Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2000
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Executive Assistant Manager, The Regent Jakarta (formerly a Four Seasons hotel)
- Four Seasons Resorts Lanai; Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa; Four Seasons Hotel Newport Beach (formerly a Four Seasons hotel); The Regent Jakarta (formerly a Four Seasons hotel); Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa, Bali; InterContinental Dubai; Hilton Brussels; Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, Brussels
- Deinze, Belgium
- Bachelor degree, Hotel Management, Hoger Technisch Instituut, Bruges, Belgium; Postgraduate degree, Public Relations and Media Management, HIBO Ghent, Bruges, Belgium
- English, French, Dutch, Flemish, basic German and a bit of Bahasa Indonesia
After nearly ten years leading a pair of Four Seasons resorts on an unspoiled island in the middle of the Pacific, Tom Roelens is now General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur in one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas of Southeast Asia. The change suits him just fine. “The last time I was here over a decade ago, the city had four million people and the energy was a little laid back,” he recalls. “Now there are seven million people and there’s a new vibrancy – it’s very international with lots of luxury brands opening right near our location. It’s all in anticipation of more good things to come.”
That new vibrancy has resulted in a lot of competition as well. Roelens isn’t fazed, pointing to intimate size – “209 guest rooms is typical for Four Seasons, but very small for this market” – renowned intuitive service – “the likes of which I have not seen elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur” – and the company’s largest-ever residential project – with 242 Four Seasons Private Residences and 27 apartments serviced by Four Seasons team members – among differentiators that set the property apart. He is focused, he says, on instilling his team with confidence that they can go way above and beyond what is offered by other hotels. “That’s the difference for us.”
There are many other pieces that create a desirable hotel destination for locals and international travellers of all stripes. The Hotel’s design, says Roelens, is “absolutely stunning,” and the location is “the best in the city by far,” with direct connection to Kuala Lumpur City Center in the heart of the Golden Triangle neighbourhood. If all that weren’t enough, the property is housed the second tallest building in Malaysia and is adjacent to first tallest, the Petronas Towers.
When it comes to leadership, Roelens believes strongly in pushing boundaries and setting new bars “not by doing things differently, but by doing different things.” Similarly, rather than think outside the box, he prefers to approach conundrums as if there is no box at all.
Meanwhile, wherever the posting, Roelens strives to immerse himself in local culture, the better to connect with his team, get them excited about the company’s standards, and inspire them to deliver the service guests expect. At his previous turn on the island of Lanai in Hawaii, for instance, where he oversaw everything from a shooting range to a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and dedicated airport lounge as part of managing two resorts, Roelens took up outrigger canoeing. “I used to paddle on the Pacific at 4:30 in morning,” he recalls with a laugh. “We’re very reliant upon local talent, and the best way to lead them is by understanding what they appreciate and how they behave.”
Born and raised in Flemish Belgium, Roelens longed for exploration from an early age, thrilled by tales from his grandfather who spent time in the Belgian Congo and brought back masks and other souvenirs to illustrate his exploits. Roelens’ mother was adventurous in the kitchen, dazzling her son with bold flavours and bolder ingredients. “She was quite the culinary queen, always cooking us things that other families didn’t normally eat. I was the only child around who had a taste for veal sweetbreads.”
Though his parents were less-than enthusiastic when he announced he was considering a career in hospitality, Roelens made a go of it anyway, first as a pot scrubber, then at hotel school. Early assignments took him to Dubai, Bali and Jakarta, where exposure to other cultures inspired a desire for more. These days he globetrots as opportunities allow, often with his wife, a Beijing-born consultant whose “hunger for the unknown” rivals his own and whose passport is even more crowded. “We’re the types of travellers who are always in the restaurants where the locals eat. Right now, I’m probably up to 60 countries; Sara has definitely visited more.”
Four Seasons once had another property in Kuala Lumpur, which welcomed guests under the Regent flag until just after the turn of the millennium. “Our company’s service culture left a positive impression. There is a heightened awareness that Four Seasons has returned and that the new Hotel is an asset to the city on many different levels.” The local elite in particular is familiar with the Four Seasons brand and desirous of the beautiful venues the Hotel offers for dining, weddings and social occasions.
Roelens sees Kuala Lumpur and the company’s other Malaysian address, Four Seasons Resort Langkawi, offering “a Four Seasons Malaysian experience focused on our service.” Taken together, it creates a brilliant draw for guests arriving from across Southeast Asia and the continent beyond. “It’s really a great opportunity for us, especially with international leisure travellers.”
The paradise and pace he experienced in Hawaii may be far behind, but Roelens is right where he wants to be. “As a company, we’re growing substantially and being part of that is really exciting,” he says. “This is a new day for me, and I’m enjoying the experience of opening yet another hotel tremendously.”