The regional head shares that hiring the right people, and providing them with greater flexibility and autonomy, is how the company has tackled talent-related challenges and scaled across the region.

Paul Hadida is General Manager, APAC at SevenRooms. He joined the restaurant guest experience platform in September 2020 as General Manager of Australia, then moved to his current position a year later. In his current role, Hadida is responsible for leading the business operations, growth and expansion throughout the APAC region.

As a senior leader with expertise in SaaS and high-growth marketplaces, Hadida has more than 20 years of hospitality experience, including as an owner-operator, and a solid track record of scaling businesses for Australian companies such as Quandoo, Catch Group and Scoopon.

“Down-to-earth”, with “a can-do attitude”, is how Hadida describes himself as a leader, and he is dedicated to leading from the front and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure success. As SevenRooms is expanding its footprint in Asia markets with a strong focus on Hong Kong and Singapore, finding the right talents and leading the team in the right direction amidst these challenging times have become one of the priorities for Hadida.

In this exclusive, the regional head shares with HRO's Tracy Chan the way in which he is tackling various talent-related challenges – from building local roots, offering greater work flexibility and autonomy to people, to empowering the team to think and act out of the box.  

Q: What, in your view, are the top challenges and opportunities of leading a team to expand into Asia’s hospitality sector?

Asia is a critical focal point of expansion for SevenRooms. We identified Hong Kong as an important market because it offers abundant growth opportunities within its booming hospitality sector. It’s a privilege to be able to lead a team in Hong Kong and across the broader APAC region as we expand our presence. However, these are challenging times, especially as the pandemic continues to impact how we live, work, move, and interact with one another.

For SevenRooms, specifically, the challenge is our opportunity. Launching in a new market is exciting and humbling, but challenging at the best of times. We cannot simply replicate what has been successful elsewhere, we must expand with a team and strategy built for Hong Kong.

We need to put down roots locally by building relationships, hiring staff, and connecting with local customers, communities, and stakeholders. Doing that requires a talented team, absolute belief in our product, and our ability to use this to empower the local region. It requires hard work and commitment, but this opportunity motivates us as a company to start and scale our local presence.

Q: SevenRooms is growing throughout Asia and hiring aggressively in the region. With Hong Kong and Singapore being your two key markets, where are you finding the headcount your team needs, and what are your immediate talent plans for them?

As we've built our brand organically across the region over the last decade, the SevenRooms name continues to be synonymous with exceptional hospitality and innovative technology. The market has taken note. Outside of traditional channels for hiring, like LinkedIn, we've also seen applications from across the hospitality and tech industries as we come out of the pandemic. After two years that shook the hospitality industry to its core, we have seen life-long operators looking for new opportunities adjacent to their beloved industry, as well as tech experts searching for roles that enable them to support the industry through technology.

We are also lucky to have an incredible internal recruiting team who are sourcing talent from Hong Kong and Singapore, and peers who have given us recommendations for incredible talent. As we continue hiring for customer service, sales and support in the short term, we have plans to expand to other business functions in the near future. Our offer is working at a progressive and empowering company, alongside inspiring colleagues and a truly fantastic product.

Q: Brain drain is a real concern in Hong Kong at the moment. In this time of manpower shortage, how are you and the team preparing to manage these talent-related challenges?

Being a flexible, empathetic, people-first company, is our priority, and how we intend to overcome talent-related challenges.

We’re proud of the culture that exists at SevenRooms, and it’s imperative we maintain that even as we expand. Doing so means a wholehearted commitment to our philosophy of hiring the right people, for the right reasons.

We truly believe that work is something you do, not somewhere you go. With that in mind we offer a work from anywhere, anytime model, which means we’re not limiting opportunities to only those within a short commute of our offices.

We want to democratise opportunity and make SevenRooms work around our employees and prospective hires, not the other way around. We want to be a tech company that people in Hong Kong want to work for, whether they’re in the middle of the city or are interested in a more nomadic lifestyle while restrictions continue.

We have an optimistic viewpoint, after seeing it happen across other major cities like London and New York, that people will return to Hong Kong as restrictions ease further, and we are investing heavily in the market as they continue to do so.

Q: The pandemic has tremendously changed workplaces – what trends do you see staying and which do you see going?

The pandemic has been a period of immense reflection. More than ever, people are seeking greater flexibility and autonomy from their work. They want more control over how, where and when they work, as well as more insight and transparency into how their role is directly impacting their organisation.

This is important at SevenRooms, where we embody an inclusive and transparent approach that puts the power into our employees’ hands, versus a top-down approach where decisions are made solely by the C-suite. 

This trend of employee empowerment and meaningful work will continue to grow and SevenRooms will continue to be at the forefront of it.

