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'I enjoy making people happy'

FROM hulking Fijian rugby players daintily carrying trays of room service to playing golf with presidents and prime ministers or living through a military coup, Le Royal Meridien Shanghai General Manager Keith Hardie has seen almost every curve ball the hotel industry can throw.

The Englishman's 33-year career has spanned the globe, beginning in the silver service of a traditional five-star London hotel and encompassing the sands of the Middle East and palm-lined beaches of tropical islands.

In June 2008, Hardie was appointed to head the 770-room Le Royal Meridien Shanghai where he oversees 890 staff.

Having spent more than a decade heading hotels, he says his first focus as a hotelier is on service.

"Our industry is the hospitality industry and one always starts off with the big dream of wanting to make people happy," he says.

"Obviously you have to make money too but that isn't why I joined the hospitality industry. I joined because I enjoy making people happy and welcoming them into your house, and I still feel that is so important."

In Shanghai's competitive hotel market, Hardie says keys to success are nurturing staff and fostering an ethos of top-quality service.

"There are so many hotels nowadays, they all have the latest technology, they all have nice rooms, nice restaurants and nice beds. But what makes the difference is the people," he says.

Service was central to Hardie's first foray into the hotel industry when he joined as a graduate management trainee with Trust House Forte in London in 1977.

The group had several heritage hotels across the UK; in London they owned the landmark Brown's and Westbury Hotels in Mayfair as well as the iconic Grosvenor House.

Hardie worked in the Westbury Hotel for three years before taking his first posting for the group in Dubai.

"It was literally camels and desert and there were only seven five-star hotels there then," he says.

He first came to Asia in 1982 with a stint in Sri Lanka; subsequent postings included the Philippines, China's Hong Kong and Thailand. He has also worked extensively in the Middle East in United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman and Egypt.

During his time in the Philippines he managed a hotel in 1989 during a military coup when guests needed to be evacuated.

"It is at times like this that you learn to adapt and while you are in the middle of something like that you don't think about the potential danger. It's only afterwards that you realize it," he says.

After three decades working around the world, he says he enjoys managing staff from a diverse range of cultures, with Le Royal Meridien Shanghai having staff from 14 countries and regions and speaking more than 24 languages.

During the 1990s he was the food and beverage director at Muscat Inter-Continental Hotel, Shangri-La's Fijian Resort, and there he was able to enjoy two of his loves, rugby and golf.

A keen rugby player, he formed an all-conquering rugby team for the hotel's food and beverage department that had several local champion players.

The department had several big players who filled a niche in the hotel, as the broad-shouldered rugby forwards were strong enough to carry large trays laden with food up to rooms.

"I was still young enough to be playing and training with these guys and I played a few games. It was quite fun," he says.

"But I switched back to fullback from flanker and learned to be quick on my feet after the first couple of hits because I am not small but they were big lads."

While in Fiji, he also played golf with several key members of the then government, including its prime minster, military strongman Sitiveni Rambuka.

Hardie has spent a good portion of his career with the Starwood group, notching up 16 years with the group this year.

Before being appointed to Le Royal Meridien, he was the general manager at The Westin Grande Sukhumvit in Bangkok.

His previous posting was as the general manager of El Gezirah Sheraton Hotel, Towers and Casino in Cairo.

Best Deals

La Vie en Rose Sunday Brunch at Le Bistro All Day Dining Restaurant offers a wide array of gourmet delights, such as caviar, foie gras and a broad selection of seafood.

Offerings are changed regularly and guests can enjoy the variety of new dishes created at the chef's Taste of Discovery stations or relax and order from the Terrace Barbecue menu.

The menu includes an extensive variety of grilled steaks, meats and seafood made to order and delivered directly to the table. For dessert, there are gourmet chocolates and a lavish dessert bar. Guests have the option of free flowing Mumm Rose and Mumm Brut Champagne.

Favorite Dish

Le Royal Meridien's general manager says one of his favorite ways to relax is with a hearty steak but he also enjoys the starters from Allure, the hotel's French restaurant. Despite numerous menu changes, the emulsion of black truffle and white bean soup has remained a signature dish and is popular for its creamy and smooth taste.

Overlooked Perks

By paying extra, guests can be upgraded to a room on the hotel's executive floors.

Here they can enjoy benefits including express check-in and check-out at the lounge, breakfast and cocktails at the lounge. The rooms on the executive floors are located at the higher levels with sweeping views over the city. Guests have free access to the club lounge.


1998: Appointed general manager of El Gezirah Sheraton Hotel, Towers and Casino Cairo.

2002: Appointed general manager of The Westin Grande Sukhumvit in Bangkok.

2008: Appointed general manager of Le Royal Meridien Shanghai.


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