Voices: Hamish Cook – The joys and challenges of an international career

As current Head of Group Food Services at ISS, Hamish Cook can reflect upon an international career with frank insight and open reflection. His career has taken him from Australia to the UK and he is now based in Copenhagen at the global offices of ISS, a leading workplace experience and facility management company with 350,000+ employees based in over 30 countries, serving more than 40,000 customers per day.

His early career saw a range of hospitality experiences ranging from delivering demanding high-end service in international ski resorts, the challenges of forced responsibility as an inexperienced duty manager and a creative era as a French pastry cook. He clearly understands the dilemma often experienced by young people straight out of university, grappling with career decisions and direction. He insightfully suggests the issue for him, and many other hospitality workers, is that the initial driver for a hospitality career is the creativity of the field which can often become replaced with an academic, managerial focus, as a career progresses. He also clearly empathises with young graduate managers who must grapple with the responsibility of sometimes managing more worldly experienced team members and the diplomacy often required which may clearly be beyond a new manager’s experience.

When asked about the current industry, Hamish does not believe the industry has changed greatly from when he started but he does admit that, due to technological advancement, response time to customer feedback is vastly reduced and expectations are much higher in a competitive industry. He does, however, champion the hospitality industry as an environment of opportunity for young people looking to make a career mark. He believes it is not an industry for the faint of heart and he implores young people to back themselves and their ideas. He affirms it is the risk taker who will be at the forefront of innovation in such a fast-paced industry. In his experience, young people have been too strongly conditioned to defer their judgement or innovative ideas to established management. He is not a supporter of micromanaging young staff, and he believes his career benefited most from those mentors and managers who allowed his individual approach to problem solving to develop, that truly furthered his experience and career.

Hamish would cite his move from Australia to work in the UK as monumental in his career trajectory. He openly reflects on how unprepared he was for cultural differences between countries and mentions his political naivete at the time. He does believe ‘taking the leap’ to live and work outside of your comfort zone ultimately delivers so much to your career. He comments the dynamism and culture of an international team is a truly inspirational experience. He furthers this point by highlighting that he believes understanding perspectives and attitudes within a team are vital for real success and by exploring the different views around a story, proposal or contract only leads to greater engagement from all parties, and ultimately the best outcome.

Hamish returned to education to complete his MBA, which he advocates is a valuable enhancement to his wide experience in the hospitality industry. He mentions that by obtaining his MBA he was able to critically appraise strategies and concepts and explore diversity of thought on relevant issues. Hamish additionally mentions he is an active mentor in university programs in the UK and Denmark today and firmly believes this association benefits him as much as those he oversees. As a true ambassador and advocate for the hospitality industry he sees this role as a vital contribution to an industry that has afforded him a dynamic career and international lifestyle.

Written by Lexie Cook, EP Business in Hospitality