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Marcel P. van Aelst

President and CEO
Okura Nikko Hotel Management Co., Ltd.
Vice Chairman
Hotel Okura Co., Ltd.

Date of birth: Feb. 17, 1948

Hometown: Blaricum, the Netherlands

Number of years in Japan (cumulative): 8 (as of July 2018)

Marcel P. van Aelst
Q1: What was your first encounter with Japan?

After graduating the Hotel Management School The Hague in the Netherlands, I started my career as a management trainee at Hotel Okura Tokyo in June 1970, a position I had for around one year. This marked my first encounter with Japan. Shortly after, I was involved with the Hotel Okura Amsterdam grand opening, which took place in September 1971.

Q2: Please state your motto in life and why you have chosen it.

I believe in providing utmost quality to ensure the best results on all fronts. This directly relates to one of Okura’s philosophies, “Best A.C.S.” (best accommodation, best cuisine, and best service). ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it,’ is another motto I live by. To achieve my dream to become the best hotelier in the world, I took proactive steps through education and career choices.

Q3 : Over your career, what achievement are you the proudest of?

After becoming vice president and general manager of Hotel Okura Amsterdam in 1994, my team successfully converted the hotel into the kind of property that houses three Michelin-star restaurants. 

Another pivotal moment was the property renovation that cost over €80 million, paid for purely with cash flow generated by daily operations.

Another achievement has been the financial improvement of Okura Nikko Hotel Management Co. Ltd., after we took over JAL Hotels.

Q4 : What are your goals during your time in Japan, your current position or in life?

My ultimate goal is to introduce Japanese hospitality around the world by broadening the Okura Nikko Hotels network internationally. Along the way, I hope to see my teams around the world become successful in their individual careers.

Although I’m almost at the end of my career, I hope to continue contributing to spreading better understanding of cultural differences, including differences in managerial styles between Japan and Europe.

Q5 : What wisdom, advice or tips can you give to people living and working in Japan?

To fellow expats in Japan:

As an expat myself, I learned the importance of connecting with coworkers outside work hours. This way, I am able to sound out how my colleagues really feel about certain topics; some of which are rarely mentioned in official settings. A healthy balance of formal and informal connections is a distinctive cultural aspect to the Japanese — often preferred as a way to maintain the wa (harmony) within the office.

To Japanese people: 
Although seniority still plays a big role in Japan, I generally prefer to appoint manager and director-level personnel based on their skills and performance. I follow the same belief for salary levels and bonuses. Bonuses should be paid based on corporate and individual performances achieved, rather than typical summer and winter bonuses for all.

Last updated: Sep 5, 2018