Interview with Eugenio Pirri
By the Editorial staff
So Eugenio, what were you like when you were younger? How were you educated?
I’m first generation Canadian and I had a wonderful childhood, as I was really closed to my parents and to my grandmother. My family had very strong values. My parents moved from Italy to Canada in 1958; I was born there in 1970. I’m the only boy after two sisters, so as the youngest one, I was always a bit energetic and still am today! I learned to enjoy humour even when I experience opportunities as I tend to look at both sides and try to find the best solution. People said I was already a mediator when I was 10, especially my grandma, who believed that it’s important to have a voice – “if you have something to say just say it… but in a positive way.” This is how I was raised. My parents had their own business importing and exporting food, so we were always exposed to many different cultures and people. Particularly, my mother was very unbiased: I remember I told her I was gay when I was 14 and she was very open-minded. It came a time when they had business issues and they went through all that staying very positive: this made me the person today who never gives up.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I dreamed of being a dentist. I was fascinated by braces (I had them) and I thought it was a wonderful profession. But things run differently… In Canada you can’t officially get a job until you are 15 but I wanted to work, so my father signed a document and therefore, at 14 (while in school) I started to work at McDonalds. I loved it! It was really fun and I became a manager at 16 and I was running the restaurant by the age of 17. There, I discovered I really enjoyed hospitality so decided to study hospitality and tourism… the rest is history.
So what did you study?
I did all my education and studies in the Canadian school system from hospitality, tourism, employment laws and human rights. Employee experience and their human rights is very important to me.
Which of your post-graduate jobs most influenced the person that you are today and why?
I grew up in hotels, starting as a room cleaner to my current role. I loved that first job and team. Being part of housekeeping, I was the only boy at age 18, and the other women were 40-60 years old and treated me like I was their son. This truly influenced me and although I did this role for 6 months, it was the best I’d ever had to date. I watched those incredible women who had 20 minutes to clean every detail in a room over and over again yet they smiled and took care of each other. It was very inspiring me to see that we needed to have such people working with us and give them a great environment to work in. After housekeeping, I worked in various jobs from the restaurant, front office, engineering and even finance. I had become a manager along the way, but I wanted Human Resources so I took a step down to get in. I started as a coordinator as I knew it was important to get on the right path and I was glad I did. Just after one week in HR I knew I found what I wanted to do in life.
What was your first role in Dorchester Collection (DC) and what expectations did you have when you started here?
I arrived in DC in 2011, as Vice President People and Organisational Development and became Chief People and Culture Officer in 2017. Working with people and seeing their careers develop is such a beautiful thing. HR’s job is not to give someone a “job”; this is part of it, but not our purpose. Our purpose is to give people an ability to live: giving someone a job means that they can live, eat, travel, have a family, have a boyfriend or a girlfriend… whatever they want. If we think of our role like this, it then provides true meaning to what we do. Our role is not about the payroll, the benefits, the hiring, the firing or planning a party. These tasks support our true purpose.
How have you seen the company change in the last years?
As we are a small Company, we soon realized we have much more opportunity to talk and listen to people and get to know them, and this is a true competitive advantage for us. Early on, we brought together both employee and guest engagement to ensure we brought both factors together on our journey going from strength to strength. We started this journey 8 years ago with the basics, keeping in mind growth, diversity, inclusion and our top 3 global drivers: meaningful work, purpose and inclusivity. Originally, our ambition was quite simple: a formula that stated “attraction + development x engagement = innovation” and it worked for our first 5 years. Then, the world changed so we had to change. We created People & Culture, elevating its importance in our business covering all aspects of Human Resources, Learning and Development, Guest Engagement, Employee Engagement, Innovation, Corporate Responsibility and Diversity/Inclusion. We moved away from being administrators to be truly operational. We became part of the business and achieved some amazing things. Then the world continued to change and we changed with it; even during our crisis, we still maintained all our employees and our employment engagement levels went up. We are very proud of our journey. We even opened an external training academy in London and sell and subsequently help train other companies in leadership and customer service. So, now, HR makes money too!
What are your best and worst characteristics?
There was a colleague in Beverly Hills Hotel who once called me “The Hurricane” because “so much was changing yet you’re in the middle and are so calm… it’s crazy”! I’m a risk taker and I’m not afraid of the unknown, as I like change and seeing people develop. On the other side I have to work on patience to see results and patience for people who don’t want to get on board too…
What are the issues that need to be resolved today and what positive changes does the near future bring? How would you like to effect change?
Better education – Better communication. At DC we stay aligned to our values; we update but don’t change them. The hospitality industry is really affected by political situations, religion, wars etc. so we constantly have to adapt. However, even during our crisis, we never changed who we are. When there is a crisis in business, the first thing people normally do is cut – cut labour, cut product, cut service… DC did complete the opposite. We sustain and maintain. This is part of our culture and We Care philosophy.
Inclusion and diversity: avoiding clichés and advertising buzz words, why does it make sense for a great Collection to use inclusion to drive innovation in 2020?
Inclusion shouldn’t be a ‘program’; it should be part of your culture. In our hotels, we have a multicultural workforce and our DNA is very diverse. Our oldest employee is 72 and our youngest 14. Gender, sexual orientation, disability, religions, ethnicity etc. are all represented in our company. It’s interesting when companies say “now we will look at diversity” because they should have always been doing that. It’s common sense. Moreover, often people forget the importance of inclusion and education. We may hire someone, for the first time, who is blind, which means we need to educate ourselves and others on what this means and how do we make it part of our culture. It’s about creating a safe and respectful environment for all.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Where do you see DC in five years?
I’m in a job that I love and before People and Culture, I worked in 18 different jobs! I see myself continuing doing just that and being more involved in operations. DC is a wonderful Company, who wants to stay small, yet grow in selected cities. We want to continue to deliver on our brand promises. I’m hopeful in the next few years that things will become much clearer for us all and truth will prevail. I want to live in a world where education is available to everyone. One thing I’ve learned from my good friend, Fabrice Houdart, OUT Leadership, formerly with the UN, is that change will be led by the private sector. This is our responsibility to create environments where human rights are respected and everyone has a voice. We have a great obligation to do the right thing, as education doesn’t stop when you begin work.