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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | May 27, 2011

Amanda  HyndmanOver the years,M&C has offered up several articles with tips and strategies for meeting planners eager to earn a seat at the exclusive executive table. So naturally, a few weeks ago when our editor in chief, Lori Cioffi, mentioned she had met one of only two women general managers for luxury Asian hotel chain Mandarin Oriental at a luncheon, my interest was immediately piqued. Even though the ranks of female general managers have been growing over the last 10 to 15 years, they still are a relatively small number in what is, and has traditionally been, a very male-dominated field.

How did Amanda Hyndman (right), general manager of the Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C. (and a transplant from the south coast of England), crack the glass ceiling? (Note that Mandarin's other female general manager, Susanne Hatje, also is in the U.S., at the chain's Boston property.) In this candid interview, Hyndman talks about her career path and the challenge of running one of the country's foremost luxury hotels in a competitive group market. Also, she offers her perspective on a male-dominated field and advice for women looking to join her at the top.

Q. What drew you to the hotel business?
A. When I was 17, I had my heart set on going into diplomatic service. I imagined exciting cocktail parties in exotic places. I asked my parents if I could go off to France that summer to study, but they thought I should get a part-time job instead, and I landed a job at a small café washing dishes. I immediately fell in love and thought, I want a career in this business, even though I didn't really know what the business was. I was also worried that my parents wouldn't understand what that business was either.

Q. So how did you get started on your journey?
A. Well, when I graduated from school at age 18, I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, to go to hotel school at the University of Strathclyde. My first role in the university's graduate-trainee scheme was as a room attendant at the Copthorne in Aberdeen, Scotland. From the moment I joined, my ambition was to become general manager.

Mandarin Oriental Washington, D.C.Q. When did you land your first general manager job?
A. At that Copthorne. In 1992, at 28, I became the hotel's general manager. It was very thrilling. I didn't know any female general managers, so it wasn't that I was emulating a role model. I just knew that that was the job I wanted, and I worked hard and pursued it and achieved it. From there I went on to become the general manager of Le Méridien Waldorf in London. While there, I oversaw the multimillion-dollar renovation that transformed it into the Waldorf Hotel London. It was really exhausting. Long, long hours and lots of challenges, but I stayed on through the whole thing, because I simply did not want anyone else to take the glory for the transformation of that hotel! I was there for six years.

Q. It's a long way from Aberdeen to Washington, D.C. How did you end up at Mandarin Oriental?
A. Before I joined Mandarin, I had been the general manager at The Excelsior in Hong Kong for three years. It's a beautiful 900-room property right on Victoria Harbour. I heard about the Mandarin opening, applied and moved to D.C.

Q. How different is it being a GM in Asia vs. being a GM in the U.S. capital?
A. I think you adjust your leadership styles. In Asia, people are not as direct and outspoken as they are here in the U.S. If you have to reprimand an employee over there, it is very important that you give them the opportunity to save face. Plus, we tend to have a much larger transitory staff in the West; in Hong Kong, as in much of Asia, a job in the hotel is seen as a job for life, so there is tremendous loyalty.

Q. What's your typical day like?
A. We have a lot of international delegates and lots of high-profile events. Our guests have very high expectations because of the Mandarin brand. I am involved from the very beginning with large events. I conduct several site inspections a day and attend many meet-and-greets, which are considered mandatory for my job. I know those events represent my opportunity to help win the the business for my hotel, so I always make a point of greeting clients by name and thanking them for considering us.

Q. Many meeting planners are women. Are they surprised to discover the GM is a woman?
A. Sometimes, but in a good way I hope. I think when I say, 'We would love to host your program and, by the way, I live in the hotel,' that means something to the client  --  that I am going to be around 24 hours a day. People are reassured by that. And that is what differentiates group business from the leisure traveler. Group business is very important to us. It represents 55 percent of my hotel's business.

Q. What advice do you have for women chasing that top job?
A. Find a decent company. I have known people who have worked hard for years and gotten nowhere. I was fortunate enough to work at places where people were willing to give me a chance. Find a mentor who can give you great, constructive criticism. Be energetic and always remain positive. And above all else, develop your leadership skills. The sky is the limit, but if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.