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After nine years at the helm of the Mandarin Oriental New York, Susanne Hatje is the General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, to open this Winter 2023. As she learned from her 25 years of experience, “no opening is ever the same”.


After nine years at the helm of the Mandarin Oriental New York, Susanne Hatje is the General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, to open this Winter 2023. As she learned from her 25 years of experience, “no opening is ever the same”.

Category: Europe - United Kingdom - - Interviews
Interview made by Sonia Taourghi on 2023-11-10

On a sunny Autumn day, in the elegant Rosebery team room of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, Susanne Hatje shares her experiences and vision with Journal des Palaces. A chance to understand what drives the energetic leader and what will make Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, London, the group's new London flagship hotel, “a contemporary boutique offering a warm and welcoming oasis”.

Susanne Hatje was, as she put it, “born in a hotel” and from an early age she could observe guests coming, leaving, coming back… She also observed her family run tight operations, while always having a welcoming and warm attitude towards the guests. When the time came, Susanne got to help too; the starting point of what will become an international career. “My parents opened a hotel the year I was born. When I grew up, I was fascinated by all those friends visiting my parents! Little did I know that they were paying for the service. It was just the most amazing experience because they kept coming back, and it was always part of my life. Our kitchen was where we prepared for the guests, the laundry machine was always running on the other side of my bedroom wall. Which coincidentally ensured I was never late for school! You grow up helping out, cleaning the dishes, hoovering or getting the breakfast room ready on Sundays. Everything needed to get done somehow, and we were doing it as a team. But I was intrigued from the beginning. What else, what more was out there? Still, it wasn’t always clear that my brother, my sister or I would go on to working in hospitality. My sister especially thought we were crazy because of the hours, the hard work, the demands, etc. My brother and I ended up in hospitality, while she works in a hospital. Talking about crazy hours... The only real difference is that I’m happy when my guests come back.”

What sounds like a natural evolution didn’t drive Susanne to a career in luxury hospitality, nor to become a seasoned general manager. It was her first internship in hotel management that really paved the way, when she joined the Atlantic Hotel Kempinski in Hamburg in 1998. “You would start at 4am and go through all the services: laundering, housekeeping, restaurant, etc. In a family environment, you better do things right from the beginning. But here it was different. You have people training you, you must learn processes. There was a structure, a purpose, and that was special! People were excited to come through the door, and the thing that was even more special was seeing the guests coming and leaving happy”. From listening to Susanne, it is clear that the feeling was deep and it would influence how she works, how she leads and what luxury is all about. But if she wanted to make guests happy, she also needed to know the business of hospitality, so she studied at Cornell University (New York, United-States), and went on to earning an MBA from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Melbourne, Australia).

Armed with the right tools, she embarked on a journey that will see her climb the ranks in various positions, in various locations: managing recruitment and people as a Human Resource Manager at the Hotel Breidenbacher Hof in Düsseldorf, learning the ropes of general management as Assistant Manager & Front of House Manager at The Mark Hotel, in New York City, and then F&B Manager at the Château de Bagnols in France, before returning to her native Germany to become HR Director and Hotel Manager at Grand Hotel Rafael in Munich.

Having spent nearly a decade perfecting her knowledge of hospitality management, and specifically high-end hospitality, little did she know that overseeing the rebranding of the Grand Hotel Rafael to Mandarin Oriental would sign the beginning of a now 18-year long relationship with one of the most recognised names in luxury hospitality. First stop Hawaii as Resort Manager before crossing the ocean to open The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong in 2005. Three successful years later, Susanne was tasked with opening the Mandarin Oriental, Boston in 2008. Now an expert on the brand, she served as global Group Director of Residences for the next 5 years, before taking over the Mandarin Oriental, New York. Over 9 years, she built a team and a reputation making the hotel one of the best in the Big Apple.

