The general manager of the Four Seasons Resort, Langkawi Island, Malaysia, talks to Janet Harmer about diversity and variety
What was the attraction of returning to work in Malaysia, having previously worked for the Four Seasons in Kuala Lumpur?
I enjoy the country's enormous diversity in culture, religion, cuisine and nature.
Describe the style and setting of the hotel
The resort is set among 48 acres of stunning landscaping with 91 villas, suites and pavilions. It is located on a strip of land that has jungle and mangrove on one side, and a mile-long sandy beach on the Andaman Sea, facing dramatic karst limestone islands and Thailand on the other side.
What are the key challenges of working in Langkawi?
Islands have their pace, so you have to create a different mindset to try and counter that. Having availability of certain supplies can be quite challenging, but we are less than an hour away to Kuala Lumpur and Penang, so that helps.
What do you like about living and working in Malaysia?
Most of your career has been spent overseas. Any reason?
Travel has always been in my blood, having been to over 60 countries and worked in 10. Working abroad gives you the opportunity to experience each country deeper than on vacation and be part of it to some extent.
What languages do you speak and how important has that been to your career progression?
Languages are a great way of breaking down barriers and gaining a certain level of respect, along with being very useful. I speak French and German, and I can get by in Russian and Indonesian/Malay. But I can always recognise a Yorkshire accent! Working in Geneva, Paris and Mauritius would have been a challenge without French.
Of all the countries you have worked in, which one have you enjoyed the most and why?
Russia, Switzerland, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, UK. They all have their special reasons, but I think one of the great pluses is the variety of people you get to meet and the friendships you make.
Which country has been the most challenging and why?
Most definitely India. I spent the last four and a half years in Mumbai before arriving in Langkawi in June. India is a fabulous country with so much to offer, but it is a very demanding working environment. I was there during a major political shift of leadership, which is trying to drive India forward, but there were always major challenges with the bureaucracy, utilities, sanitation, supply chain, infrastructure, politics, unions and climate.
Have you had family with you throughout your career?
I have been married for 20 years and have an amazing French wife, who fortunately used to be in the business, so understands the hours. We have a daughter at university in the UK, which is the first time she has lived alone and in Europe after leaving "home". Trying to get used to the climatic shift has been a shock for her. We have all had an amazing experience exploring so many countries in depth.
You have spent the last 20 years with Four Seasons. Why have you stayed so long?
Four Seasons is the world's best luxury hotel operator. That is the niche I have chosen to be working in and it is a great employer.
Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to work?
Vietnam and Burma. They are both countries that are developing rapidly and have great potential, but with a very adventurous edge to them.
Do you ever intend to return to work in the UK?
I have been out of the UK for 28 years, but my roots are in Yorkshire still. If the right opportunity arose, who knows? For the moment I still enjoy the nomadic lifestyle.
Born and brought up in Harrogate, Andrew Harrison's first taste of the hospitality industry came from working for his mother's outside catering business. His first official job was at the town's Old Swan hotel. He later moved on to the Chester Grosvenor and InterContinental London hotels, before kick-starting his international career. Since joining Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in 1995, Harrison has worked in Bali, Malaysia, USA, Thailand, Mauritius and India.