Anne Scott is general manager of the Andaman, a five-star Luxury Collection resort, on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia, and was recently named as Asia's Leading Woman in Hospitality at the Women In Leadership Asia Forum. She speaks to Janet Harmer
Can you give me a broad outline of your current position? The Andaman is 15 years old and last year came under the management of Starwood Hotels and Resorts. It is my responsibility to rebrand the hotel as a Luxury Collection resort and carry out a three-year investment and renovation plan.
What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? I had worked in London for more than 20 years and although I had travelled a lot in my career, I had never lived abroad. I decided it was time to go and have an adventure. I had a conversation with my boss and told him that I would like to find a job in the location that was "the most different to Knightsbridge, London".
How did you get your current position? I was already working for Starwood and transferred within the company in 2008 to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and opened Le Meridien Chiang Rai. When Starwood won the management contract to take over the Andaman in Langkawi, it seems that I had proved that I could manage effectively within the Asian culture and so I was given the privilege of running this award-winning resort and working with the team to reposition the property.
What do you like about working in Langkawi? The island of Langkawi is a Unesco Geopark and boasts the most amazing wildlife and nature. Our resort is set inside a 10-million-year-old rainforest and provides daily encounters with monkeys, flying lemurs, hornbills and the occasional four-metre python!
What do you dislike about working there? Only that it's a long way to get home. Last year my mum was poorly and it was horrible not to be able to pop home for a cup of tea and a chat.
How does hospitality in Malaysia differ from the UK? In London, we had more than 44 nationalities working in our hotels with over 20 different languages in daily use. Here we only talk in Bahasa or English, so communication is relatively easy.
What could UK hospitality learn from Malaysia? I truly admire the recent Malaysian initiative called "1 Malaysia", which promotes co-operation between race, beliefs and regions. Every country in the world could learn from that.
Are there financial benefits to working abroad? Obviously tax-free earnings is the answer. But in my opinion, I think that the years are numbered for generous, tax-free expat assignments, especially in desirable locations like Thailand and Malaysia.
Is there a large British community working in hospitality in Malaysia and do you liaise with each other? I am very happy here because there is an expat community of 200 or so on the island, but all nationalities mix and so there is no British gang, as such. I prefer it that way.
Do you have a family and has that made life difficult when moving from place to place? It has helped moving on my own. No pressure to find schooling and no one to please but myself!
Are there any specific challenges you have had to face as a woman general manager working abroad? There are certainly cultural challenges. Asian culture has deep roots in "saving face" and deference to senior people. This can manifest itself into a scenario whereby people may not want to tell you when something is wrong, such as when a guest is complaining or a key deadline is going to be missed.
The challenge, therefore, is to get attuned so you can read body language and notice subtle signs. Ask polite, but specific questions and establish rapport and trust with key people so that you establish your own hard-wired connection into what's going on.
CV: anne scott
2010 to date General manager, The Andaman, Langkawi, Malaysia
â- 2008-10 General manager, Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort, Thailand
â- 2002-08 Hotel manager, Sheraton Park Tower, London
â- 2001-02 Regional VP human resources, Middle East, UK, Africa, Marriott International
â- 1997-01 Area director of human resources, UK and Ireland, Starwood Hotels and Resort
â- 1993-97 Various HR roles for Starwood in London and Scotland