Ten months after she arrived to take over the reins of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, Amanda Hyndman will welcome guests to the hotel next week for the first time. She tells Janet Harmer how a devastating fire at the property gave the business a unique opportunity to present the brand’s key touchpoint of kindness to the capital
Amanda Hyndman has faced many a challenge during an impressive 33-year-long career that has seen her travel the world. Dealing with bailiffs in the front office as London’s Waldorf hotel went into receivership, negotiating with unions in Washington DC and operating in the midst of a coup d’état and martial law in Bangkok all stood her in good stead for what she faced on taking on her first job in the UK for 10 years.
In June 2018, two days after she arrived at the five-AA-star, 181-bedroom Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London to replace Gérard Sintes as general manager, a fire broke out when, according to London Fire Brigade investigations, the byproduct of welding work landed in the felt lining of a planted wall.
Fortunately, no one was hurt and the hotel – in its prime Knightsbridge location between Hyde Park and the glitzy shopping district of Harvey Nichols and Sloane Street – was swiftly evacuated of all guests and staff in less than four minutes, with the emergency services arriving in under six minutes.
Although the blaze was confined to the west courtyard, it knocked out the air-conditioning system, chillers and restaurant extraction vents, resulting in the total closure of the hotel for six months. Following the opening in early December of the public areas of the hotel, including the two-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston and Bar Boulud restaurants, spa and ballroom, Monday 15 April will see the relaunch of the entire hotel, including all 141 bedrooms and 40 suites. The day will also mark the celebration of the £100m, two-year renovation of the hotel, which had been completed the week before the fire broke out.
When asked what Hyndman is most looking forward to about the reopening of the hotel, she does not hesitate in replying: “Oh my God, the guests and the opportunity to kill them with kindness. In brainstorming our vision for the hotel, we wanted to reopen as one of the finest hotels in the world, offering genuine and kind service. Most of our business is made up of leisure guests who are often coming for a special occasion. We have to be kind to them and make them feel comfortable so they have a sense of belonging and have an amazing memory, which will encourage them to tell people about it and make them want to come back.”
A helping hand
Kindness is the word that crops up more than any other when talking about what Hyndman intends to bring to the hotel, and it sums up the extraordinary initiative that she instigated as soon as it became apparent that the hotel would be unable to reopen for several months following the fire on 6 June.
“The day after the fire, corporate colleagues started arriving from Hong Kong and Europe to support our security, engineering, finance and legal teams,” says Hyndman. “I remember thinking that we’ve got to keep our colleagues; they are going to get bored not working and our competitors are going to want to hire them. I started thinking about the support we had from individuals and other businesses and organisations during the emergency and wanted to thank them. It was then that the plan to undertake charity work was born.”
On 13 June Hyndman met with all 600 staff, in three groups of 200. It was the first time that she had introduced herself as the new general manager, replacing Sintes, who was moving on to Spain to oversee the renovation and rebranding of the Hotel Ritz Madrid to a Mandarin Oriental property. There was a lot of concern and worry among the staff about the future, and while Hyndman was unable at that time to tell them how long the hotel would be closed, she asked them not to look for alternative jobs and assured them that they would all be paid in full throughout the duration of the closure. Eventually, it was confirmed that all lost tips and service charges would also be covered.
“I told everyone that the priority was to keep the team together,” she explains. “Colleagues would be given the opportunity to visit hotels overseas for work experience and we were looking to launch a major community initiative to thank everyone for their kindness.”
The HR team spent three months sorting out the logistics, including the flights and visa applications needed to place 77 staff on overseas work placements across Mandarin Oriental’s portfolio of 32 hotels. Some went to work in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Santiago, Washington DC, Geneva, Munich and Prague, for between three and six months. “Our sister hotels were incredibly kind and welcoming to our staff, who enjoyed amazing, life-changing experiences,” says Hyndman.
