Piotr Madej, Cluster General Manager of Kathmandu Marriott Hotel, the youngest general manager of the chain of Marriott hotels talks about his experience working in Nepal. From his love of visiting non-commercial places of Nepal to getting up close with Nepali culture, food and lifestyle Madej spills it all. Growing up in a family of diplomats, Madej started living the international life at a very young age. Born in Poland, he moved around the world, living and working in countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Italy to name a few. Working with Marriott International, he was exposed to markets of the Middle East and Europe before being appointed as a General Manager in Malaysia and then Nepal.
How has your life been in Nepal?
Life has been splendid here in Nepal. I arrived from Malaysia which has a different culture and experiencing a new culture in Nepal has absolutely been wonderful. The one aspect that struck me right after I landed was certainly the street traffic. My brain wanted to shout to the driver to watch out on various places as it is very chaotic and unorganized. I come from a culture where everything is well organized so it is very distracting to see so much happening on the road. I had to find a solution to divert my attention from the traffic, usually concentrating on emails. Living in a corporate world, it actually brings benefits of effectiveness with a mobile phone always in my hand.The other aspect that has struck me in Nepal is to feel so welcome. Feeling free to approach people without any concern for safety or being afraid of a communication barrier. I feel people are really helpful, honest and do not take advantage of me being unaware of the surroundings. It is something I have never experienced to that level and it is great.
What has been your experience working with Marriott and what was your reaction like when you got to know about the opportunity to work in Nepal?
Working for Marriott gives me a chance to move around different places and I have the opportunity to connect with cultures I would never have got to see while working in one country in Eastern Europe. I get a close view of various aspects of culture and lifestyle; being able to interact with people on a daily basis, being able to try different foods, discuss their life, travel to very remote destinations or get to know their families and friends. I try to indulge in the local culture. I try to discover the non-commercialized places and see the real life of the people.
When I was told about the opportunity of leading our Marriott properties in Nepal, I went back to my wife and without any long discussion, the decision was made – we go to Nepal. My wife comes from a mountaineering family and having this opportunity to move to and live in Nepal was already a highlight for us. I believe Nepal has much more to offer than the world knows it for.
Were there any hurdles while working here in Nepal as a foreigner?
Every day when we wake up, we get challenged in many different aspects of life. One day we experience sunshine and another day we get the rain. There are challenges in everything we do, but there was no such thing as hurdles in integrating into the local culture and work environment. While in the process of obtaining my work permit, I have visited The Ministry of Labor for a formal interview and I was asked why a person like me, a foreigner, should work here and manage the hotel. I understand that question.
I grew up in the Marriott culture, internationally, where we are all equal regardless of our ethnicity, religion, skin color or beliefs. As a brand we are present in every part of the world with over 7600 properties. Our loyalty program, Bonvoy counts over 140million memberships from around the world. Working for a brand like Marriott means delivering a world-wide standard to meet expectation of guests coming from around the world.It does not mean we shut for the local culture, quite the opposite, however we need to carefully blend it into our services and deliver these flavors at world standards. My job is to assure that guests from around the world are introduced to the local culture without compromising on any of Marriott’s global promises and being part of the international community, it is much easier for me to look into details of each service or product that we provide.
Representing the youngest generation of Marriott’s General Managers, how would you describe your journey?
While many of my fellow GMs treat me as a “Junior” they have always been very supportive and offered great guidance and reference to challenging situations. Regardless of my age, to build my own name, I have to stand out and give the best in my work. This is not only towards Marriott but also towards owners of the properties I work for. I conduct business at a high level, it is important that my own name is recognized with high standards and values.I believe young people have their energy and youthful bravery to offer. I come with a mix of youth and take things at a pace and agility of a person who grew up with social media, internet, with access to global solutions which were not available in earlier times. It is more natural and simply easier for me to get the process rolling when it depends on innovative technology or system. I am privileged to be young and definitely the energy comes with it. I am old school too as I do look at my more experienced colleagues. I listen and I learn, take on board and adjust to current times. I do believe with an open mind; one becomes very effective combining energy of the youth with expertise of those who have seen it all in the industry.
What is the one disadvantage of being a young general manager?
I think one disadvantage of being a young general manager is that I am eager to do all the things and try out everything. The energy in me really speaks up.I have this willingness to do everything and at times forget about myself and my own family. I need to stay focused to make sure my personal goals, passion and family time gets the right share of that energy. Sometimes it is challenging.
Was there any culture shock when you arrived?
Surprisingly no. As Nepal has such a vivid and unique culture, we were ready to experience the culture of Nepal. We both are really delighted to experience the country and slowly indulge in the local colors.
What is your favorite Nepali food or dish?
My favorite would be Nepali thali with all the rice, pulses, vegetables and pickles which is just so tasty, flavorful and delicious. The vegetables of Nepal are fresh and have a flavorful taste compared to other countries so I really enjoy having various types of vegetables especially potatoes. I find vegetables in Nepal surprisingly tasteful and rich in flavor. Puri and tarkari is also one of my favorites and how could we forget momo of Nepal; they are wonderful and not only as a street food. Each of these dishes has the capacity to be brought up to international levels, and it is one of my aims while living in Nepal.
What was your first visit outside of Kathmandu like?
It was the time of New Years so my wife and I decided to visit Pokhara. We were supposed to stay there for a few days. We went around the streets of Pokhara and then went up to Sarangkot, Pumdikot View Tower, Shiva statue, Pagoda Temple and went down to Fewa Lake for a stroll. It was all very enriching and a great experience, especially being fortunate to have great weather conditions. We even experienced night life of Pokhara and even attended the street festival with local people in their cultural attire with lots of local food around. Pokhara gave me impressions of being very clean and well organized, even with traffic which I am still trying to get used to.
Was there any hype about Pokhara and what was your expectation like?
Pokhara did meet all my expectations as a city and it gave me very positive impressions. However, together with my wife we wanted to experience a bit of the raw side of Nepal. Good hotels and restaurants were not on the list this time, so we decided instead we would go to Ghandruk and it was spectacular. I need to thank Pokhara for introducing us to Ghandruk. We didn’t have any bookings so we walked all the way up to a cottage and the view was amazing. It was really exciting to learn about the new culture, lifestyle of locals and taste amazing local delicacies. It is very simple and shows the generosity of the countryside. We went on a hike to Uri and while on our way I met this old man who was with his wife on their traditional attire. We both exchanged our greetings and I had no expectation he would have any communication skills but he asked me which country I was from. When I replied Poland, it was really fascinating to hear from him that he knew about Poland. In Ghandruk I realized how a simple life can bring joy and give time to understand energy that surrounds us.
How has your cycling journey been here in Nepal?
Cycling has been a great pleasure here in Nepal. It gives me immense happiness and peace and it has also been an escape for me in my day-to-day busy scheduled. I also have made friends with my fellow cyclers and enjoy taking on different routes of Nepal. I really like those trails which have farm areas and I have been to those places where I get to communicate with the locals.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
I am looking forward to get the hotel fully booked, get our associates on board and provide the best, safe hospitality to our guests here in Kathmandu. I am also looking forward to take hospitality and tourism sector of Nepal to a different level as Nepal has so much to offer to the world. With Marriott being able to access and promote destinations around the world, we happily take lead in promoting this destination beyond its reputation as the mountaineering capital of the world. Nepal is so much more than an access point to the best mountains of the world!