Do social affairs, military service and hospitality have anything in common?
An interview with a Program Manager of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of The Netherlands – by Răzvan Dumitru
Many of the alumni that we interviewed chose completely different paths than hospitality after finishing their studies. Even though they opted to enter a new sector or industry, most of them mentioned the advantage provided by the skills learned during their time at Hotelschool The Hague. From soft to hard skills, many of these competencies proved themselves to be very useful along the way. A suitable example of an alumnus who pursued an entirely different domain than hospitality is Gerard Lucius. After graduating from The Hague in 1993, he obtained a master’s degree in sociology and started working for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From that point onwards, he traveled to many countries and represented the interests of The Netherlands internationally. Let’s dive into it!
What did you do after graduating?
My journey with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs started by applying for a job that implied a six-month training, after finishing my studies. It has been a great part of my career and life as it lasted more than 20 years. It kept me engaged and excitement was always around the corner as it involved meeting outstanding individuals, seeing many foreign countries, serving my country, and working with renowned organisations such as the United Nations and NATO.
What motivated you to switch from hospitality to diplomacy and then to the military?
I personally believe that it was more of a gradual change than it looks on paper, due to the effort and extent of flexibility that was required. To begin with, I have always been interested in leadership – the core of the hospitality industry. At the same time, my interest in organisations determined me to become the first Chairman of the Representative Advisory Council of Hotelschool The Hague, which led to my decision of eventually specialising in the sociology of organisations and the behaviour of individuals within organisations.
The major reasons behind my decision of pursuing a career within this ministry were my interest in international affairs and my willingness to work for my country. At the end of my studies at Hotelschool The Hague, I concluded that even though an individual might represent an invaluable asset for an international hotel chain, the job will require many relocations, not allowing the individual to settle and to put down roots. Thus, I decided that such a career would not fit me. However, I am grateful for the experience of having studied at a Hotelschool The Hague because it shaped me into who I am today and I could not have achieved so much without it.
This career switch towards sociology was something planned or spontaneous?
The realisation behind it happened during my time as a student when Sheraton came to recruit people. I remember meeting a gentleman who was the Head of Human Resources for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and a graduate of a prestigious hospitality school. He stated that they were looking for strong people that could say no. However, that followed a story about a successful employee that had been relocated yearly for eight years in a row but achieved being a general manager. So, this seemed a bit contradictory for me, as this implied that he said “yes” quite a lot over the years! Since I knew that I wanted a lifestyle that allowed me to get to know the customs and people of the countries that I would live in, I understood that my preference did not match with the usual fast-paced life of a Hotelschool The Hague graduate. However, hospitality still is a part of me, and I cannot help but enjoy the atmosphere of a restaurant, the personal touch of service, and the unique experiences created by the amazing individuals that work in this industry.
What was the contribution of Hotelschool The Hague to your career?
Considering my experience in operations, marketing, finances, and human resources, I was eager to know more about the importance of leadership in these areas and how a leader can motivate a team to achieve a certain target. Nowadays, there is a better distinction between management and leadership, but it was a bit more blurred at the time. In school, we spoke about management a lot, but American literature was the one that addressed leadership. One great thing about Hotelschool The Hague is that it enables you to discover yourself but also helps you to become an individual who knows him or herself and from that base, can undertake tasks and duties with confidence. I believe that there are very few institutions that develop their graduates to such an extent. My experience with military training and my hospitality studies taught me that both provide more than the academic background. They also train you to lead other people and to challenge them to be “all they can be” - as they say in the army. The goal, in my vision, is to develop a self-management attitude and get into the habit of asking for feedback.
What are the most memorable projects or causes for which you have worked throughout your career?
The first one relates to my time spent in Sudan, being employed by the United Nations to coordinate a program that supported 30.000 men. This happened before South Sudan became independent and there was a peace agreement under which they had joined units from both south and north. The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Italy were all involved and set up a trust fund for this cause, in order to consolidate the overall organisation of the region. It was very rewarding to lead a program that involved such elaborated communication and collaboration and see the result of our dedication and effort.
