GM of The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi Ellen Franke on island life and managing Covid-19 in the workplace

"I want our people to feel engaged and understood by regularly asking for input."

General manager Ellen Franke (All photos: The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi)

To ensure guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi experience the best service during their stay, general manager Ellen Franke and her team curate activities that also highlight the hotel's refined ambience.

Options: How has the journey been so far as general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, a position you have held since July 2018?
Ellen Franke: It has been an exciting journey as I am still learning new things day by day. Every year brings fantastic opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Our highest mission is to deliver the most genuine care and exceptional personal service for guests who will always feel the warm, relaxed and refined ambiance offered here. And these are elements I can genuinely align myself with when [interacting] with the valuable Ladies and Gentlemen [Ritz-Carlton’s term for its employees] of the hotel. I have never worked in a company whose core culture is so strong, and it is certainly a value structure and system I strongly believe in.

Managing Covid-19 has been a challenge for every industry. Even The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi has had its fair share of late. Tell us how you overcame it.
It has been one of the most significant learning curves in my career. You have to calm yourself when in this situation. You need to keep clear channels of communication while empowering [our]Ladies and Gentlemen. I have always kept the big picture in mind to ensure that there are always fresh ideas, solutions and opportunities for managing Covid-19. I am always ready for change, and you can never give up when it comes to this kind of situation.

What have been the greatest lessons the pandemic has taught you?
That there is no more vital institution than family. The lockdown allowed time for my family and me to bond. The pandemic made us less socially-distant as we connected more, and I learnt that happiness lies in the little things, from curating home-cooked meals to a family workout and bonding over games. We tend to forget how easy we take things for granted and truly appreciate what we have.


The hotel is set within a 10-million-year-old rainforest on the edge of the Andaman Sea

How has the pandemic changed you as a leader?
I have learnt to establish a reliable communication routine with the team to ensure that there are always open channels through our resort’s WhatsApp group and a virtual town hall to keep everyone up to date on the challenges faced. This routine prevented our Ladies and Gentlemen from assuming the worst while helping to reduce stress. I have also been very open to suggestions from them during the pandemic. I want our people to feel engaged and understood by regularly asking for input while remaining receptive to suggestions.

What have been the most useful or calming tools for you during crises or the lockdown?
I did a workout routine that focused on my mental health, giving myself an hour each day for the clarity needed to manage the resort, its owners, the Ladies and Gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton, and, of course, my family.

Describe 2021 for you in a few short sentences and what you hope for from 2022?
2021: Messy, fragile, unexpected and transformational. I am hoping 2022 will be the year of recovery, a year to reconnect with international travellers and a year filled with opportunities!

Langkawi seems to be enjoying a tremendous boom now. What are some of your favourite things to see, do and eat on the island?
I am a lover of the sea. So any time I get to be out in the open sea is a great moment for me. Recently, I took a sunset cruise, a truly breathtaking way to soak in the beautiful Andaman sunsets. Fresh seafood will be my meal of choice if on the island. The Beach Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi is perfect for those who like to enjoy great food as well as fresh sea breeze. And if you fancy a drink or two with a majestic view of the Andaman Sea, our Horizon open-air bar and lounge is the place to be.


The private white sandy beach, dotted with gazebos

What are you reading right now?
I am currently reading Mastering Hospitality by Dr Iwan Dietschi. It’s a great book that inspires me to create my own pathway to success and reflect on evolving continually.

What are you listening to right now?
At home, I listen primarily to piano and drums played by my son and husband [Mattia Salussoglia, executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi]. I am amazed at how they are so passionate about their hobbies, which truly inspires me daily.

And where are you looking forward to travelling to this year?
I want to discover Europe by car with my son and husband. There are still so many unique places that I did not get to visit on my previous vacation. Greece, Montenegro and central Italy are on the list. I love history and classic elements. Unfortunately, these are very rare in the modern days we live in. I would also love to stay with a foster family to learn more about the old days and how different it is now. Maybe I can learn a thing or two and apply it to my current routine.

Describe a perfect weekend for you.
A day out on the beach with a home-cooked picnic, just gazing out at the Andaman Sea as the sun sets in the company of my family.   

This article first appeared on Jan 10, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


Follow us on Instagram