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The 'iceberg anomaly' still a source of intrigue

WHEN The St Regis Shanghai General Manager Nick Porter first came to China, he had left a sales career and was running adventure tours for intrepid travelers who liked to explore the Middle Kingdom's far-flung wilderness areas.

But it has been more than a decade since the Englishman swapped backpacking for a suit and tie. Instead of expeditions into the far reaches of China, he is now far more concerned with providing an experience of unrivaled luxury to guests.

The St Regis has a much-vaunted butler service, and Porter says it is this exacting attention to almost every individual detail of a guest's stay that makes for what he describes as a "distinctive, bespoke experience."

Porter says the core training and approach of a butler can be concisely encapsulated by an often heard phrase around the hotel when a butler helps a guest by simply saying: "Allow me."

The butler is the main point of contact for guests and the butler service is part of a tradition that stretches back 106 years to when the first St Regis hotel opened in New York.

Porter says he is mindful of safeguarding this legacy through his role as general manager and he sees a comfortable, approachable style of luxury as one of the hallmarks of the hotel.

"As business leaders, we all have measurable performance indicators. In addition to a constant focus on sales, I tend to focus primarily on guest satisfaction and associate (staff) satisfaction. My basic philosophy is that if you get those two right then every key indicator will follow," Porter says.

The 328-room hotel opened nine years ago and has a range of facilities including an indoor heated swimming pool, 24-hour gym and a service that allows guests to access more than 600 newspapers from around the world.

Through an international arrangement, St Regis can download and print PDF copies of newspapers on high-quality paper, ensuring guests are never without the latest news from home.

The refinery of a silver-service, five-star hotel is a long way from Porter's initial foray into China.

He has spent 20 of the last 25 years in Asia and first came to China in 1990 when he spent several months backpacking around western China.

A few years later, a friend who's general manager of a hotel asked him to take a three-month assignment to re-organize and strengthen the hotel's sales team. Porter says the industry "just grabbed me."

"I kind of fell into the job but during those three months I became hooked on the industry," he says.

Saying his nomadic instincts made him a perfect fit for the hospitality industry, the Chinese-speaking general manager has taken a range of posts throughout Asia.

He later joined the Starwood group in 2000 when he worked at the Sheraton hotel in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

He spent three years there before moving to Langkawi in Malaysia working for the Westin, describing it as a lifestyle choice, for his young son Max, who was one at the time.

"Langkawi offers a clean, green fun atmosphere with no cars or pollution," he says. "It is a very clear example of how this industry allows you to make those lifestyle type moves."

In 2005, Porter moved to another island paradise in Bali, Indonesia, where he worked at The Laguna, a Luxury Collection property.

It was at this resort that he was groomed for the general manager position, taking on both sales and marketing roles and operational duties as Executive Assistant Manager, then Hotel Manager.

After more than five years away, Porter returned with his family to China in 2008 to take up the general manager position at the Sheraton in Xiamen, Fujian Province.

Having been at The St Regis Shanghai since midway through this year, Porter says overseeing the hotel, with its staff of 400, has been his biggest career move to date.

Porter says that after more than a decade in the industry, his job is to ensure the complex operations of the hotel serve one singular objective: to exceed the expectations of every guest.

This everyday challenge still fascinates him.

"When I came into the industry, one of the things that fascinated me is this iceberg anomaly," he says. "Guests only see 10 percent of what is going on. The back of house is a very complex operation, with many different departments that all have to harmonize. There are hundreds of staff working behind the scenes to make sure each guest's stay is a memorable one."

favorite dish

Porter says his is Danieli's chicken saltimbocca and he is also a big fan of the fresh bread, which is baked daily.

Best Deals

For time-poor executives, The St Regis business lunch at Danieli's Italian Restaurant on the 39th floor has a choice of three dishes - a starter, main and dessert - for 120 yuan.

Underlooked Perks

"We have great fitness facilities including a magnificent indoor heated swimming pool, which is also quite wide," says Porter. "The gym opens 24 hours and features the latest equipment. The hotel offers the legendary St Regis butler service to all rooms. Butlers will deliver complimentary tea or coffee to guestrooms, assist with packing/unpacking luggage and complimentary pressing upon arrival."


2000: Director of Sales and Marketing at Sheraton Chengdu

2003: Director of Sales and Marketing at Sheraton Perdana (later rebranded to Westin Langkawi)

2005: Executive Assistant Manager, Hotel Manager at The Laguna Resort & Spa (A Luxury Collection Resort) Bali

2008: General Manager of Sheraton Xiamen

2010: General Manager of The St Regis Shanghai


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