Theresa of all trades

Theresa Goh

“When the hotel first opened in 2006, there were times that I didn’t get to see the sun!” Theresa Goh smiles, as she regales me with stories of how she worked her way up the corporate ladder from secretary to the Director of Communications at Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur, a plum position she has held since the hotel first opened almost 14 years ago.

“In those days, I came to work early. I went home late. There was no such thing as a five-day work week. We were working six full days trying to get the hotel open. There were so many things that one had to attend to, and you had to be creative, resourceful and fast.”

Goh hails from Penang, and tried her hand at many things – including opening a restaurant with her brother and some friends at one point – before she decided to pack her bags and head to the capital city.

“At that time I found a job at the Putrajaya Shangri-La as an executive secretary. It was a pre-opening setup, and I enjoyed the work there. But when they were ready to officially open, it was very difficult for them to find a Communications Manager. So the then Director of Sales and Marketing asked if I would take up that challenge. And naturally, I took it up.”

After a three-and-a-half-year stint in Putrajaya, Goh heard about Traders opening and felt it was time to take the next step.

“You know, it was time to head to the big city. Putrajaya was the best training ground that anybody could get but I wanted to go further. So I applied for a transfer and came to KL to pre-open this hotel, I’ve been here ever since. And as they say, the rest is history.”

What has the journey has been like?

It has been a lot of hard work. There is a lot to learn, even today. When we first founded the hotel, we were No.1 – everything was so new about us, so edgy and sexy. But along the way, things changed, the millennials emerged. And so we had to change with the times, too. It has been a steep learning curve for me from then on. It’s as our regional CEO always tells us, one must “unlearn to learn”. And that is what we continue to do, to be on top of the game.

Give us an example.

In the past, you know, everything was done physically. You’d print something out a paper, make marks on the paper, you’d check everything on paper. Now, you don’t do any of that. You snap a picture, send it via phone and ask for a quick approval. Everything has gotten so much faster, and you need to keep up.

Being able to adapt to change. Did this come naturally to you?

Yes, it’s just in my personality. But, of course, I had to develop it, along with other traits like being resourceful and working quickly. The job has helped me do that because this is not the kind of job that gives you time to ponder over a solution. Decisions have to be made at the snap of a finger. And then if it’s not the right decision, you just go back, make it right, and move forward. There is no time to cry or for regret.

I’ve always been a fast and resourceful worker. But one thing I learnt about myself on the job is that I can be creative as well.

And I think that I have developed the creative line for this hotel very nicely – it’s a little bit funky, a bit contemporary.

Traders Hotel

What’s a work day like in the Comms department?

You never know what’s going to happen! But a regular day starts with a cup of coffee. If I don’t have my coffee, I cannot function! Then we have our morning briefing, after which I go through things that are urgent that need to be attended to for the day.

After a quick lunch, we continue working. There’s a lot of multi-tasking involved – if someone needs some creative input for an outlet or if a guest wants to chat – I am up for the job. I usually leave the paperwork till the end of the day. We don’t have a huge team (Goh has one assistant) and so we end up doing everything ourselves.

Is there anyone else in the hotel who’s been here as long as you have?

Yes! The financial controller, our Director of Engineering and a few others. If you were to do a headcount, there would be about 50 people who have been here from Day One. I’m very fortunate to be able to have a job that I’m so passionate about. And one of the things that is so important to me is loyalty. That makes me want to go on and on, and on.

Why do you think so many people have stayed on in this job?

It’s the culture of this hotel, and how the management of the hotel has nurtured the brand over the years. We’ve embraced teamwork. Many of us are very family-oriented. We care about each other. We make sure that everyone is okay.

Many of the staff just come into my office and they can talk to me about anything (Many fondly refer to Goh as Miss T); If something goes wrong, all of us come together to make it right.

Remuneration is good too. Even though it’s hard work, it pays the bills. And that is something to be grateful for.

What have been some of the challenges and triumphs that you’ve gone through over the years?

Every project comes with its own set of hurdles. You need to fight your way through the road bumps or every time somebody throws a spanner in the works. But when you can come out of a challenge, and see the light at the end of the tunnel, that is the greatest satisfaction.

Managing time is another big challenge. I wish there were more hours in the day to work! I wish I could dedicate more time to each project.

Right now we are also facing an economic downturn and trying to stay above water. That is when your sense of responsibility comes especially into play, how you want to market certain things, how you want to communicate certain things without spending a bunch of money. Quite frankly, most challenges are usually linked to working on a tight budget, and how creative and resourceful one can be to still get to the endpoint successfully.

What are some of the projects that the Comms team handles throughout the year?

Most of them are F&B related, for example when we open a new outlet. We are there from the start of such a project to the end. It’s working on all the collaterals, the artwork and positioning the hotel.

We also run a CSR project. One that we worked on recently was the Depressed Cake Shop, through which we raised money for Mental Health awareness. CSR projects are usually organised by the HR team but often we are called in to to help. For the Depressed Cake Shop, Comms ran it on our own.

What are plans for next year?

Next year, it will probably be the same. We will have to push ourselves a little more. Because we really don’t know what the economy will look like, and we hope that it will be better.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I always challenge myself. And I feel really awful if I mess up something. I surf the Internet and I look for things on social media. Some ideas come from visiting other outlets. I don’t eat a lot, but I love this city, and I love to visit food outlets to see how people are doing things and also to taste their food.

Are you continuously learning?

Yes, I am. I have known people my age, in the same line as me, who are still struggling with social media. I do not have a problem asking the younger staff how to do things. Because that’s the only way one can learn. I even ask my daughter (Denise) sometimes.

Which part of your job do you love best?

When I can get really creative. When we have events at the Sky Bar and I can show my creativity, I am able to do really cool things, like say maybe have a trapeze artist, but of course within the confines of safety. You know, sometimes you want to do crazy things. Personally, for example, I’d like to go skydiving next year, that’s on my bucket list!

Last thoughts?

I love this hotel. I love the branding. I love it because I started from scratch. When Traders began here, I was the only person in my department! But it was the best experience because when you’re managing everything on your own, and you learn a lot of things that way. If you are in a position where you love your job, and you are happy, I feel that you can continue to grow where you are.

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