I am delighted to be talking to a long-time friend and fabulous leader in our industry today! Jochem-Jan Sleiffer (JJ) has tons of experience in our industry! He is the Area President of Operations for Hilton for the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey.
In this episode, JJ discusses his career, shares his thoughts on what will happen in the industry in the future, and talks about skills needed within the industry.
We hope you enjoy today’s encouraging and optimistic conversation with JJ Sleiffer!
JJ Sleiffer is responsible for Hilton’s portfolio of hotels in the Middle East, Africa & Turkey. Across this dynamic region, Hilton has more than 170 hotels across eight market-leading brands and is rapidly growing with more than 177 hotels in its pipeline. In his first year in the region, he was ranked #2 in the 2020 Hotelier Middle East Power 50, the annual ranking of the industry’s most influential figures.
Before his current position, which he assumed in January 2020, JJ spent three years as Hilton’s Senior Vice President Operations, Continental Europe. In the role, he oversaw operations in multiple markets from Russia to Iceland and the Iberian Peninsula. Having joined Hilton as Chief Steward at Hilton Amsterdam in 1990, he has subsequently held multiple positions across Europe over the past 30 years. As well as several General Manager positions in countries including Germany, France, Greece, and Belgium, he previously led Hilton’s Northern and Central Europe region. JJ graduated from high school in Huizen, the Netherlands, before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Facilities Management (1990) and has subsequently attained an EMBA degree in Hospitality and Tourism Leadership (2014).
Joining the meetings and events industry
JJ knew from a very young age that he wanted to work in the hotel business. As soon as he was old enough, he got a job at a local restaurant during the summer holidays, washing dishes. A year later, he worked as a porter at a local hotel. The following year, he started working in the hotel breakfast room, carrying plates.
A great opportunity
While studying Facility Management, JJ was offered the opportunity to do a six-month internship at Hilton. He started working as a Chief Steward for Hilton a year later. After that, he spent eight-and-a-half years in Brussels in various roles in food and beverage, meetings, banqueting, and sales. He moved on to Athens, then London, then back to Brussels, where he became a General Manager. After that, he moved to Paris, became the Area Manager for France, then Vice President for Northern Europe, and then Vice President for Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Since January 2020, he has been the Area President of Operations for the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey.
A great company to work for!
As a company, Hilton gives its team members great career and learning opportunities! They offer online learning, and Hilton University has a library of approximately 5,000 courses for people at every level within the organization.
It is vital to find a mentor in your organization. If you are in a small organization, you can look for a mentor outside of it to ensure that you keep on growing.
Leaders should promote people to positions that challenge them. That will help them to learn faster.
All businesses- even small businesses, should have an advisory team to help them to keep on growing. It is helpful to have advisors who are not in the same business as you and do not think in the same way as you.
Growing your business
To grow your business, you have to challenge yourself and be willing to be pushed beyond any boundaries you may have set for yourself.
One of the team
Starting as a dishwasher and rising through the ranks in the hotel made it easy for the rest of the team to accept JJ as one of them after he became the General Manager.
Aligning the expectations
In the hotel business, the expectations of the operator and owner of the property need to be aligned. For that to happen, good communication is vital.
When groups of people get together and have face-to-face contact, it is something special! That is why JJ feels confident that the hotel, hospitality, and meetings industries will soon come back again.
COVID forced people to act quickly and do things differently, whether that involved scaling up or down or changing their business model.
Hilton managed to change its business model and become event-ready for the meetings industry quite quickly after the start of the pandemic.
What JJ learned from the pandemic
JJ learned that in times of crisis, teams work together a lot better than in normal times. People are also more willing to share information in times of crisis.
Promoting the hospitality business as a whole
The message JJ has been hearing from the various panels he is on is that we should stop promoting one hotel chain and promote the hospitality business and the destination as a whole.
A positive business
People see the hospitality industry as a positive business to be in right now. Hilton has 167 hotels in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey currently. They will be opening another 150 hotels in that region within the next three to five years.
A big growth market
Saudi Arabia is a big growth market for Hilton. They operate fourteen hotels there currently and will be opening another forty hotels within the next three years.
Developing local talent
Hilton has a Manager of the Future program through which they develop locals because their goal is to operate all their hotels with local talent. Saudi Arabia has a lot of potential talent because most of its population is very young, and they will all need to find work.
Finding people with the right skills
Hilton has specialized programs to grow local talent quickly and provide opportunities for locals through the organization. They focus mainly on doing that in all their markets.
Hilton has 800 staff vacancies, so they will look at increasing their pay grades. There is no employment market in the Middle East, so they will have to fly people in and actively recruit people from surrounding countries to fill the vacancies. That is a challenge because competition for the best talent is fierce.
Internal training programs
Hilton is known for developing people. They have many internal training programs to grow and develop their new employees, so people do not have to come from hotel school to work for them.
People like to join Hilton because it is known as a great place to work and their culture is all about the people. They have recently ranked fourth-best workplace in the Middle East and fourth-best workplace for women in the GCC.
Those who might consider working for Hilton need to be energetic, creative, passionate, confident, open, and digitally savvy. They also need to be interested in serving people.
Connect with Jochem-Jan Sleiffer