Indu Brar landed in the hotel business by happenstance, but a month into her job working the hotel’s switchboard she was already hooked on the possibilities of a career in hospitality.
The Calgary native spent the next 17 years working in the Fairmont hotel chain — most recently as director of Operations at the beautiful Chateau Lake Louise — before a transfer to The Fairmont Winnipeg last year. There, she assumed the helm of the 340-room hotel at Portage and Main in Canada’s gateway to the Prairies.
Brar understands “every position in a hotel is critical to its overall success. We all have a role to play.” These days, the newly minted GM has fun guiding her team of 240 to success, taking whatever route necessary to arrive there. “I’m a firm believer in leading by example and taking calculated risks,” she says. She defines her management style as “elastic” — it changes depending on “what the situation warrants, the talent and experience of the people involved, and what we’re trying to achieve.”
The hotel industry is constantly evolving, so it’s crucial to anticipate, plan and be prepared for everything, says the ebullient Brar. “You have to eliminate barriers — or what could be potential barriers — to service.”
Earlier this year the hotel rolled out a series of initiatives to improve service, including the Memory Maker awards program, where employees nominate colleagues who have provided exceptional experiences to guests. Staff members then share the top five or 10 “memories” at a monthly service reception. “Our team embraced it, more than doubling the nominations. Our colleagues take great pride in sharing how they make a difference,” says Brar. The hotel also launched a weekly breakfast for its most loyal guests, inviting them to share feedback with Brar and the manager of the President’s Club, the hotel’s exclusive guest recognition program.
It also launched a “Day-in-the-Life” program with each member of the executive team working in a different department for a day. “It’s been very successful from a colleague recognition perspective, and it’s given us an opportunity to address issues impacting the departments,” says Brar.
Already lauded for its environmental stewardship, the hotel also converted to energy-efficient lighting throughout the entire building, and later this year four of its floors are scheduled for renovation.
With stellar service a cornerstone of the Fairmont chain, Brar believes in surrounding herself with a strong team that’s aligned and driven to achieve goals. “It’s important the team has similar values. I believe in healthy dialogue and I welcome differing opinions to help achieve the best possible result.”
Though Brar admits the hotel business is competitive, with recruitment challenges top of mind, she believes success depends on consistently delivering on the basics. “It’s about recognizing guests, greeting them at the front door by name and asking them how their day was. It’s about them walking into the lounge after a long day and having their drink waiting for them.” Ultimately, she says, it all comes down to providing engaging, thoughtful service.