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GM Interview: Leon Larkin

While there isn’t an authoritative figure on the number of hotels that are in operation across the world, Leon Larkin tells us it’s estimated there are more than 500,000 people across the world who are, or have been, general managers.

In light of this, Larkin has founded The International Association of Hotel General Managers (IAHGM), which officially launched from its first regional headquarters in Dubai, UAE. Larkin, who is an Australian national with more than 40 years’ experience as a general manager in hotels across Europe, Asia and Australia, says it is the world’s only initiative of its kind dedicated to the hotel general management community. 

“There is absolutely no society or organisation that is interested in international hotel general managers,” he tells Hotelier Middle East.

The international organisation is designed to raise the profile of hotel GMs, whilst providing a range of professional and personal membership benefits, such as portable healthcare and insurance options.

Membership is open to all hotel GMs, those who have previously served in the position, owner/operators, as well as retirees and aspiring young professionals on the career path to becoming a GM. Larkin reveals to Hotelier that annual membership fees will range from US $495-995 depending on the tier of membership the applicants opt for.

Following the launch, the first phase of applicants will be made ‘founding members’, as as part of this will be granted special privileges including additional voting rights, fixed membership fees for three years, as well as access to exclusive discounts and events.

In addition to Larkin as president, IAHGM has an international board of governors comprising 11 high-profile alumni from the global hospitality industry (see box out). He says: “It was wonderful — when I asked if they would be a governor every one of them responded most enthusiastically. It was the easiest sell of the world — they recognised the need for this.”

He adds: “The board of governors are there to make sure that the ideals as per the charter of the organisation are kept, and we believe we know which way the organisation should go. However, once we get a critical mass of membership, they will direct us in the way that we need to go. I want this to be one of the leading examples in the world of a communicative process for the organisation and for its members.”

This open process was seen last month when the association’s name was changed to its current form on request of the members; the group started life as The Honourable Order of International Hotel General Managers and the name change decision has been taken as a result of both member and industry feedback. Larkin explains: “We have listened and our response has been quick.”

He explains the concept further: “Hotel general managers are people who have a very unique jobs and are responsible for the lives of a 1000 people a day — somewhere it needs to be recognised and it’s not. So we want to lift their profile, we’re offering welfare benefits, we’re going to offer learning experiences, opportunities for GMs to have more knowledge and be better at their jobs, and we’re going to offer scholarships for young hoteliers.”

Later this year, the organisation will also host its debut World Congress in Dubai on ‘Hotel Security in Today’s World’ and feature awards such as ‘International Hotel General Manager of the Year’ and a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. Larkin tells Hotelier the congress will cover fire-life safety, cyber security, terrorism security, and so on.

Larkin emphasises the organisation is “doing things nobody has done before”. “We’re allowing members to use post-nominal letters, so the organisation and the qualification will be recognised. Eventually we hope to have our own academy and hall of fame, but these are all things of the future.”

The IAHGM, which Larkin stresses is not a union and never will be, will also offer health insurance to the members. He explains: “There are two questions GMs need to ask themselves — if you left your company today, would you take your health insurance with you? And, when you retire, will you have your health insurance with you? And what happened to me was, when I retired I lost my health insurance. The other benefits will grow as we grow in numbers — general managers have never had this before.”

Larkin concludes: “It’s a legacy that I’d like to leave and I think the organisation can do a lot of good. Going into it, the secret of all organisations is that by joining it, you’ll be better at the end than when you went in it.”

Board of governors:

Richard Hartman, non-executive director for Jumeirah Group, former CEO of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, former board director and MD of InterContinental Hotels Group, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Giovanni Angelini, former CEO of Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts and knighted by the Italian government.

Heikki Julin, deputy chairman of the Board of Directors at Olympia Air Travel, Captain in the Finnish Defence Force.

Joseph A. McInerney, Emeritus president & CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Kees Hartzuiker, chief executive officer, Ròya International Dubai, former vice president, Asia, Hilton International.

Peter Thompson, former Starwood vice-president for Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand & former GM of the Royal Hawaiian Waikiki Beach, Sheraton On The Park and Four Points by Sheraton, Sydney.

Philip Carruthers, former regional MD for Orient-Express Hotels and former MD of Copacabana Palace, Brazil.

Hans Olbertz, board member of Steigenberger Hotels, hospitality consultant, former GM of Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi and a longstanding career with IHG.

Prue Leith CBE, restaurateur, author, businesswoman, philanthropist, former board member of Belmond (formerly Orient-Express Hotels).

Ruth Hunt, hotelier, entrepreneur, former proprietor of Combe House Devon, UK, soon to be The Pig at Combe.

Erhard Hotter, industry veteran for over 40 years in Australia and Asia, Former Starwood VP and MD for South Asia.


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