With such an international experience, and a chance to get closer to her roots and family, it is fitting that she and her team are now getting ready to welcome the first guests at the anticipated Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, set to open by the end of 2023. Where does the move stand in her career? “The best place, the best role is usually the place where I am at that moment. You’re sad to leave a place, but you’re excited to start a new story. Starting something new is amazing. An opening is different from running an existing hotel, and no opening is the same; it might be the location, the culture, you don’t know what to expect the next day and need to be ready for change. We have the policies of course, especially at Mandarin, but every opening is different. What I’m really happy about is the ability to greet every single new colleague and be able to write the story together. That creates a special bond because you go through thick and thin and overcome challenges together. Things never happen as they are planned at an opening, but you have great minds that come for a reason, and that is working together as a team and bringing their talents to the table. We already secured 240 colleagues, mostly managers, and I couldn’t be more excited about the people and the diversity. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with adding people on later because on one hand you must stay relevant and open to new ways, and on the other, people want a change, and you have to let them spread their wings”.

A fitting say, for an industry in which more than in any industry, the world is your oyster. “Luxury hospitality is a very small world. I’m very proud when I see colleagues growing and becoming successful, and thinking I had a part in the journey. Our Rising Fan programme is global, and really embodies that philosophy. There are a lot of transfers. At Mayfair, we have colleagues from Chile, from New York, and we just made an offer to a colleague from Hong Kong. It’s great to see so many different cultures coming together to build the foundation of our hotel. We’re always looking for the right talents, and make sure to offer an inspiring experience even during our recruitment days”.

Obviously, there’s no shortage of luxury hotels in London, and it’s only natural to wonder what will make the new Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, London so special. “It’s a little jewel in the heart of Mayfair!” exclaimed Susanne. “The location is amazing; you are in the junction of fashion, art, fantastic restaurants, bars, clubs… Hanover square is so vibrant creating a connection between Regent Street to New Bond Street. But that’s not all that’s going to make it. We have 50 incredible rooms, and amenities that will allow the residents and community to gather in a very vibrant environment: Akira Back, the theatrical experience from Dosa’s 14 seats… Beyond that, it’s the holistic wellbeing experience we’ll provide. From the rooms to the spa, it's a cocoon away. We decided not to have an event space or business center which will ultimately enhance the experience and attract leisure guests. People value to treat themselves more. Of course, luxury is still aspirational, but they want to enjoy the moment and take their time to do so. That’s where the experiential factor comes to play. Not to mention, we’ll be adding another experience next year on the roof. Who doesn't need a rooftop in Mayfair”. No rooftop lover can argue with that!

With so many visitors and a diverse population in London, we wanted to understand how the hotel would fit in the landscape. A concern that Susanne is planning on settling from the get-go. “Mandarin Oriental as a company is very good at understanding and adapting to the different cultures where it operates. There’s the local culture, the traveller, the expectation of where you operate in, and the employees are different and have their identity. London is certainly a great melting pot and that makes the job even more interesting. I believe a hotel is successful when it’s embraced by its local community. Luxury hotel is about offering the finest experiences and about having fun, a personalised service and the ability to enjoy the public amenities. If you’re a host, that’s what we are, it’s very gratifying to see guests coming back. It’s like welcoming friends home or having neighbours pop by. You want to make sure the experience is a special one. Of course, in a hotel there are different touch points, and all the employees need to be aligned on the same vision, but the nobility of it all is the choice to welcome someone. Guests choose to come to our hotel, and we need to keep it a place of choice for them”. It's also heartening to hear that the new Mayfair property, like its sister hotel at Hyde Park, will partner with the Felix Project, a London charity fighting hunger by handling and redistributing food waste.

From the meeting, it's easy to understand why, and how Susanne thrives; she is one of those passionate leaders that you encounter so often in the industry. As far as she’s concerned, passion is paramount to succeed in a career in luxury hospitality. “In our industry you need to be passionate because it’s a very special one. Luxury is the luxury of hard work, you’ll remember the people that helped you with a service, that were gracious, and moments of delight that you’ll return for. There are so many facets that we offer. If you find what you are really excited about, you have to be the best in trade, and expert in your field: are you the culinary expert? Do you want to be a concierge? Concierges are really good at what they do and don’t want to be anything else. The main question you should ask yourself though is Do you like people? You must like people. I’m not only talking about the clients or the community, but also the colleagues; they make your business a success. We are still after all in the people business”.

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About the author

A lover of human interactions, Sonia started her journalism career in various media outlets before moving to London and shifting to the digital industry. Listening to her calling, she's picking up her pen to share the passion and ambitions of luxury hospitality.

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