Interview WITH MIEKE VELDHUIS, CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER, THE STUDENT HOTEL, FOR THE INDEPENDENT HOTEL SHOW AMSTERDAM.
Mieke Veldhuis will be speaking at the Hotel Vision Stage, in partnership with Amadeus, designed by Madelon Design, during the Independent Hotel Show on 18 March at RAI Amsterdam. In a panel discussion with hotel sector peers, Mieke will be sharing her thoughts and knowledge on employer branding and how bringing hotels onto the market boosts your career.
'If the values of an organisation are crystal clear and you are working and communicating from a place of authenticity, the people who will be attracted by it will be the ones who want to grow with you."
The Head Office of The Student Hotel is located in Amsterdam-Noord, in a cool-looking industrial building with large, transparent rolling shutters that are open in fine weather. It's an attractive work space with a view over the IJ. As we take our first step across the threshold we can already sense the "student spirit" that we remember from the hotels. It is in this setting that we meet Mieke Veldhuis. Mieke has both entrepreneurial spirit and student spirit. Twenty years' experience of travelling around the world for the Bugaboo mobility brand and staying in hotels has made her a hospitality expert. But that is not her remit at The Student Hotel (TSH). Mieke has been Chief People Officer here for six months.
Mieke tells us that she had been looking for a new job that involved an young, international, informal and dynamic team. Preferably in an organisation driven by culture and purpose and active in a sector other than that of her previous job. No less important: it had to be an environment where she could learn and continue to learn. And, oh yeah, and preferably only working with nice people. It is apparent that Mieke hasn't accidentally arrived at this place. This is made clear to us when she mentions, in passing, her interesting views on synchronicity. Or more specifically: meaningful coincidences - occasions when external and internal events that have no causal relationship, coincide in a meaningful way. "Things" don't just happen in life, so it is also not a coincidence that Mieke is now responsible for people spirit at The Student Hotel organisation.
"Your narrative and your brand values have to be right."
The Student Hotel is a fast-growing, international organisation with ambition. In order to achieve this growth, there is a clear need for people who want to help build this entrepreneurial spirit. The term "employer branding" is mentioned. We arrive at the conclusion that a textbook branding approach is not what Mieke is pursuing. She mentions a book that inspired her enormously: 'Marketing is Useless and Authenticity is Magnetising', by Joyce Meuzelaar. "This statement is, in my opinion, the key. If the values of an organisation are crystal clear and you are working and communicating from a place of authenticity, the people who will be attracted by it will be the ones who want to grow with you. Very simply: your narrative must ring true, and the same applies for the values that we have defined for The Student Hotel - both for guests and for employees", says Mieke.
"When I arrived here, the mission, vision and values were super clear; very strong and recognisable, but they were set out from the point of view of the guest experience. That's not unusual because TSH founder and CEO Charlie MacGregor conducts operations through the eyes of the guest, driven by a 9+ guest experience. In the TSH universe, the guest is the North Star. My vision is, however, is that our employees are the ones who 'take care' that guests actually live out and enjoy the TSH experience. I took a second, closer look at the previously defined brand values and rationalised them from an employee's perspective. I came to the conclusion that being 'open, entrepreneurial, fun, curious and unfinished' still suited our target group, guests with the 'student spirit'. But I realised that the same values should also explicitly apply to our employees. As management team we concluded, however, that essentially only one thing was missing: 'caring for'. There is caring for the guest, caring for the employees and caring for the world in which we live and operate. These are the values that we have translated into the tagline: ‘We are conscious’. The 6 values are now fully in line with the DNA of the organisation and are consistently applied in everything we do. They come from the heart and guide who were are for our guests and for our (future) employees."
Mieke is very enthusiastic about her new workplace. She experiences TSH as a diverse and dynamic company with an interesting mix of activities across the entire value chain. Scouting locations, property development, interior design, branding - which is not to forget, of course, hard-core hospitality: the operation of hotels, restaurants and co-working spaces.
Loads of strategically interesting topics, and all of them under just one roof. "In my view, this mix of disciplines makes us a great example of 'broad entrepreneurship' and therefore a very attractive employer."
"In our ambition and growth strategy we have to stay alert so we do not lose track of what the power of our initial idea was. The essence of TSH is always the student, who brings life to the hotel. We select teams for opening new locations very carefully. We do this be giving people a healthy dose of the TSH experience and linking with new talents. The duos who open the hotel always complement each other. The general manager and the assistant manager are matched on the basis of assessments. The entire hotel and F&B team are supplemented with 'connectors' (who ensure connections and interactions between different guests, co-workers and locals). They start at least one month prior to the opening of a new location. They work together intensively with a diverse opening team towards the opening event. During this time, we train our own team intensively in guest experience values. The learning process goes on continually. We remain 'unfinished'. Every opening and every training is evaluated and further improved. Things can always be improved. That is 'the student spirit'."
"What appeals to people about TSH is the international, dynamic, young, informal environment in which there is a lot of room for growth and development. And last but not least, the focus on purpose [authentieke kracht, vanuit het hart ondernemen, duurzaamheid, sociaal betrokken]. Our 'living the brand days' are a unique example of this", says Mieke. "Every employee gets three extra days of leave, in addition to regular holiday leave. They can do what they like with it, for example, volunteer work, caring for your mother-in-law, a museum visit, or a hangover after one of our epic parties. Whatever, it can be anything, as long as the day generates some energy. And finally, there is the connection with 'Movement on the Ground'. Contributions, in whatever form they take, to the foundation co-founded by Charlie, and whose offices are in the same building as The Student Hotel, offer a unique opportunity to share purpose and impact with all TSH's employees."
SEVERS+JANSEN, The Hospitality Studio
Mark Severs + Kim Jansen