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Hunting heads for hospitality

Thomas from AETHOS Consulting Group, an advisory firm focused on the hospitality industry, explains what skills are needed for a successful career in the hospitality industry and how hospitality educational institutions are preparing their students to become the future leaders of the industry.

Talent acquisition and head hunting companies are uniquely positioned to sense what employers are looking for. Thomas Mielke (EHL 2006) founding partner at AETHOS Consulting Group shares his expert opinion about what the most sought-after talent in the industry is.

What is the most sought after talent in the industry right now?

Although one cannot generalize worldwide, three global trends impact what the markets are looking for:

What is the most sought after talent in the industry right now?

  • The cyclical nature of our industry: Hospitality goes through a natural cycle. This holds true from an investment-perspective as it does from a human resources-point of view.

    During a growth phase, most clients are concerned about acquisitions, development and/or investment as well as technical services and design and construction roles (i.e. talent which helps expand a brand’s footprint).

    Once we hit the top of the market, as it currently seems to be the case, the industry starts worrying more about ‘sweating the assets’. Thus, at this point in time, we are busy helping investors and operators to unearth hidden talent at a corporate or regional level in areas such as asset management, operations, sales, marketing and revenue management.
  • Cross-pollination among industries: Across the globe, there is a marked uptick in talent exchange between different industries.

    The retail sector, financial institutions and even firms like WeWork come to us to tap into senior executives from the hospitality industry. And, although the great majority of our ‘traditional’ hospitality clients still seek leaders with a proven track record in their area of expertise and industry, we are increasingly finding organizations open to recruit from outside the sector and willing to really hire for ‘potential’.
  • Unique skill set offerings: In a truly global industry, unique skills continue to help top talent stand out from the crowd.

    These can include, for example, language capabilities (e.g. Mandarin), experience in taking a brand into a new market, or knowing how to navigate the intricate world of entrepreneur-led organizations. Our clients know that at the C-suite and senior leadership level, it is the understanding and appreciation of ‘cultural fit’ and the ability to manage, drive and motivate diverse teams that can make the difference between success and failure.

    In an industry where a business might be financially backed by a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund, involving a global portfolio of properties operated by a number of different brands out of the U.S. and Europe and run by a Chief Operating Officer with Asian-roots it is exactly that ability to manage such an international and culturally diverse team and organization (i.e. a leader’s personal character traits) that will make a difference.

What helps a successful leader to stand out from the crowd?

We have all witnessed the business environment changing quite drastically throughout the past few years and the speed of change has picked-up.

As consumers, we have become much more knowledgeable and informed about our choices and, in a technology-enabled world, our expectations have risen. Consequently, our leniency towards businesses that cannot deliver our expectations has decreased, significantly.

What helps a successful leader to stand out from the crowd?

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For business leaders, this means that accuracy and attention to detail, coupled with speediness and responsiveness, are must-have characteristics. Moreover, to get things right the first time around, one needs to perfect listening skills.

And, research shows that successful businesses ‘make it personal’ – building lasting relationships with their internal and external stakeholders.

In short, whilst being an expert in one’s field is a given, it is more and more the expertise coupled with well-developed soft- and interpersonal skills that help leaders stand out from the crowd.

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What is your take on how well hospitality-specific educational institutions prepare leaders for the hospitality industry?

Generally speaking, the most renown institutions do a great job at preparing their students to become the future leaders of the industry.

Indeed, the percentage of senior leaders (from the C-suite to Senior Vice President, Vice President and Director-level) who hold Bachelor or Master degrees from these institutions, is disproportionately high.

What is the most sought after talent in the industry right now?

However, I would also say that the concentration of alumni from these institutions used to be much higher in the traditional ‘operational’ functions, such Chief Operating Officer, Sales or Revenue Management.

As the curricula of these programs have changed over the years, so has the profile of the graduates. We nowadays come across many more alumni in business, finance and real estate roles.

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It is a fine line, though, to get the balance right: offering a very hospitality-specific curriculum combined with a broader general business management focus, allowing students to find careers in many more industries.

This strategy can help build a university’s reputation to produce more ‘well-rounded’ executives, but it also risks diluting their very own unique selling proposition, as ultimately it is their hospitality focus, the ‘human-touch’, which has helped many of them to stand out in the first place.


From my own experience, I would say that besides having gained a holistic overview of the travel and tourism industry, I most valued the format of the curriculum: the heavily team-orientated and interdependent work environment, the international student body, and the professors’ expectations that students ‘take charge’ in order to be entrepreneurial and hands-on.

Looking ahead, I would hope that the hospitality management programs continue to lay particular emphasis on these soft- and interpersonal skills, which foster certain character traits, whilst also strengthening a curriculum driving sustainability – as the issues of wellness, environmental friendliness and corporate social responsibility are imperative to our industry today.