Skills for Life: What Aspiring Business Leaders Can Learn from Practical Arts

Skills for Life: What Aspiring Business Leaders Can
from Hospitality and the Practical Arts







Hospitality Management Education: A Unique Approach

An education in hospitality offers an excellent foundation not only for future hotel managers, but also for aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs. Among the many subjects that university-bound students can choose today, the field of hospitality management stands out for its interdisciplinary approach and emphasis on applied learning. Hospitality programmes provide a unique balance of academic theory and hands-on experience, blending the traditions of the liberal arts, business school and culinary school to prepare students with an essential set of both hard and soft skills.

However, this was not always the case. The first hospitality schools were vocational in nature, born out of a need to provide trained staff to a burgeoning tourism industry. Switzerland, considered by many as the birthplace of hospitality, was also where the first hotel management schools began to emerge at the end of the nineteenth century. But as educators realised the importance of a broader approach, the teaching of hospitality became more holistic, incorporating liberal arts education as well as a mastery of practical operations.

Practical Arts Experience: The Backbone of Hospitality Education

The Swiss model of education has long embraced both academic and vocational learning, and Swiss hospitality institutes remain at the forefront worldwide in combining the best of these two approaches. A liberal arts education develops the capacity for self-reflection and critical thinking — skills that are vital for business leaders to drive innovation in today's highly developed travel and tourism industry. 

At the same time, an education in the practical arts is essential to building a hospitality career. Besides providing immersion in hospitality operations, exposure to the practical arts enables students to deepen their understanding of business, psychology and more through a real-life context. 

For this reason, all undergraduate students at Glion Institute of Higher Education undergo practical arts immersion during the first semester of their BBA in International Hospitality Business. This hands-on learning provides the foundations for an intuitive understanding of hospitality management. By gaining experience in diverse areas such as kitchen and service, reception and housekeeping, and oenology, students are able to refine their people skills as well as practical skills.

From Kitchen to Entrepreneurship: Developing Core Skills

Practical arts education instils a sense of discipline, rigour and precision that goes hand in hand with the Swiss work ethos. Through the culinary arts, for example, students are immersed in the roles and organisation of a kitchen brigade and see for themselves how the coordinated joint efforts of a team yield a greater result. They learn to thrive under pressure and the importance of both teamwork and leadership. 

Developing these values of excellence and attention to detail is key to cultivating talent for competitive markets such as luxury and five-star hospitality. With this in mind, Glion has enhanced its practical arts curriculum with the opening of Le Bellevue, a new gastronomic restaurant run by students under the guidance of awarded hospitality professionals.

Open to the public, and set in a renovated Belle Époque building overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps, Le Bellevue offers a modern yet traditional fine-dining environment where international students develop expertise in gastronomy and guest relations. Much as in Switzerland’s apprenticeship system, at Glion’s Bellevue restaurant, students learn alongside masters of the trade — experts such as restaurant manager Chantal Wittmann and executive chef Dominique Toulousy, both recipients of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France title. As Dominique has said, “We have a responsibility to transmit the knowledge that has been passed on to us — and that’s what I’ve come to do at Glion, to show young people that this is a fantastic career.”

Resilience and Resourcefulness: Breaking New Ground

When young people gain exposure to hospitality and the practical arts, they gain the skills to forge new career pathways. We have seen this time and again with graduates of Glion, some of whom have turned their passion for culinary arts into entrepreneurial ventures. For example, class of ‘06 alumna Aditi Malhotra went on to found her own chocolaterie in New York, Tache Artisan Chocolate, earning herself a place on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for food and wine in 2014. 

Glion graduate Eduardo Wichtendahl Palazuelos brought his experience as a chef at the Marriott Royal Garden Riverside Hotel Bangkok back to his native Mexico, where he opened Mar del Zur, a restaurant based on his own concept of Mex-Thai fusion. In 2014, the government of Mexico City named Palazuelos Chef of the Year. 

John Paul Adamo, class of ’01, developed a passion for culinary arts at Glion, which he used to transform Hockley Valley Resort, his family’s business outside of Toronto. Today, John serves as president, owner and executive chef, and Hockley features three restaurants operating with a garden-to-table philosophy. More than 80% of Hockley’s restaurant ingredients come from the resort’s four-acre organic fruit and vegetable garden.

Building a Toolkit for Success 

Whether students have their sights set on a career in the culinary arts or another industry, immersion in the practical arts offers many valuable lessons. Students can expect to hone their cultural competence and sense of savoir-faire as they master practical skills such as food preparation and service. For those who do envision a culinary career, the timing has never been better: We live in an era of chefs who are more entrepreneur than cook, and public appreciation of and interest in gastronomy is growing worldwide. Armed with business savvy and a culinary background, hospitality school graduates are in a unique position to disrupt the food and beverage industry.

But the soft skills gained through practical arts experience are valued far beyond the culinary world and hospitality. Problem-solving skills, an ability to communicate and listen, empathy and sensitivity are traits that are in high demand across all industries. Project Aristotle, a 2017 study carried out by Google, found that the top seven characteristics marking successful employees at the company were all soft skills; STEM expertise came in at number eight (, 20 December 2017). 

Glion’s recently opened Bellevue restaurant is a living classroom where students learn the value of teamwork, leadership and service excellence. With versatile skills and global experience, hospitality management graduates bring a lot to the table.

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