Life as an Eternal Classroom

Options, options. Would you like to be here or there? With so many choices on where to make your home, why not try to make it everywhere? Better start packing.

1216_what-do-they-knowAt one point, all of us have found ourselves as the bright-eyed adventurer, ready to venture out into the world and dreaming of all the places to go. A multitude of countries, people, places, things and cultures available to experience and just a few short decades to try it all.

Just short of 30 years ago, Bruno Bohl, General Manager of Wanda Vista Dongguan, also reveled in the potential of the world outside.

“One of my all-time passions is exploring and getting to know different cultures, people and their habits. All of that. This is one of my life missions, to explore as much as possible of our world,” Mr. Bohl told me as we sipped coffee.

Born in the tranquility of Switzerland—famous for cheese, cough drops and skiing—the logical first step after completing his first hospitality apprenticeship in 1987 was to continue his career somewhere warm. Like Hawaii.

After spending a few years there, it seemed apparent that the end was near, but he was unclear of where the future would lead—whether to return home and create desserts or stick with hospitality and venture into the beyond.

“I realized in 1994 that working in the hospitality industry would be a better way to accomplish my [dreams], rather than going back and working for a pastry shop.” He eventually decided on a job in Thailand in 1995.

Working with pastries—a difficult, detail-oriented position—allowed him to approach the industry in a unique manner, compared to other GMs who climbed through the ranks.

“A successful pastry chef very much has to pay attention to detail, textures, colors and presentation. So, it covered a wide field which was very beneficial for future development. Those are my roots, and even though I’m a General Manager these days, they taught me to pay attention to detail and to ensure that our customers get the best experience.”

For many years, hotel after hotel was resistant to let him move into other positions because of the difficulty in finding skilled pastry chefs. Finally, he caught a break with one company promising him the opportunity to train for a new position after he built them a new pastry shop. He excitedly agreed and so marked the permanent departure from the kitchen toward hotel management.

Meanwhile, he endlessly studies to improve his prospects and the daily quality of his work. Education—and continued training—perhaps makes up one of the key pillars of his life, beside his career and family.

“I always like to push the boundaries in learning and developing. I have studied a lot and still do, actually. I have finished a Master’s degree from Cornell University and am currently doing a MBA in one of the top hospitality schools in Switzerland. There’s a lot of additional work besides being an employee that’s going into my development.”

If working and studying full-time isn’t enough, Mr. Bohl also throws a family into the mix—his wife and two daughters actually live in the hotel and often travel with him—which is something unique for a GM. I asked him how he handles it all.

“It’s not easy. Basically, you really have to want it. There were half a dozen colleagues who started the MBA with me and have already given up simply because there wasn’t enough time. You need to be good with time management and being efficient. Of course, in our industry, a lot of the work is dealing with people, which can’t always be quick, but you need to find a way.”

After accomplishing so much, I wonder if he ever contemplates slowing down and just disappearing to the beaches of southern Thailand.

With Wanda also on the verge of opening their first locations outside of China, Mr. Bohl was brought in with the intention of building and publicizing the hotel as a brand for foreigners.

“In our industry, you have to be flexible. Because the companies, especially like Wanda with such massive growth, can always move you very quickly. Until now, my career was always about developing and growing and I always emphasize the same to the people I work with. This industry is the sky’s the limit. It all really depends on each individual and how much they want to achieve and work for it.”

After accomplishing so much, I wonder if he ever contemplates slowing down and just disappearing to the beaches of southern Thailand.

“I think my story is rather unique in the industry, coming from pastry chef to general manager and I don’t think it stops here. Life goes on for me. I really want to make the most out of my life.”

Pure, hard work can get you a lot of places, but not everything. If you want to move up quickly, you have to be smart about the steps you take along the way. For Mr. Bohl, the golden ace is continuously growing.

“If you work for an organization that gives you the opportunity to visit trainings or learn more, do it. Whatever you can learn, nobody can take it away. It doesn’t matter who you work for, you’ll always have your own knowledge.”