Federal Hotel International, my second home
Simon Leong is no longer the spunky young man who first walked into The Federal Hotel as a part-time banquet staff or the young executive who “fought fire” at hotel events.
But the now calmer and composed Simon is able to recall all these events, that spotted his career path, with much humour as if it had only just happened. The young Simon, as his stories soon revealed, was unfazed by problems, no matter how big or severe, and often adopted a cease-the-bull-by-the-horn approach to settle them.
With a little coaxing, the Senior General Manager at The Federal Hotel Kuala Lumpur was enjoying relating the tales, from his 39-year career, as much as those listening to them.
Simon was 17 when he started working as a casual staff of the banquet department. After completing his Malaysia Certificate of Education exams (the equivalent of O-levels), he worked as an electrician for three years before being recommended for a job at The Federal Hotel.
“It was the 2nd of January 1980. I was hired as a waiter. Jimmy Tan the F&B manager hired me after a short interview because he was already acquainted with me as a part-timer. A year and a half later, I was promoted to assistant captain, eight months later banquet coordinator and in less than a year I was made up to become an F&B executive working on banquet operations.
“I was moving up fast because I could speak and write better. Most of the staff didn’t have much education,” Simon was perhaps a mite modest as it took more than just speaking better to move up the ladder.
He was as eager as a beaver to learn and he took every opportunity to ask those who were willing to teach. In two and a half years, Simon moved up several other positions to finally become the F&B manager.
In his era, to make F&B manager in 10 years rising from rank and file was indeed an achievement.
“Getting the bosses to notice you is important! Every time the boss came in (Tan Sri Datuk Seri Low Yow Chuan ) I would be designated to serve him – everyone else was fearful of him. I was also afraid after hearing feedback from other staff about him,” Simon admitted.
But Simon was ambitious and managed to psyched himself to believe that every guest, including the boss, deserved the best of his service and he wasn’t going to let fear get in the way.
“On one occasion the boss pre-ordered a dish as he was going to entertain guests. Before he arrived, the kitchen found that the oysters were not fresh and no one, including the F&B manager, wanted to be the one to tell him.
“And I was volunteered! So I did. I told him the oysters were not fresh and I had taken the liberty to replace it with another item. He commended me and said I did a good job and that we should not serve unfresh food,” Simon swept his brow and created a good impression with the boss.
But Simon soon found that he actually performed well when his adrenalin is pumped up. He remembers rescuing another incident in the 80s when he was an F&B executive.
“There was cough up with the date for a function between the client and our sales team. Suddenly I found myself in front of 300 guests for a non-existent function, at least according to the F&B schedule.
“Bosses were away for the weekend and I had to solve the problem. There was no time to waste and no room for negotiation. It was an emergency! This is where I really appreciated our teamwork. I sent someone out to Jalan Alor hawker stalls to buy up as much grilled meats and satay while someone else went to a nearby mamak (indian muslim shop) to buy up all their food.
“And whoever else was available at the hotel helped to set up the only available venue at the banquet hall as there were already 4 wedding dinners going on in our restaurants. We pulled it off by 8 pm to allow the ‘incidental’ function to carry on. The client was angry but appreciated how we rectified the situation,” Simon related and you could still hear the pride in his voice.
Courtly, he excused himself to attend to a matter but promised to return and resume his storytelling.
Soon he walked backed into the room to tell about the crisis when incessant rain had caused the hotel basement to flood and water was rushing in from the street.
“There was a 400-people function going on in the ballroom and I had to cut off the electric supply to the ballroom and moved the function to another location. With teamwork, we managed to move the function without much disruption. We had staff from other departments helping out too,” he said.
Simon is a firm believer in developing the right relationship with his staff to ensure cooperation and loyalty. He was promoted to Senior General Manager of The Federal Hotel in January and also to oversee operations of the Group’s other property The Capitol Hotel.
He remains the go-to man for all things pertaining to F&B in The Federal Hotel International Group owing to his experience and prowess in the field.
The Federal Kuala Lumpur Timeline
Federal Hotels International (FHI) has over six decades of experience in the Malaysian hospitality industry. FHI is the pioneer Malaysian Hotel Management Company, established in 1957, to manage the first international hotel in Kuala Lumpur – The Federal Kuala Lumpur – that opened its doors on 28 August 1957. Today, FHI manages The Federal Kuala Lumpur, Hotel Capitol Kuala Lumpur, The Grace Hotel Sydney and Tribeca Serviced Suites Bukit Bintang.