Another milestone event was the visit of the Queen of the Netherlands to the Emir of Qatar while I was the First Secretary of the embassy in Doha. First of all, it was a team effort. The team of the Netherlands’ Embassy was small, consisting of two Dutch diplomats and six locals. The visit lasted only two days, but it required almost six months of preparation. The protocol and logistics skills gained during my time at Hotelschool the Hague proved very useful in this respect. On the logistic side, and speaking of security, it turned out to be a lot easier than we thought as the safety of the Emir was prioritised over everything else in Qatar. For example, if we had to move from one place to another, the road would be cleared completely, with no uncertainty in question. In spite of the massive cultural differences, this visit represented a substantial success on the political and economic side.
Do you see any similarity between hospitality and the military? What about diplomacy?
Both of them involve physical effort! Back in my time, the curriculum also included sports, and sometimes I thought that doing sports combined with having shifts was challenging. However, later on, I discovered that the military could be much more demanding, but the experience gained in hospitality enabled me to be resilient and adapt faster. Apart from that, discipline is the main principle in both domains. You cannot be successful in either the army or the hospitality industry without proper conduct and planning. Moreover, both imply carrying out your duties in a confident manner so that you leave no room for confusion or doubt. Hospitality and diplomacy also have a strong bond as both of them require charisma, tact, and knowing how to play the hand that you are dealt. No guest would like to see your real Monday mood when he drops by the reception of the hotel to ask a question. The same happens in any kind of diplomatic meeting or interaction.
What achievement are you most proud of?
This happened while my team at the embassy in Baghdad visited Karbala. We had the honour of meeting Ayatollah Sistani, one of the most influential Iraqi Shia Marja', and a spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shia Muslims. After being given a tour of the Imam Hussein Mosque, we were greeted by the Grand Ayatollah. While sitting down on pillows and drinking tea with him, I started talking about the political situation as it seemed relevant. However, he stated his wish to not spend too much time discussing this topic but tackling another one instead – our expertise in cows. Since he knew that many people in The Netherlands know about cows and dairy, he specified that he was interested in buying cows from our country. That was a very fortunate coincidence because just six weeks before, we had concluded an agreement regarding the import of cattle from The Netherlands after it had been banned for years due to the mad cow’s disease. Through our connections back home, we made it work and in six weeks, the first cows have imported to Iraq for 3.000 EUR ahead. I take much pride in this achievement as this interaction represented a great diplomatic accomplishment!
What do you consider your biggest failure?
As for myself, I assume that all of us have had a difficult boss at one time in our careers and I was very unlucky with the last one I had with my previous employer. The lesson that I learned is that you will meet people that will not act according to the best practices, in an ethical manner, and you need to be prepared to react to that. Even after seeking help, I did not succeed in improving the situation. My choice was to opt for a secondment and work on another project. Even though it was not a pleasant experience, I learned a lot from it - if your working environment is unsafe, you always have the option of leaving it altogether.
After hearing about his missions and intriguing encounters, we wanted to find out more about Gerard as a person. Therefore, we asked him our rapid-fire questions so that he could gain more insight into his passions, hobbies, and interests. Here is what he shared with us:
What is your favourite book?
I am a fan of history books, including military history! My favourite recently read book is Revolusi by David van Reybrouck. He is a Belgian author who wrote about the Indonesian revolution. This is a special topic for me since my mother is originally from the Dutch East Indies and after the revolution, her entire family moved from Indonesia to The Netherlands.
What is the last movie that you saw?
My favourite movie is Soldaat van Oranje, which is a well-known Dutch war movie. A thing that makes it impressive for me is the fact that one of the scenes is set near Scheveningen, in my beloved city.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I gradually became more of a morning person. Once you have children, it becomes inevitable!
How do you prepare yourself for a day at the office?
Breakfast is crucial and depending on the schedule, I take my dogs for a walk.
What is your biggest dream in a few words?
We have two foster children apart from our own two children. One of the biggest dreams of both me and my wife is to give all of them a great start in life!
Could you name something on your bucket list?
I would love to try parachute jumping! If you jump independently five times, you are entitled to wear a parachute badge or wing on your military uniform.
What is one thing that you enjoy doing in your free time?
Diving! We just received our certification last year and we are planning to go diving somewhere far away. We still need to figure out the details.
What is your favourite place to visit?
My wife and I had a really great time in Zambia. We went on a holiday there a couple of years ago and the sensation did not fade. Its uniqueness keeps attracting us there.
What is your advice for students graduating in 2021?
Study and acquire skills so that you can handle any challenge once you go out into the real world! Take responsibility for your family, your country, and the world but do not forget to travel and invest in your friendships!