It has been said that business is not unlike war. So how does that notion sit with an ex-Marine turned businessman with almost 30 years of experience? How accurate is that? Is the field of business as brutal as the field of battle?
This issue’s Thoughts of Gentlemen column presents Mr. Walt Power, a businessman whose career began in the military. The former US Marine Corps major and helicopter pilot served in the first UN Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, Lebanon in 1982, only to see a career pivot to become a pioneer of Asian gaming, and ultimately a seasoned CEO in casinos around Asia. Power was behind the first “American style” casino project in Macau, which went on to become the biggest gaming center in the world.
Arriving for his interview with BusinessWomen Magazine in a sharp suit and his upright, military gait well and truly intact, the now CEO of The Grand Ho Tram Resort & Casino still asserts himself with the poise and presence of a military man. He’s a man who leaves an impression in his wake – composed and with a powerful presence echoed in his very surname – his disciplined posture and measured attitude, to the careful attention paid to our every question and confident answers to each.
Greetings Walt Power! Can we start by asking how you were lured away from the largest gaming market in the world to Vietnam to become the CEO of The Grand Ho Tram Resort & Casino?
Before heading to Vietnam, I had spent 18 years in Macau’s casino industry. I always strive to make an impact, drive change, and raise the standards of my industry everywhere I go, so I accepted the opportunity to move to Vietnam without hesitation. I had visited Vietnam previously, but this is the first time I have settled here. I am still new and learning the nation and its culture, but it is clear to see how vast the opportunity is for the hospitality and casino industries, and I am hopeful that my experience can make a substantial contribution to that growth here. I am truly grateful to be part of such a vibrant market which is so full of potential that even its own citizens may not realize how quickly that potential will be actualized in the near future.
What do you endeavor to contribute to The Grand Ho Tram Resort & Casino under your management?
No matter what industry or market you are in, experience is critical. And from my experience, there are three principles to management. First is to be curious. I always try to maintain an eager attitude towards exploration and discovery in whatever I do. This allows me to get a better grasp of how every aspect of the operation fits into solving the overall puzzle of the enterprise. Next is to always be a skeptic. When it comes to any issue, I want to view it from several vantage points, and come up with as many relevant options as possible from which the optimal solution might be found. And finally, I believe in the scientific method.
A solution or a strategy must always be determined based on detailed statistical and scientific reasoning, and not on personal opinion. And maybe most importantly, I also expect to develop the local team to a world class standard. All elite organizations have two things in common. They recruit the best candidates, and they train them better than their competitors. I’d like to combine these tactics with the lessons I’ve learned in over 30 years running hotels and casinos, and contribute in some small way to the development of the Vietnamese hospitality industry.
So then how do Walt Power plan to prepare the complex for the current tourism trend?
Even the best marketing strategy can only get customers to make their first purchase. But if they are to choose a return a second time, or a third, the quality of the product, the customer service, and the overall guest experience must be evident and must be consistent. In this regard, we are proud that The Grand Ho Tram is receiving a great deal of recent positive feedback from our guests for the experience on every visit. We are also fortunate that we can attack multiple market segments simultaneously. In addition to individual travelers and family holiday makers, we are fortunate that the resort’s location for the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) sector, as well as our world class golf course, produces many reasons to visit.
Covid-19 is a lengthy voyage with no end in sight at present, so as captain of the corporate ship, how do Walt Power prepare yourself in the face of such an unpredictable business climate?
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, I still believe any organization can still embrace a strategy of constant improvement. That being said, any business agenda must be subservient to the emphasis on the safety of our team and our guests. It is the same prioritization for people’s well-being that has seen the government of Vietnam be so successful in containing and controlling the disease. The Vietnam National Steering Committee has received international praise for being one of the most effective disease prevention and control models. And in the midst of the recent outbreak, regarding The Grand Ho Tram’s operations, I have given instructions to the entire body of staff to adhere strictly to the Committee’s directives and even go beyond it. As long as we have a healthy body, we can implement just about any strategy.
