Lessons from the MBA in Hospitality: The key to successful innovation

Interview with Tony Chisholm, Area General Manager South Vietnam & GM Pullman Saigon Centre for AccorHotels, who is currently finishing Glion’s MBA in Hospitality online.


Tony Chisolm was no stranger to hospitality innovation and strategy. During the ten years since he first became a GM for AccorHotels, Tony had overseen the opening of two hotels in Asia. But he wanted to take on even bigger challenges—so when he got the chance to enroll in Glion’s MBA in Hospitality online, he embraced the opportunity to gain a higher qualification that would support his years of experience.


As Tony prepares to launch an unconventional new restaurant called “Mad Cow” at the Pullman Saigon Centre, he reflected on how the MBA in Hospitality and Service Industries Management has transformed the way he works. The program has given him essential tools for his role as Area Manager for AccorHotels in South Vietnam, and has helped him improve upon his “Innovate or die” philosophy.


“Seeing is believing, and I saw Glion’s MBA transform my colleague.”


Tony first had the opportunity to begin the Glion MBA in 2012, but at that time he was too consumed with work. Over the years that followed, he observed the impact the program had on one of the VPs for AccorHotels at the time, and this sparked his interest.


“I’d worked with him for years, but when he started on this MBA, I saw that it affected him positively,” Tony said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is really changing and taking things to the next level.’ He was already a VP and he did the MBA online, and it really changed the way he worked; he asked such difficult questions that he never used to ask.”


“Seeing is believing, and I saw the MBA transform my colleague,” Tony continued. “I saw how he prepared his research and his approach to deadlines; it was a totally new way of doing things.”


So when Tony had the chance to enroll in Glion’s MBA again in 2015, he took it. Since beginning the program, his colleagues have remarked on the positive impact. “People see the way I’m improving and growing in my work, and it’s nice to get that kind of feedback.”


From “Innovate or die” to “Research before you innovate, or die.”


Tony said he used to live by the motto “Innovate or die.” Now, he lives by, “Research before you innovate—or die.” Before implementing an idea, he now researches its history, the market, the competition, and more. “Then, you decide where to go next with the product and innovation,” he explained. “I feel like the MBA has given me a whole new set of tools in my work.”


Tony added that the program has given him more fortitude to challenge his team—and to “challenge myself to find the support to ensure that my decisions will be successful.”


For example, before moving to Ho Chi Minh City to start his position as GM of the Pullman Saigon Centre, Tony researched food and beverage trends with the aim of transforming a food outlet within the hotel. “I discovered that the hottest F&B trend in Ho Chi Minh was burger bars,” he said. “Based on my research, we got approval to create a pop-up burger bar in the lobby of the Hotel Pullman. It was a pretty radical thing to do in a five-star hotel. It quadrupled the revenue of that outlet, and it’s still going strong. Now we’re working on getting it a new brand identity.”


Before proposing this idea, Tony conducted research, interviewed key people, and created a presentation—steps he would not have taken before the Online MBA program. “Before, I did innovate, but I didn’t have nearly enough documenting research and data to go off of, and it would have been not enough for new investors.”

“It’s more important to have the right foundation for innovation to be successful.”


Tony’s latest project is opening a new restaurant that sounds a bit crazy—literally. The Mad Cow will be a chic steak restaurant on the rooftop of the Pullman Saigon Centre, replacing a restaurant that was failing. It sounds like a risky move to open a steakhouse in Ho Chi Minh City, where tourists might expect traditional Vietnamese cuisine. However, Tony has done the research to support this concept. The MBA course Product Development and Marketing Innovation was perfectly timed for him to apply his learning to this project.


“Innovation can be learned, but it’s more important to have the right foundation for innovation to be successful. The MBA courses teach you how to gain the reassurance that you have the right target audience, the right communications plan, and the right feedback from [market] segmentations and different ethnicities. This has helped me greatly with our latest concept.”


To pitch his idea for the Mad Cow, Tony created a presentation summarizing his market research, borrowing several slide headings from his MBA modules. He said, “Before the MBA, I might have done 20 to 25 slides—and this one was 157 slides. It went as deep as it could go. Other investment proposals had been declined for three years in a row. I believe what I presented was a compelling story. I answered all the questions before they were asked. It was validated by the AccorHotels leadership without any questions or challenge.”


“It was the perfect time for me to start an MBA in Hospitality.”


Tony climbed the hospitality leadership ladder the traditional way. He started working in food service in Auckland, New Zealand, with a goal to break into the five-star hotel scene. Armed with determination and a diploma in travel and tourism, he started working for Hyatt Hotels in 1993. He made his way up through every department, reaching the management level within five years. His career took off in 2008, when he entered his first GM role at the age of 32. This promotion led him to exotic destinations and leadership positions in the Novotel, Sofitel So, and Pullman brands of AccorHotels, working in Saigon, Singapore, Dalat, Brisbane, and Bangkok.


In 2012, AccorHotels suggested that Tony consider the Glion MBA online, so that he could go farther in the company and raise his education level. But he was opening a hotel at the time, and after that, he moved to Bangkok, where he opened two hotels at the same time. “After those projects were done, life became almost too quiet, and I felt like running just one hotel was easy,” Tony remembered.


“I had a compelling urge to pursue higher roles, like area manager, and I felt I needed the education to support my experience. I had ten years of GM’ing under my belt, but I didn’t have the degree, and I wanted to fill that void. “My colleagues who had done their MBA—and it seems like everyone these days in upper-executive management has an MBA—highly recommended getting an MBA, while those that didn’t have it were the only ones who didn’t think it was necessary.”


“In 2015, it was the perfect time for me to start an Online MBA,” Tony said. “Being just 41 when I started, I had the relevant experience and the greater framework. Earlier in my career, it might not have had the same relevance and stick-ability, and I wouldn’t have had the experience to back it. I would absolutely recommend it for executive managers at the higher stages of their career. It’s highly effective for those of us who already have the managerial and strategic experience.”


“The best thing about the structure of the Glion MBA is the flexibility.”


“A major advantage of taking the hospitality MBA program online is that you can tailor it around your life, instead of having to shape your life around it,” Tony said. He likes to complete his assignments early in the morning, then review and post them in the evening. On holidays with his family, he does his assignments on his laptop in the hotel, then joins his family at the beach. “The best thing about the structure of the Online MBA is the flexibility. With the online classroom, you can take it with you,” Tony said. “You can download your stuff, read it on the plane, and then do the assignment when you land. The key for me is the flexibility.”


“I’d definitely recommend Glion’s MBA in Hospitality.”


Glion’s MBA in International Hospitality and Service Industries Management online program was launched as the world’s first and only accredited, 100% online MBA in hospitality. The MBA is designed to give experienced, busy managers valuable tools, knowledge, and connections they need to advance their careers. First and foremost, it helps students develop a sharper set of analytical thinking and research skills so they can make better decisions and lead projects with determination and focus. Learning online, students can take lessons from the virtual classroom and apply them directly to their workplace, using new techniques and strategies to improve outcomes. They don’t have to miss out on important events at work or at home; their laptop is their classroom, and they can study anytime, anywhere.

To receive information about Glion’s MBA program, simply fill in the form here.


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