hotel services. They can also find local travel and transportation information in the iPad menu.
Lastly, we have drawn more attention to our diverse food and beverage services, including our high-end restaurants. For example, Tien Hsiang Lo, the hotel’s Hangzhou-style restaurant, has been awarded a Michelin Star for a consecutive four years running. Its atmosphere and design, which incorporates 10 scenic spots at Hangzhou’s West Lake, provides the perfect cultural complement to the marvelous food.
In addition, the Paris1930 de Hideki Takayama is led by world-renowned Japanese Chef Hideki Takayama, who is committed to continuing our tradition of offering innovative dishes that integrate Taiwanese tea and local ingredients with Japanese aesthetics to capture the elegant spirit of French cuisine.
Our third restaurant, La Brasserie, features a design that incorporates the lavish decoration of the Belle Époque, which provides a relaxing atmosphere that complements the high-quality service and delicious classic French cuisine.
How have you developed your management style over the years? Do you have a particular leadership philosophy?
I manage by doing walkthroughs, meaning that each morning I physically inspect our hotel and all of its facilities to ensure everything is running smoothly and under control. It is also my duty to visit each department, checking on their status so that we can meet deadlines and keep things on track.
To make sure that all departments are on the same page, we hold morning briefings, where department heads update everyone on their work status. We also conduct weekly and monthly meetings with certain departments to ensure we are staying ahead of the game in this competitive market. In addition, I’m a stickler for checklists and SOPs.
Overall, though, I prioritize delegation, which I view as crucial to being a successful leader. The majority of my team members have been with the Landis Taipei since its opening 43 years ago. It is important that I trust them with their responsibilities.
The Landis Taipei is a pioneer in hospitality, and it has significantly influenced this industry. My management style and leadership have simply been refined to ensure that The Landis Taipei will always be a pacesetter among hotels.
What do you like to do in your free time? What gets you feeling “recharged” for the coming week?
I believe in the pursuit of finding a good work-life balance. I am a long-term practitioner of yoga. It has taught me to practice mindfulness, and it helps to relieve stress and improve flexibility. Given my passion for this activity, the hotel has opened a Yoga and Meditation Room on the property for guests to relax their minds and bodies.
I’m also an avid runner. During my free time, I enjoy jogging around the community where I live. My colleagues and I have also joined a running club at work. We have participated as a team in several marathons in Taipei and Taichung. We were even awarded the “Sports Enterprise Certification Mark” by the Ministry of Education’s Sports Department!
In addition, the hotel organizes an annual charity event called “Pass on Love,” in which we seek to contribute to the welfare of the local community. This event is open to the public and associates can donate blood and hair. We also arrange yoga programs in conjunction with this event.