Then there’s remote work. While many companies went entirely remote for the last two years, we see a more flexible future on the horizon. We believe the future workplace will enable people to work wherever - and whenever - they please, whether that is from home, the office or somewhere else entirely. We’ll never mandate a return to the office, because it contradicts the freedom, flexibility and autonomy we’ve built our culture on.

Q: In what ways can the convergence of technology and humans help businesses navigate the talent challenges in the post-pandemic era?

Technology has made our lives easier and more seamless than ever before. It has bridged gaps among people, brought the world closer and has especially transformed the way we do business. Automation has enabled tasks to be completed with minimal manpower. Data has allowed businesses to make accurate decisions within a short time span saving both money and time. These are examples where technology and people go hand-in-hand to overcome ongoing labour-related challenges. Technology is also giving people exposure to new skills and opportunities that can empower them to have long and rewarding careers.

Our guest experience and retention platform is an excellent showcase of how the convergence of technology and humans help businesses navigate talent challenges, evolving consumer demands and industry trends. For businesses in the hospitality sector, our data-driven platform helps to create personalised experiences for every guest, from engagement to acquisition to retention. Crucially, it automates mundane, time-consuming tasks to unlock staff time. By leveraging approved guest data it enables businesses to make smarter, more informed decisions that boost personalisation, incentivise loyalty and turn guests into regulars. At its most powerful and influential, technology like SevenRooms allows businesses to do more with less, so people can spend their time carrying out meaningful, hospitality-focused tasks that technology cannot and should not replace.

Q: How closely do you work with your Chief People Officer, and what matters/issues are the most pressing to address?

Our Chief People Officer, Paul McCarthy, has one of the most important roles in the entire company, as he has been instrumental in creating our people-first programmes at SevenRooms. He and I work closely together – as he does with everyone in the company – from the CEO to a new hire.

For us, it’s very important to constantly evaluate the health of our team, ensuring that nobody feels overworked, stressed, or isolated. And, if they do, we find solutions to help them. As we expand in Hong Kong and Singapore, Paul and I are working together to manage the headcount in the region and ensure that we have the right processes in place to hire the best people for our open roles.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

I would consider my leadership style to sit somewhere in the middle between pacesetting and coaching. I have the privilege to lead and work with an incredible team here at SevenRooms. I encourage my team to keep pushing and am never afraid to roll up my sleeves in the trenches with them to help us achieve our goals. We have a clear vision of the future and we continue to work together to reach those objectives. This has been apparent as we’ve scaled across Australia to great success, and it will continue to play an important role as we expand more broadly across the APAC region.”

As a coach, I know my team is endlessly talented, and with my support, I want them to be able to grow and unlock their full potential. As a leader at SevenRooms, I lead with empathy and use a variety of feedback methods to ensure I’m helping my direct reports hone their strengths with a growth mindset. Within my own career, I have always pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and I encourage my team to do the same. The only way we can continue to grow and evolve is through seeking new challenges to tackle head on.

Q: What is the one thing you learnt or piece of advice you received coming up the ranks that you try to pass on to your team?

One piece of advice I learned early on in my career is that when it comes to work-life balance, there is no right or wrong answer - you just have to find what works for you personally.

Everyone has different motivations, whether that’s family, travel, friendships or something else entirely, so it’s critical to find a balance between work and personal life that gives you the most enjoyment and reward. Work can’t be 100% of your purpose or driver. I have always encouraged my teams to try something new or out of the box. After having many different careers over my lifetime, from working in hospitality to working in tech, I’ve found that what might seem crazy in theory might actually be the best fit for you in the long run, or lead to something unexpected but wonderful.

Q: How do you take care of the wellbeing of your team and yourself?

At SevenRooms, we recently introduced our 'Fresh Start' policy, where every new employee spends their first two weeks of employment as paid leave. This is to give people the time they need to rest and recharge before embarking on a new journey with us.

We also offer flexible work options so employees can prioritise work/life balance and spend time doing what truly matters to them. We find this helps employees to bring their best selves to work every day. We find our flexible approach empowers our team and boosts their wellbeing and motivation.

Personally, spending time with my wife and two boys has been critically important in helping me maintain a healthy work/life balance. As Paul McCarthy, our Chief People Officer, always says, "work can wait, your personal life can’t". I truly believe that SevenRooms really puts its money where its mouth is.

We receive incredible perks like monthly and quarterly stipends to spend on whatever fills up our cup, and meals out at SevenRooms' clients. Whether I use it for a dinner out with my wife, towards ingredients for a Sunday BBQ, or even just contributing towards a bill, it shows that SevenRooms cares about its people. This is in addition to unlimited paid time off, which I’ve been able to use to spend extra time with my family.

An excerpt of this article first appeared in the Q3 edition of Human Resources Online's Hong Kong e-magazine. View the e-magazine here, where you'll find power-packed features and interviews with leaders from Hong Kong, Singapore, and more!

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Images / Provided (Lead image: Paul Hadida, General Manager of SevenRooms, APAC)

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