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Justin’s academic journey started in Korea with a biochemistry degree, followed by 26 months of military service. After completing his service, he enjoyed a well-deserved backpacking trip in Europe with his sister which gave him a desire to learn English. In 1997, Justin came to Australia for a 9-month English language course in Adelaide.
A sliding door moment came when Justin was out with friends in Rundle Street, seeing a team of well-groomed waiting staff in a restaurant piqued his curiosity. The staff looked really happy, leading Justin to consider hospitality as a potential career for the first time. Shortly after, Justin transferred from his English language course into a 6-month Certificate III in Hospitality which, it turns out, he loved. Although working day and night to improve his English was a challenge, Justin finally knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Food, wine, customer service and travel was his lifeblood from that moment.
After finishing his Certificate III at TAFE Justin decided to finish his education with Le Cordon Bleu, whose reputation as a leading global hospitality educator strongly appealed to him. Starting with a Diploma of Restaurant Business & Management in 1999, he was in the very first cohort of Adelaide students. Justin went on to complete an Advanced Diploma of Restaurant Management and finally, a Bachelor of Business (Restaurant Business and Management) in 2001.
“As one of the first degree students in Adelaide, I felt very special. We had these amazing four-hour cuisine classes with our chef and his assistant demonstrating olive oils, vinegars and different sauces, then course by course with matching wines - you can’t imagine how incredible this holistic learning experience was!”
In his first job at Sheraton on the Park in Sydney, Justin met his lifelong mentor, Martin B Jones (now Vice President of F & B, Luxury Hotels – Europe at Accor Hotels) an industry leader who inspired Justin with his passion for food and wine, genuine caring for team members, and a well-balanced lifestyle.
The first time I said I wanted to be a General Manager, everyone laughed. I didn’t have the English language skills when I started my studies, so I had to build from scratch. And today I’ve achieved my dream!
“Anyone starting in hospitality needs to be adventurous – risk taking and adventure should be in their genes! Because our industry is always evolving, innovation, creation and reinvention of tradition is ongoing, so you must stay informed of all the trends, in order to create something new. Always develop a memorable touchpoint and unique selling point for your product, because you’re always competing against other candidates, managers, properties and products in the industry.”
In his impressive career, Justin has worked in management for luxury hotels and resorts around the globe, as Restaurant & Bar Manager (W Seoul Walkerhill), Food & Beverage Manager (Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives), Director of F & B (Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul ), Director - Operations (W Retreat & Spa Maldives) and Hotel Manager (W Dubai – Al Habtoor City). His new role as General Manager for The Merchant House is a testament to his inspirational commitment to service excellence and passion for innovation.
Justin cites travel as the great highlight of his 20-year hospitality career, having worked in Australia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain and has visited 46 countries.
With a service style relying on intuition, Justin reads the customer’s body language and facial expressions, considering their life circumstances in order to create a personalised service experience.
“I have very firm rules that I treat everybody the same and take work very seriously, I can be like a brother or a friend, while finding the balance between having fun and achieving excellence.”
In the future Justin is keen to study further with Le Cordon Bleu, and is particularly interested in online professional learning, industry research, or a Master’s degree.
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