This is a English translation of the article originally published in GQ Spain on November 19, 2015, titled “Existe una universidad en la que instruyen a los caballeros del siglo XXI” by F. Javier Virela
Closer than we think, in this case, Marbella, there is a school where you step in as a kid and in little time you become a true gentleman (or lady, because it is coed). Specifically, Les Roches International School of Hotel Management trains and educates managers of the future. It may seem simple to run a hotel, “but to correct a poorly made bed, recognize the incorrect implementation of a dish in the kitchen or the wrong cleaning of a guest room, you will have had to have done it yourself from the beginning to truly know what you’re talking about,” says Carlos Diez de la Lastra, CEO of Les Roches Marbella.
This is not just any college; it belongs to the elite group of Laureate International Universities, a multinational organization and world leader in higher education. This means the university’s standards are held up to a status of excellence. It is no coincidence that many directors of the world’s finest hotels have started out in its international branches of Switzerland, Marbella or China.
To check what they promise, turning teens into first class professionals, the GQ team spent a day at this university. And this is what happened.
Arriving at Les Roches, we didn’t find students in jeans, striped college style jumpers and notebooks lined with images of their idols. Instead, we say dark executive suits hurriedly walking through the corridors, and it was difficult to identify our staff host among so neatly dressed students. The business suit is the specific school uniform and extravagant concessions are not allowed.
Mano Soler, Director of Operations and Student Services (also an alumnus of Les Roches) is our first guide around the campus. He explains to us that the first step to studying at Les Roches starts with meeting their English requirements. “They must have completed secondary education and have an English TOEFL proficiency of not less than 500 points, since all classes are taught in English,” Soler said. More than 68 nationalities live within the walls of this campus, so the language of Shakespeare here becomes a much-needed tool. “Also, with the application each candidate must submit a letter of intention and pass a personal interview”.
“There are universities that feel that success is determined by the number of students they have enrolled, while there are others whose value rests in the quality and type of student. We think that prestige is not to put up admissions barriers, but how the students leave our school when they graduate, “says Carlos Diez de la Lastra, CEO of Les Roches Marbella. “Obviously we want to work with excellent students with a minimum grade of 9, but a rating is neither the only nor the most important criterion for determining that someone will be a good professional. This is a people to people industry, not just minds are needed. We also need broad skills for personal relationships and team management abilities, and that is not determined solely by a grade “.
Therefore, the academic scores you have achieved so far are of secondary concern, while your primary weapons are the English language and a large capacity for motivation, as Diez de la Lastra explains: “Our main concern is that when one of our students goes into the world with his or her Les Roches degree, employers will associate their professional values with the prestige surrounding the brand. This is not a university to use simply to land personal interviews with prospective employers. We work to ensure that these young men and women can demonstrate to employers that they also have the basic raw materials and real experience that our training provides and it is our responsibility to ensure that each of them has the qualifications that holding a Les Roches degree implies to the hospitality industry.”
There is no possibility to bypass the entrance requirements to this college. Motivation, English and the ability to deal with people has to be part of your makeup. “The ultimate goal is not only to provide students with higher education, but also to help them reach maturity as professionals,” says Soler.
We have passed the first phase. Now on to the hard part: the course.
ON THE BATTLEFIELD
“Running a hotel is more complex than it seems, and has a twofold component that few people know: analysis of communication, management skills and leadership are important factors”, specifies the director of Les Roches Marbella. There must be a balance between good public relations and perfect professionalism.
To achieve this, a strict discipline applies that somehow recalls those years in the military. The first duty is to live on a multi-cultural campus. It is not a whim, according to Soler: “more than 68 nationalities gather at the university and the relations between them and their different ways of looking at life helps students to relate to the multiculturalism that awaits them in the international hotel and hospitality industry.”
Not only that, while living on campus they are required to make their beds and pick up their rooms each morning – if not the cleaners will not go into their rooms and they could be reprimanded. They also must pay attention to the curfew and it is best that you avoid substance because random drug testing is performed and routinely. Although, for first year students, the most feared test of all is the roll call first thing in the morning. All students should be present and ready with their workweek uniforms (dark suit for lecture classes and work uniforms specific to their practical classes of service or rooms division) in perfect condition and properly ironed. “There are many who try the typical trick of ironing only the front of the shirt and covering the rest with a suit jacket, or even wear the shirt from the day before because they have forgotten to prepare a clean one. What many students soon learn that they make us remove our jackets and inspect our collars. This means that our image has to be impeccable.” No detail in the dress code gets away from Hassan Djeebet, Food & Beverage Manager and Program Manager of practical classes. Sergio Rodrigo de Belder, one of the students, corroborates Mr. Djeebet’s attention to detail: “I remember for my first roll call I sweated a lot and I ironed my shirt three times! It was unlike anything I had experienced before.”
