Hi Jonas. So, can you tell us what a typical day involves?
There is no typical day. That’s really the fun thing about my job, to have all this contrast. If I tried to put in a box what happened today the variety would be quite unbelievable – and that’s really the fun part of my job.
Okay, so what’s the perfect day at the hotel?
When I spend lots of time with guests. I try very hard to spend time in the lobby twice a day, and within a short period of time you can see quite a lot. It always gives me an idea of how the hotel works. But I don’t know if there is an ideal day. Well there is – if I see people leaving and they are happy.
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Switzerland, a small little village with 800 people where everybody knows everybody. That was definitely a signal for me to get out.
Absolutely! And what brought you to Hong Kong?
I came to Hong Kong in 1990. I always wanted to get out of Switzerland. I was once introduced to a very famous general manager in Hong Kong and he said he was looking for an assistant food and beverage manager in The Peninsula and asked if I’d want to join. I packed my suitcase thinking I would go for maybe two years. Twenty-two years later and I’m still hanging around Asia!
Do you have the pleasure of living in the hotel?
[Laughs] I do live in the hotel and there are pros and cons, as with everything in life. But just having everything at your fingertips is helpful.
Every hotel has its own atmosphere. What’s the Mandarin’s atmosphere like?
It’s unique. There are not many people in Hong Kong, I guess, who have not experienced something in the Mandarin and I think that makes this hotel really special. It’s so integrated in the local fabric.
What’s your favourite place inside the hotel?
The cake shop! It’s casual, it’s classy, it’s fun... it’s unpredictable. I think the cake shop is an entry into the Mandarin. I think if you sit in the cake shop, you see Hong Kong go by. Everybody goes there, from mothers with their children to domestic workers who have to pick something up, to a bank manager who picks up a sandwich. The variety of people in the cake shop is fantastic.
Plenty of VIPs have come through your doors over the years. Is there one that resonates most with you?
I was lucky to be here at handover. We had Margaret Thatcher here just before and actually we coerced her into committing a crime! We actually had her sign a Hong Kong flag and the British are not really allowed to desecrate the Hong Kong flag.
Awesome. I’ve also heard rumours about Bowie and Lennon having a party here back in the 70s...
There are some rumours of it. I would think that it would be quite conceivable that things did happen.
Hong Kong’s hotel landscape has changed significantly in recent years. Is there a friendly rivalry between, say, the top-enders like yourself, The Peninsula and the Four Seasons?
Absolutely. I would say more friendly than rivalry. We all do different things, we all have different markets, but we are friendly even though we compete. So there is rivalry but there is a lot of respect for each other.
Do you sometimes wish you had a helicopter pad like The Peninsula?
I have 10 restaurants! I am in Central! I’m quite content with what I have! [Laughs] You always like to have things different, but it’s a work in progress. Because we are preparing for our 50th anniversary, we are hand and feet in our archives. The hotel has changed dramatically in 50 years, just physically, but I think there have always been the values that we have to look after our guests really well, to be a leader in the industry, to be part of Hong Kong. That has not changed.
And what have you discovered in the hotel archives?
Lots of things have changed. I had a German guest who was here in the early 70s and he gave me a copy of his bill which was handwritten. And I was having lunch with a travel agent in New York and he said: “When I was in your hotel in 1969, you had this bag. I still have it. I will send it to you.” We have not been soliciting them at all, but we talk about 50 years and it’s amazing how many people have memories and stories about this hotel.
5 Connaught Rd, Central