Brits Abroad – Alex McCartney

24 March 2011 by
Brits Abroad – Alex McCartney

Alex McCartney, assistant chief engineer at the 556-bedroom Fairmont Hotel Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, is impressed by the can-do attitude of workers in North America. He speaks to Janet Harmer

Can you give me a broad outline of your current position? I am assistant chief engineer responsible for daily engineering activities within the hotel, as well as the management of 15 engineers, timesheets, holidays, spares requisitions and assisting all engineers whenever necessary.

What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place and how did you do it? I spent 24 years in the RAF and never spent more than three years in one place. After nine years in St Andrews, my wife and I often spoke about moving elsewhere. Fairmont provided me with the opportunity to move overseas.

How has working abroad enhanced your career? It has opened my eyes to a completely different way of working. As a result of colleagues coming from a much broader ethnic background than in the UK, one needs to respect and understand many cultures in the work environment. I am very aware of how I speak to colleagues to ensure that I have not been misunderstood.

Humour, the approach to work and the work ethic itself are all completely different in Canada. Colleagues have a real sense of ownership of the property and want to contribute to the successes of the team.

What do you like about working in Vancouver? Vancouver is a great place to be. There is a vibrant buzz about the whole city and there is always something happening.

What do you dislike about working in Vancouver? It is probably the most expensive place in Canada to live.

How does hospitality in Canada differ from in the UK? Working in hospitality in Canada is a profession and people tend to stay in the business for a long time. In the UK, I found that the majority of staff were students who used the hotel as a means of paying their way through university.

Are there any differences between the two countries in the way that hotel engineers work? Engineers in the UK tend to be a lot more flexible and have a wider technical skill base than those in Canada. But because here they have a sense of ownership about the hotel, their attitude is very positive - something that permeates throughout all departments.

There is a real passion to anticipate guest needs and the entire team pulls together to make this happen. Everyone has a can-do attitude and a strong commitment to working as a team, which makes the work environment much more approachable.

What could UK hospitality learn from Canada? Commitment and a great attitude toward working in the service industry.

What could Canada learn from the UK? Greater flexibility.

What has surprised you most about hospitality in Canada? The positive attitude of the workers. They do a job that they want to do and are enjoying it.

Where else in the world would you like to work and why? I'm not sure about working anywhere else, but would consider the USA as somewhere to retire. I also love Spain and speak the language and so would think about retiring there as well.

Do you plan to return to work in the UK and, if so, how will you use your experience of working abroad? I don't know at this point. But if I do, I am sure my experiences abroad will prove invaluable when dealing with new colleagues. The many cultures that make up the fabric of Vancouver have taught me to be more sensitive and tolerant.

I've learnt that making an effort to understand my colleagues' way of thinking and taking an interest in their background makes a world of difference regarding employee engagement.

CV Alex McCartney

2007-10 Assistant director of facilities, Fairmont St Andrews Scotland

2001-07 Loss prevention manager, St Andrews Bay Golf Resort & Spa, St Andrews, Fife (then part of Château Elan Hotels & Resorts)

1977-2001 Royal Air Force, working way up from electrical technician to electrical trades manager. Served in the Falkland Islands and the first Gulf War

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