A 17-YEAR-OLD Bernold Schroeder was enticed into joining the hospitality industry after watching an American drama about hoteliers and their flashy cars, beautiful wives and luxury houses.
Three decades later, the German, who took over as chief executive of Pan Pacific Hotels Group on Jan 2, knows that managing hotels is not that cushy.
"The show inspired me then because I didn't know anything," said Mr Schroeder, now 47, in his first media interview since the appointment.
But he never regretted entering the industry. His goal, apart from expanding the group's portfolio in the region, is to encourage more locals to work in hotels and embrace what he calls the "dishwasher to CEO" dream.
"The great thing about the hotel industry is that anyone can make a career (out of it). It's not academic-oriented," he said.
He recounted his father's reaction when he wanted to go into the hotel business. His father owned an interior architecture firm and had assumed that he would take over one day. On learning his plans to enter the hotel industry, his father called up the German chambers of commerce to find out more.
"The chairman told my father, 'Never, ever allow your son to go into the hotel industry. It's where people who can't find a job end up.'
"But I have great parents. They said if that was my dream, they would support me."
At 20, he set off for Hong Kong on his own to work as a corporate management trainee with Holiday Inn.
There, he lived out of two suitcases in a tiny shoebox apartment at the shoddy Chungking Mansions - the cheapest accommodation available.
Every Sunday, his day off, he would dress to the nines and make his way to the lobby of a "nice" hotel such as the Intercontinental or the Mandarin Oriental.
There, he would watch how staff served the guests while he ordered a pot of tea - the constant hot water refills meant it could last him a few hours - and read the stacks of newspapers available for free.
Those early days of observing how hotels operate paid off.
Before his latest appointment, he oversaw some 120 hotels as CEO of China's largest star-rated hotel group, Jin Jiang International Hotel Management. He also spent 14 years in senior management positions with Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts.
Mr Schroeder, who is married with a 12-year-old son, made the switch to Pan Pacific because he saw its potential for growth in Singapore.
The Singapore Tourism Board's forecast of slower growth in visitor arrivals and spending over the next decade does not worry him.
"What you have here is very steady growth even in relatively difficult times," he said.
Moreover, demand for hotel rooms is expected to outstrip supply by 2016, he noted.
He also expects Singapore to reap the benefits as the Chinese market grows and matures. Outbound tourists from China are expected to double in number to 200 million a year by 2020.
For now, his immediate priority is to manage and improve the branding of the hotels in Singapore and the region.
"Many people do not know that Pan Pacific is owned by a Singapore company, or that Pan Pacific and ParkRoyal are under one group," he said. "It's an advantage, so we should speak about it."