Meanwhile, back in London, work was getting under way to put in place the volunteering projects. However, it wasn’t as easy a task as had been expected, with bureaucracy initially hampering the process. There was some frustration on Hyndman’s part that corporate businesses such as Mandarin Oriental are expected to pay a fee for their staff to undertake voluntary work, such as cleaning up the River Thames, or to complete expensive courses before helping specific charities.
After much persistence and knocking on doors, a whole host of projects were eventually secured, from staff working in Oxfam shops across London to providing support to Age Concern by taking senior citizens on walks in Hyde Park or to bingo sessions. Support was also provided to the Felix Project, which delivers surplus food from suppliers to those in need; to homeless charity the Passage and its Hotel School, set up as a joint venture with the Goring hotel; and the Kitchen Social, launched by the Mayor’s Fund for London to provide meals for malnourished children during school holidays.
With some colleagues working abroad and a core team in the engineering, security, finance and HR departments working in temporary offices adjacent to the hotel, around 450 Mandarin Oriental staff undertook some 40,000 hours of community projects. The initiative was widely reported in the national press, including BBC News, and it won Hyndman and her team the coveted Extra Mile Award at the Hotel Cateys 2018.
“We had time on our hands and could give back,” says Hyndman. “It kept colleagues motivated and proved to be a very uplifting time.”
While she would not have wanted the fire to happen, Hyndman says she would never have got to know the colleagues and interact with them in the way that she did. “Throughout all this time I’ve remembered a Martin Luther King quote that really moves me and stems from when I was in Washington DC: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’”
Hyndman and the management team were focused on getting the hotel up and running and ensuring that all colleagues were continually kept informed of the progress. “Communication was critical, and it was helped by an app that enabled us to keep everyone updated as things happened. We also held regular motivational bonding activities, including a boat trip and a Halloween party. These kept the momentum going and were great for team morale.”
The closure also provided an opportunity to undertake some minor investments, which would not otherwise have happened until a later date, such as changing over power supplies, renewing spa pumps and restoring the floor in Dinner by Heston and the Rosebery room, where afternoon tea is served.
Come Monday, Hyndman will at long last be able to take up the mantle of running the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London as she had intended on 4 June last year. Her arrival at the hotel had come about after she had taken a year out of the business to travel and spend time with her family back in the UK. “I’d been overseas for 10 years and I had been general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok for five years,” she says. “It felt like a natural time to take a break and put down roots again back home.
“I hadn’t contemplated coming back to Mandarin Oriental, but I was approached about the relaunch of the London hotel and I got really excited about it. There had been a huge investment and the hotel was being put back to where it should rightfully be as one of the city’s iconic hotels.”
The time Hyndman spent abroad for Mandarin Oriental, joining the company initially in Hong Kong before going on to work in Washington DC and Bangkok, was invaluable. “I learned to be more respectful of other cultures. I never forgot I was a guest in their countries. By being respectful, you build teams and collaborations, resulting in a stronger outcome. For instance, in Bangkok, I wore more modest clothes that were always in the colours of the Thai court: yellow on Monday, pink on Tuesday, green on Wednesday, orange on Thursday, blue on Friday, purple on Saturday and red on Sunday. I didn’t have to do it, but it is something that was noticed and appreciated.
“I learned Cantonese for 18 months in Hong Kong, although most people told me not to bother as it is very difficult – there are nine tones, where the same word can mean different things depending on the way you say it – but I thought it was important to show a cultural appreciation of the language.”
Ten years of working overseas for Mandarin Oriental also means that Hyndman is fully versed in the service culture of the company, which is one of humility, respect and, again, kindness, focused on delighting the guest through a passion and willingness to please and deliver. Diligence, attention to detail, commitment and perseverance are also important.
The Mandarin family
It is the Mandarin way to promote talent from within, something Hyndman would always prefer to do rather than take a risk on someone from outside the business. “I would rather give our own people a chance,” she says. “I was never ready for any job I did, I was always over-promoted, but someone believed in me and, by working hard, I got there.”
