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GM CONVERSATIONS

Fernando Gibaja

Capella Singapore

Time flies when one is having fun, and performing, at his job; in the blink of an eye almost five years had passed since Senor Fernando Gibaja took up post as the general manager of Capella Singapore. With him at the helm, this flagship property of the Capella group had won award after award and is constantly packed with guests, most notably North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump during their historic peace talks, and is now the most expensive hotel in Singapore with the highest room rates. All this is no small feat, even for an industry veteran, to achieve in four short years. C T is very glad to catch up with Gibaja at the sunny resort before he leaves his post in December 2021 in search of greater heights and more brand new adventures.

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What is your management style?

I believe in leading by example while giving my team the space to exercise and hone their expertise. Everybody has their point of view but we need to move towards common goals in our work environment so my role involves coaching and trusting that everyone will in the end understand their place in the organisation and hitting their marks. So yes, I will be washing cups in the kitchen if I am needed there but I will also make sure that everything is so well-run that day will never come.

 

Do you feel any differently about Capella Singapore then and now?


When I arrived at Capella Singapore it was already my second posting in Singapore but I was still struck by how special Sentosa is. Throughout the four years I had spent most of my time on the island and even though there have been changes and development, we have always kept the magic of Capella Singapore alive. The heritage trees are still there, as are the hornbills and cockatoos that live in them. The rooms are now fully renovated and we are proud of them, but the essence of the resort is still very much the same.

What do you think makes a hotel like Capella Singapore special?


Architecturally this is a historic address melded with a very modern edifice by Norman Forster and classical interiors by Jaya Ibrahim so that is the face and the characteristics of this hotel. I work very hard with my team to inject spirit into the property so every smile, every service we render would remind guests of a special home they have here in Singapore. It's really the soft touches and thoughtful details that makes a hotel special to guests.

What lies ahead for you in your career after Capella Singapore?


The very thing I need now is a long break back home. Because of COVID19 and all that is happening around the world, I have not been back in Madrid where my parents are. I need to recharge with my family and loved ones and perhaps spend a Christmas properly with them where I am not needed at a hotel to oversee festive operations and meet guests. In many ways I feel that my career has just begun even though I have been working in hospitality for a few decades over a few continents in various capacities. The last time I was based in Singapore I was the EAM at the Ritz Carlton. Then I came back a few years later as the GM of Capella Singapore. I have a feeling I will be back in Asia before long in a brand new capacity that will take me to places I've not yet reached in my career. But at this point I need to believe what I have been told, that sometimes having no plans is the best plan in life.

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Career Milestones

  • 'We hosted the North Korea and US Summit successfully in June 2018. It was a nerve-wrecking experience for us to prepare for such a historic event and the media exposure for the hotel was immense, over $13 million worth of coverage for a single event!'

  • 'We do our best for every aspect of running the hotel therefore it gratifying for the team to be recognised for their efforts. All the awards the hotel has received, including Best Singapore Hotel and Best Singapore Spa by LCO Travel, in my 4 years are encouraging recognitions for all the hard work rendered by the team.' 

  • 'Personally I am comforted by the fact that we have prevented retrenchment for staff since the whole world has been affected by the COVID19 pandemic. We have very understanding owners and very loyal staff who really did their best and rallied together to try and tide through such unprecedented tough times.'

  • 'I am proud to represent such a special property and did my best to raise its status constantly. After five years, the hotel's rack rates are now the highest in Singapore and with all the international attention and awards the hotel has won over the years, I can safely say that Capella Singapore is now recognised worldwide as one of the country's most popular and best known hospitality establishments.'