ALEXANDER Jovanovic, who studied to be a registered nurse in Australia, ended up instead working as a hotelier. But the Hyatt Regency Saujana general manager has no regrets and sees many similarities between the hotel and hospital businesses.
“There's not a lot of difference between hotels and hospitals,” he told StarBiz.
“You're accommodating them (the guests or patients), you're feeding them, and you're caring for them. The only difference is that for hospitals, they don't want to be there; but for hotels, they want to.”
The 41-year-old Australian, whose parents hailed from Yugoslavia, spent four years (1979-82) at Royal Adelaide Hospital pursuing a nursing degree (specialising in intensive and coronary care).
However, after obtaining the degree, he got sidetracked into small business management.Jovanovic ran a roadhouse – comprising a restaurant, a merchandise shop and a workshop – in Northern Territory.
It was the biggest roadhouse in Darwin at the time.
“The only reason I did this job was because I was waiting to set up a first aid office on an industrial site,” he said.
Then he got headhunted to go into the hotel industry, marking the start of a long career in the hotel line.
At Sheraton Darwin Hotel, Jovanovic had to start at the bottom.
“I went from being a manager who was running a huge organisation to carrying people's bags,” he recalled with amusement.
So what made him join the hotel industry?
“I wanted to try one more profession while I was still young – I was in my mid-20s,” he said.
He recalled the general manager of Sheraton Darwin at the time telling him: “You'll probably move up very quickly because you know how to manage people and you understand computers, but you still must start at the bottom for a short time.”
His boss' prediction did come true. “Every six to 12 months I was promoted to a higher level,” Jovanovic noted.
Jovanovic, who obtained a hotel management degree while working at Sheraton Darwin, eventually became the front office manager at the hotel, and later assumed the same position at Hyatt Regency Adelaide.
It was May 1988 when he joined the Hyatt group and he has never left it since, though he did work in many different locations, including Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei and Beijing. Jovanovic's last post before moving to Hyatt Regency Saujana, Selangor, in September last year was resident manager of Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
He does not regret the choice he made – forgoing the hospital route.
“No, I think it has been a great bal¬ance. It is not always good to come out of school and work only in one industry,” he said.
Jovanovic said he preferred the hotel line much more. “You know, the food is better; hospital food is lousy!” he quipped.
“And there's nothing worse than when you are having lunch in the hospital cafeteria and the doctors there are talking about who they're cutting up and the nurses are talk¬ing about what they have to clean up. At least with hotels we can say things like, 'This beautiful supermodel came in and I had to greet her.”
His most memorable experience in the hospitality industry took place in 1997 when he was Grand Hyatt Hong Kong resident manag¬er. It was during the Hong Kong handover from British rule to China.
“We had more heads of state, more security and more protection than you could ever imagine,” he reminisced.
“There were so many influential people who were staying with us because our hotel was located next door to the convention centre where the flag-changing ceremony for the handover occurred.
“From the security point of view, it was a bit scary because anything could happen. And security was very, very tight, it was just like an airport.
No one could just come into the hotel. You had to get everything X-rayed, and people had to be body-checked.”
It is quite a change from the fast-paced city hotel operation in Hong Kong to the resort-like environment of Hyatt Regency Saujana, but Jovanovic isn't complaining.
He said he would enjoy Malaysia because of his sporting background – he loves to run (he has participated in marathons), play tennis and mountain-bike.
Jovanovic, who owns a Harley-Davidson motorbike, said: “The open road is something I'm looking forward to, whereas in Hong Kong you're very restricted when you go riding.”
He has been working outside Australia for 10 years now. So, does he miss home?
“I suppose home is where I make home rather than where I originate from,” Jovanovic answered.
“Australia will always be there for me, but while I'm still young and not married, it's easier to integrate into different cultures and make them your home.”