As a former US Marine Corps Major and pilot, do Walt Power employ a different management style in business, or is it influenced by your military past?
Even now, every morning when my feet touch the floor, I still consider myself a Marine Corps officer. And if I have retained anything from my years in the military, it would be the critical importance of integrity, character and a sense of sacrifice for the betterment of the team. I have found this viewpoint to be quite rare in the field of business, but I make it central to my management style. If somebody asks me whether I needed to change anything going from the military to the business environment, the answer is definitely no.
CEO the grand hồ tràm resort & casino walt powerAfter decades of working, no matter where the work is, my philosophy always lies in one word, “leadership”. And no matter where I am in the ladder of an organization, I always believe that grooming and development the staff is the most important role as a leader.
In addition to the qualities mentioned above, do Walt Power think a leader needs any special method to ensure smooth operations for their organization?
In my opinion, great things can only be accomplished by great teams. Very often a leader is the only one interviewed about a company’s results, when in fact it was literally hundreds of people who contributed to that success. When speaking with young leaders, I often ask them when was the last time they praised their employees or took the blame for the whole team. If they can answer that in the affirmative, then they are a good leader. Being a leader may not require any special qualities, but you must develop a protective instinct and a constant gratitude towards your team.
Then what is the way for a leader to reinforce their team and even their own confidence in this turbulent period?
A leader should be able to inspire others through the stories and experiences they have acquired. In my studies of history, it is apparent to me that famous American presidents like George Washington or Franklin D. Roosevelt earned their reputation for remaining collected under duress. I always bear this in mind and share it with others. Crisis is an inevitable part of business, pandemic or not; but just remind yourself that this is also a chance to prove your worth. Many of my friends in Macau tell me how unfortunate I was to begin my new role in Vietnam during the time of a pandemic. But I believe just the opposite, that I was actually lucky to arrive when I did, and was fortunate to be able to help the organization navigate through these turbulent times.
People often say, “business is like war”, but as someone who has been through both of these environments, do you agree with this notion?
I have heard this many times, but I do not believe that it is true. A war is a struggle of life and death where normally only one side prevails. In business many companies in the same industry can excel simultaneously. A military strategist once said that war is politics by other means. In reality, one not only has to win the war, but win the peace. Take the gaming market in Vietnam. If all of the large resorts at Ho Tram, Phu Quoc and Hoi An succeed? It will just spread our influence and attract more tourists to Vietnam from throughout Asia. The sum of the successes will be greater than its individual parts.
It has been a rough year for everyone, so what mindset do you think people should have in their life and work at the moment?
My advice, in this period or any other, is the same. I use this analogy: there are three types of people in society: the “wolf”, the “sheep” and the “shepherd dog”. I choose to live and work like a shepherd dog. My responsibility is to protect those around me. A person’s success is not determined by their creativity, hard work or diligence, but, for me, revolves around two things, being lucky, and having someone reach out to you with a helping hand when you needed it. I am fortunate that at this stage of my career, I am often able to lend a helping hand.
Walt Power have spoken quite a lot about “fortune” and “composure”, but is there still room for, “failure”?
I encounter failure on a daily basis (laughs). As a leader, you are tasked with making the most difficult decisions, those decisions where you are correct 51% of the time, and wrong 49% of the time. For if you are making decisions where you are correct the vast majority of the time, then those decisions should probably have been made by one your subordinates.
As a senior business manager, what do you think about women’s capacity in their work?
Since we’re speaking about capacity, I’m more interested in a person’s talent rather than their gender. A successful organization, in my opinion, is one that recognizes and develops talented employees. I have recently promoted or hired three very senior executives. All three were very talented. All three were women. A talent is a talent, there’s no need for any further distinction or judgment.
Thank you for sharing!
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Text: JENNI VÕ, HỒNG ĐẶNG | Translated by HÒA TÔN | Creative Director: HIEPLEDUC | Photo: THẠC TRƯỜNG GIANG | Graphic Designer: HOÀNG KHANG