By Chris Dwyer
Jan 27, 2022
AMANDA HYNDMAN DEFINITELY has her work cut out as general manager of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, one of the world’s most iconic hotels with 494 rooms and 9 restaurants and bars over 25 floors in the beating heart of the +852.
That’s in part because the Hong Kong returnee’s title also includes responsibility as area vice president of operations and group director of quality and rooms, meaning that The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong and Mandarin Oriental properties in Guangzhou, Macau and Sanya as well as quality for all operations including rooms, F&B and spa all fall under her remit. Phew.
But if anyone can make success of the demanding but enviable portfolio, it’s a hotelier who has spent close to four decades in the industry. Frequent travelers may recognize her from her stints as GM at The Excelsior, Hong Kong, and Mandarin Oriental hotels in Washington D.C., Bangkok – where she oversaw the hotel’s 140th Anniversary – and most recently at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London. Safe to say, it’d be hard to find a bigger fan… as MO likes to say.
Here she reveals how she graduated from soft-serve ice cream in a British seaside cafe to one of the top jobs in global hospitality.
T+L: Were you always destined to work in hospitality? Does it run in the family?
Amanda Hyndman: No, not at all, my parents were both teachers! I went to the type of school where you were either a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, and when I was 17, I was studying French A Level, going to do an exchange visit with a French family. My Mom said, “I’m not paying for you to go. Get a Saturday job.”
Trusthouse Forte (THF) was then the largest hotel group in the world, and they had a chain of cafés, so I got a job washing up but was promoted quickly to clearing tables and then the dizzy heights of soft-serve ice cream! Then I cooked a few burgers, graduated to the till and loved talking to people. I went with my Mom to see the personnel manager about being a THF apprentice – he was smoking throughout the interview! But he recommended I do a degree in catering and hotel management.
T+L: What was your first exposure to Mandarin Oriental?
A.H.: I was backpacking around Asia and saved up for one night at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. It was about GBP 300 (US$400) which was a lot of money in 1990. I’d never seen butlers before and never seen orchids – it changed my life. I never dreamt I’d go back there as a guest, let alone as the GM! So I eventually joined MO at the Excelsior Hong Kong as I loved Asia and thought it was the epitome of hospitality.
T+L: Tell us about running MO Bangkok?
A.H.: It was amazing. I was there for almost five years. It’s an iconic property on two sides of the river. There are 400 rooms and suites, five boats, 10 restaurants, 4 boutiques in the most prestigious shopping malls and 1,200 colleagues, some of whom have worked there their whole life. Guests included the Thai Royal Family, heads of state and others who have stayed there for 40 or 50 years.
I also felt that Thailand had part of the DNA of Asia – the temples and palaces, the culture and the oriental heritage, the noise and sounds, the smells and food. I found it very seductive and exotic, especially coming from Europe. There’s also an incredible work ethic in Thailand; people work amazingly hard and are incredibly loyal and dedicated.
T+L: How did you cope with your three-week quarantine on arrival in Hong Kong? Any tips for T+L readers?
A.H.: I get my energy from people. I’m not exaggerating that I haven’t had 24 hours in my life on my own, because either my husband is there or I stay with friends, or I’m working – I don’t spend time on my own; it’s not what I do. So, I did a lot of calls and structured my day around meals. I’m not a great TV person – name me a movie which doesn’t have blood, violence, fear or death in it therefore almost all are impossible for me!
But I do have a very embarrassing obsession with PowerPoint! I can just lose five hours making one, sitting and playing with fonts. I also did a bit of online yoga, plus 30 minutes on a bike every day, and an hour in the bath. I can’t believe I did 21 days but feel very lucky to have been doing it in such a lovely place [Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong].
T+L: What hotels do you stay in to get away from it all?
A.H.: When I first stayed at Aman Kila in Bali I was very impressed as it was the first hotel I stayed in with that level of service. My husband and I went to India in 2002 and we stayed in the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra which was very impressive, while we also once did a great trip to Napa Valley and stayed at the Dry Creek Inn, Sonoma when I was working in the U.S., which had amazing food, great wines and stunning scenery.
T+L: What qualities does a GM need, now more than ever given the pandemic?
A.H.: GRIT! Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity. You need guts and courage: you can’t dilly-dally around hiding behind a decision. Resilience is obvious after all the trauma we have to manage and of course initiative to be creative and tenacity to just stick with it. You see the best of people in the worst of times. So often, the bigger the crisis is when many people truly come into their own. We all grow through that type of change and challenging circumstances.
For me being a GM is truly a passion – but I don’t mean that in a grandiose way. I love it, the ability to drive change in a positive way and to let other people grow and become successful; that’s the gift we can give.
FROM LEFT : Candi Borobudur, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Valery Bocman/Getty Images Pro/Canva; Chinese classical garden at Suzhou. Photo by Getty Images Signature/Canva.
T+L: When you can sneak away from Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong et al, where do you most want to go in 2022?