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Always with Passion

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Torsten van Dulleman,
General Manager,
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai.

By Laurence Civil.

London has played a significant part in Torsten van Dulleman’s hospitality career. He first worked for six months at The Hyde Park Hotel while it was still managed by Trust House Forte as part of his industrial relief while studying at the College of Hotel Management at Haagland. He did all of the least-glamorous back-of-the-house jobs that the new kids get to do.

He must have impressed somebody because upon returning to Holland the following summer, he was invited to help out with front-of-the-house food and beverage (F&B). It was there that he met Paola, his future wife. But the posting was temporary. He went back to The Netherlands where he became the first to complete the Institute of Hotel Management in three years, working nights, so he could afford to fly to see Paola once a month.

He finally got to work and study in Italy, at Hilton Cavaleri Rome, because they had a five-year business management program and his Italian was good enough to do the course. Six months later London was calling: a former colleague from the Hyde Park Hotel helped him to get a job at The Savoy starting as a receptionist until he was promoted assistant front of house manager.

The magnetic pull of the Hyde Park brought him back as F&B coordinator, at the same time that Mandarin Oriental was taking over the hotel’s management. He ran bars and restaurants for a year, finishing as assistant F&B manager. From there he worked with David Levin to renovate all the F&B outlets at The Capital.

“While the hotel was being re-built we were cooking out of a truck across the road,” he recalls. “Despite that, the restaurant won a second Michelin star. David was a supportive owner. He was passionate about every single detail. He listened to his guests and responded to what they told him.”

One day he got a phone call from Gordon Campbell Grey to open One Aldwych. “They had interviewed 30 others with more experience than me but I was told I got the job because they saw that I had the ability to build a team. We were both passionate about the same things; it was an experience that taught me the qualities I believe in today. It was post-9/11, and business was down. His response was to double the flowers and hold the rates.

“He believed in the integrity of the relationship between hotelier and his guest,” he continues. “It wasn’t about profit. I was once criticized for being too profitable. I spent two weeks at One Alwych and two at the Carlisle Bay installing the ‘Everything Does Matter’ to our Antigua property.”

Torsten returned to the Hyde Park as resident manager, his first senior job with Mandarin Oriental. Three years later, having studied and now fluent in German, he was to become general manager (GM) of the Munich property. But fate thought otherwise and took him to be GM of The Oberoi Udaivillas.

“It changed my life spiritually,” Torsten says. “I was possibly an aggressive person professionally; India took me back to the core of what I loved about the job.”

Udaipur had a significant effect on Torsten, inspiring him to write and photograph the images for his book, “Udaipur As it is.” “ I owned a Royal Enfield Motorbike, which gave me the opportunity to get on my bike and discover where I was living,” he says. “Taking photographs is a way I can switch off, and fits my value system.

“A friend gave me the idea of writing the book. I didn’t want my text or photos edited I wanted the imperfections as it reflects life as it is. My reason for doing the book was to raise money for SOS Village to provide grants and dowries for the girls. Having two daughters it was something personal for me. Mr. Oberoi, owner of the hotel group, printed the book at cost. The proceeds of the first book allowed me to buy a better camera for the photos in the second book.

“After three-and-a-half years I felt I had achieved all I could,” he continues. “Mr. Oberoi had asked me to go to Dubai. I had verbally agreed to the idea, albeit nothing signed, when I learned that Mandarin Oriental Bangkok was interested in me. This was the third time I took a step back in my career; the benefits were less and I was responsible for supporting my wife, our two young daughters, and myself.

“A career in hotels is like being an actor; it needs leaps of faith,” he says now. “I was never the best student nor best employee of the month. There were always others with more talent than me. I am lucky to have the right mentors; kindred spirits, people who needed me to help them achieve their vision. I was never attracted to the brand nor the location. Rather, I must sense that each hotel, which I wanted to be part of. I want to come to work feeling passionate about what I am doing.”

“As GM, my job is to run the business. On an average day I walk around the property twice a day and eat in the restaurant once a week. Either I or one of my senior managers should be in the lobby to greet every guest when they arrive. It’s important to take away any barrier between management and the rest of the team. Correct the error not the person and make sure the guest is happy before they leave. React calmly and fairly, never make a decision that you don’t want to be made public.“

“I have had both city and resort experience. The move to Chiang Mai is working well, and my family is happy there.”