Once cleared of the dress code, the first semester is alternated every other week, between practical training courses and theoretical courses. “The academic students are the customers of those in practical training, and the next week will be the opposite. Thus respect among students is guaranteed, because sooner or later one will be in the place of the other, “says Mano Soler, Director of Operations and Services Student Services.
Catering, cleaning, cooking, customer service are all jobs you can imagine in a hotel and they are represented in Les Roches’ practical classes and all of which are performed by the students themselves during the first semester: “From taking out the trash and managing teams to creating advanced menus and knowing which products are best used for cleaning specific areas of a guest’s room. There is no better way to learn how things are done then by doing them yourself“, says Carlos Diez de la Lastra. Therefore, it is curious yet understandable that many of the lectures are taught in demo rooms where a typical hotel workspace is reproduced.
But watch out, “this is not a culinary arts school, nor a cocktail or cleaning school”, specifies Soler. He goes on to say that “obviously students are instructed to perform certain practices in acquiring each of the skills outlined in the course, but our goal is really to develop skills to work together, to know how to lead a team, control punctuality and quality, manage stress among employees, etc. These are the ‘hidden’ subjects that students learn in the development of the practical classes.”
WHAT DO THE STUDENTS HAVE TO SAY?
The institutional part we know, but what do the young people who join this college think? It is not a normal college, so you must be very sure you want to face such levels of demand.
“It definitely doesn’t have the feel of a normal college and it is nothing like what you would expect from a typical college experience,” says Sergio Rodrigo de Belder, a student at Les Roches. “You meet people from other cultures and countries that you had never imagined ever meeting before. Although, in the end we are all looking for the same: to make friends and not feel alone. Each of us uses different ways to achieve this purpose. The Chinese and Russians, for example, are more closed, while the Italians are more like us Spanish. This is a college experience that will serve you in the future to manage the different cultures passing through any hotel.”
“Respect, determination and poise” are the values carried in the pocket of his finely pressed suit jacket, and this comes from someone who once had his ear pierced. “I understood the importance of being in the public eye. It is not only important to be an open person, you have to know how to present yourself and how to treat others properly. The concentration level that you require is so high that dwelling on every detail is something that ends up coming out of you automatically “. So much so, that “when I go with my family to a restaurant, I can not help but notice what the staff is doing and evaluate their work, sometimes unworthy of the standards I expect”.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
It is unquestionable that the years you spend in Les Roches will stay with you always. This can be seen in Javier Mendizabal, a Les Roches Marbella alumnus and current Resident Manager of Hotel Gran Melia Don Pepe in Marbella. His way of greeting, addressing questions convey a relaxed and confident composure. His well-ironed shirt, tie knot and perfect combination of dark blue jacket and gray slim-fit trousers display an impeccable image and a sophisticated treatment that is underscored by training at this school.
“When you leave here you have no more roll calls or revisions, the standards you adhere to are set by you only and it is up to each individual to take those standards to their minimum or maximum value. Of course, this depends on the expectations you have in life. Considering that the image of a hotel and its team is an important part of its success these standards are crucial, “he explains.
Javier has worked his way through major hotels and has held high responsibility positions: Sales Manager at Melia Castilla, one of the best in Europe; Deputy Director in Meliá White House in London and currently Resident Manager at the Gran Melia Don Pepe are just some of the lines on his resume. “In the end you adopt a very politically correct, very polite, and helpful attitude in management level positions. At home your family may ask you to set the table and prepare them dinner, but these are things you have to enjoy naturally for them to work. My partner, for example, thinks its funny to watch me setting up everything so easily and quickly for dinner, “he says amid laughter. “Of course, on a personal level you have to relax, if you don’t it seems you live in a hotel. And, on the other hand, as a professional you can’t be too serious either, once in a while you have to go down for coffee with the chef, tell a few jokes with the staff and laugh. Being personable helps you connect with your team. ”
Being a manager is not as simple as it seems, and now is when we understand the college’s similitude to military training during the first semester. All this is done to prepare them to monitor, coordinate and control the operations of a hotel, adhere to the hotel’s standards of excellence, service to customers, and solving possible problems for them, while also developing business projects to improve the quality, manage budgets and help grow the business. All of this can lead up to twelve hour work days in order to handle these tasks.
“It’s much more varied than it looks and with a work load that sometimes drive you crazy,” says Mendizabal. “You learn to work with very different people and deal with people from different cultures. For example, the Mediterranean culture is very loving and open, but at the same time, more aggressive and more direct. The British do not complain so much directly, but after their stay they could very well send a letter requesting compensation for something they think to be wrong. Either way, the job is always fun”.
Beyond everything you learn in theoretical or case study and practical classes, what we really noticed at the end of our day at Les Roches was that each person who guided us on a tour of the campus or participated in an interview made us feel extremely comfortable and that comes as standard at Les Roches. This standard can be molded, but not taught. “Everyone wants to be surprised, that’s what makes the difference and we work to achieve that“, highlights Carlos Diez de la Lastra, director of the college, as he says goodbye. And, of course, they have definitely managed to surprise us.