Following a selective recruitment programme, there are plenty of opportunities for Mandarin staff to scale the career ladder. As well as a personal development plan for every team member to ensure everyone has a rewarding career experience, there are a number of internal middle and senior management programmes for development and a new Forward initiative to promote people into head of department roles.
“We are able to attract the best talent because people see they are going to be rewarded and have the opportunity to progress,” says Hyndman. “It comes back to kindness again – between the company and the team, which in turn results in a respectful relationship between colleagues and guest. This undermines everything we do.
“We take our responsibility as an employer very seriously in looking after people’s safety and welfare to ensure they flourish and fulfil their dreams, as well as in supporting London as a wider community, as highlighted by our charity work. It is a responsibility I hold very dear to my heart.”
Amanda Hyndman – career to date
2018-present General manager, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London; and area vice-president of operations, London, Munich and Prague
2012-2017 General manager, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
2009-2012 General manager, Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC
2007-2009 General manager, Mandarin Oriental – the Excelsior, Hong Kong
2001-2007 General manager, Le Meridien Waldorf (rebranded Waldorf Hilton in 2003)
1999-2001 General manager, Millennium Knightsbridge, London
1995-1999 General manager, Copthorne hotel, Glasgow
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London – facts and figures
66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Owner and operator Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, a member of Hong Kong-based Jardine Matheson Group
General manager Amanda Hyndman
Bedrooms 181 (141 rooms and 40 suites)
Guest profile 25% from Europe, including UK; 25% from US, 25% from Middle East and 25% from Asia.
Facilities Dinner by Heston (two Michelin stars), Bar Boulud, Mandarin bar, spa, fitness centre with 17m swimming pool, ballroom for up to 266 sit-down dinner guests. The hotel services the adjacent One Hyde Park residences, comprising 86 apartments.
Room rate Be the First to Stay package, available from 15 April to 30 June, from £659 including breakfast, Champagne on arrival, plus daily credit of £75-£250, depending on room/suite category, for use in the spa, Mandarin bar, the Rosebery or Bar Boulud. The Mandarin Oriental Penthouse suite is £45,000.
The £100m refurbishment
Ten months later than intended, the most extensive renovation in 117 years of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London will be complete as the hotel opens to guests again.
“The purpose of the renovation, undertaken by Joyce Wang from Hong Kong, was to bring something of Hyde Park on one side of the hotel into the building to make the bedrooms lighter and more airy, as well as being residential and comfortable,” says Hyndman. “The brief was to hark back to the golden era of the 1920s.”
Wang has also designed two new penthouse suites, created by adding an additional floor to the property. When connected, the three-bedroom Mandarin Oriental Penthouse suite is 440 sq m and must rank as London’s most expensive hotel suite at £45,000. The smallest, within the turrets of the hotel, measure 47 sq m.
More of the rooms and suites are now interconnected to facilitate the increase in multi-generational travel.
York designer Adam Tihany has overseen the redesign of the hotel’s spa, which now features 13 individual treatment rooms and an Oriental Suite with two massage beds and a Rasul water temple, traditional Asante Chinese medicine consultations and treatments, and the first Bastien Gonzalez, Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio in the UK.
Tihany has also carried out a light refurbishment of the hotel’s three main F&B areas: Dinner by Heston, Bar Boulud and Mandarin bar.
Mandarin Oriental Mayfair
In addition to her role as general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, Hyndman is vice-president of operations, overseeing the group’s hotels in Munich and Prague.
She will also have overall responsibility for the new 50-bedroom Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, which will open on London’s Hanover Square in early 2021. The new hotel, which will be managed by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, is being developed by Clivedale London, the UK arm of the Indian-based finance and real estate company Indiabulls Group.
“My role is first and foremost here in London,” explains Hyndman. “I liaise with the general managers in Munich and Prague on a weekly or fortnightly basis and visit each hotel every quarter. It is all about supporting the younger general managers in their development up to the next level.”