“With the rise of luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants, bringing the best hospitality school to Asia is the next step in elevating service excellence for the region” - Jenny Ang
Budding hoteliers and aspiring bar and restaurant owners who are serious about building a successful career in the hospitality industry now have more opportunity to sharpen their skills at the Singapore campus of world-renowned tertiary institution Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne — recently renamed EHL Hospitality Business School to reflect the managerial nature of the school, its academic standing as well as international footprint.
Founded in 1893 by Jacques Tschumi, EHL is the first hotel management school of its kind and remains one of the top five business management institutions in Switzerland. According to QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) rankings from 2019 to 2021, it is the world’s best higher learning institution in hospitality management education.
The university, which offers two campuses in the Swiss cities of Lausanne and Passugg, opened its first international outpost here last September to build up the next generation of hospitality leaders. Located at the former Kinloss House on Lady Hill Road — once a boarding school for children of British soldiers — the heritage building is a blend of history and technology, with well-connected classrooms fully equipped with the latest hardware and software to facilitate blended learning.
Located at the former Kinloss House on Lady Hill Road, EHL was once a boarding school for children of British soldiers
Launching a campus in Singapore will allow students from all over the region to receive the same world-class Swiss education without travelling too far. But regardless of which campus they come from, students have to do their foundational year on the Lausanne campus. For the remaining three years, the academic programme will run the gamut of management topics such as financial accounting and economics, as well as soft skills like business communications, academic writing, and learning a foreign language like French, Chinese, Japanese or Malay.
The four-year Bachelor of Science degree in International Hospitality Management is catered to students of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds, encompassing both vocational and professional studies, inclusive of internships at partnering hotels and restaurants around the world.
While the Singapore campus offers the same degree recognised worldwide, the curriculum has a particular Asian slant through the use of local case studies and corporate partnerships with homegrown F&B companies like Lo & Behold and Les Amis.
Beyond simply providing undergraduate education, EHL also offers classes for working professionals who are looking to upskill via short three- to-five day courses on topics such as Luxury Brand Management, Designing Hotel and Restaurant Concepts, and People and Analytics.
Through the years, EHL has trained a host of notable hospitality professionals and entrepreneurs of which 150 alumni are based in Singapore. They include Asia Pacific vice president of food and beverage at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Philipp Blaser; Huilin Quek, CEO of Q Industries, a family business that supplies kitchen and tableware to hotels and restaurants; COMO Hotels and Resorts’ vice president of operations Kevin J. Abramowicz; general manager of the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore Eric Piatti; and founder and managing partner at iThink Flo Sander.
Woman on top
At the helm of EHL Campus (Singapore) is managing director Jenny Ang — formerly deputy director of the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music at National University of Singapore (NUS). As one of the founding members, Ang spent 17 years helping to build the conservatory’s reputation and partnerships network within Singapore and globally before pivoting to hospitality. Her portfolio at YST covered strategic initiatives concerning institutional brand management, curriculum design, building international networks, public engagement and partnerships.
“Serendipitously, YST signed one of its first Memorandum of Understanding for international partnership with the Haute Ecole de Musique Lausanne. That was how I got to know Lausanne and western Switzerland which led me to EHL,” says the soft-spoken Ang on how she learnt about the job opening. “Being a part of Singapore’s first music conservatory and now launching a world-class hospitality university are huge milestones in my life.”
Although she comes from a musical background — she started playing piano at age five and went on to receive an honours degree in Piano Performance from the Trinity College of Music in London — Ang reveals that running a hospitality school is no different from managing a music conservatory. “I see many similarities between the two. Musicians and artists have an unwavering quest for excellence, perfection and beauty. This value is very much at the core of the hospitality business,” she says.
From campus administration to strategic development, international partnerships, fundraising and more, it will be her job to maintain a level of excellence that EHL is known for while offering an Asian lens to the business. Her Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) degree from Aalto University in Finland also gives her the business skills that she needs despite her lack of hospitality experience.
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Ang’s decision to switch industries was also to show her two teenage daughters that career progression is possible at any age. “My daughters have always watched from the sidelines as I took on new challenges, from studying for my EMBA to moving into this new industry. I just want to be a good role model for them,” says the 42-year-old.
The arrival of an international tertiary institution for hospitality could not come at a better time as we observe the exponential growth in luxury hotels and resorts, including Michelin-starred restaurants and award-winning bars in the region.
“With more professionals interested in starting their own restaurants, there should be a space for those who want to pursue their passion in hospitality. It’s my hope that EHL will be a beacon for excellence in hospitality within this region,” explains Ang, who works closely with Dean Dr Luciano Lopez to expand the institution’s reputation across Asia.
“Singapore is a country well-known for its high standards in tourism and hospitality and is a gateway to the rest of Asia. As a travel hub and one of the most desired places to live in, it boasts some of the world’s best restaurants, beautiful hotels and impeccable leaders within the industry. Opening a campus here will expose students to the diversity and nuances in Asian culture, as well as the variety of businesses in the region.”
Like many companies that launched in the midst of the pandemic, EHL did not get to organise an opening ceremony, but it has certainly hit the ground running with its first cohort of over 50 students including those who have completed their foundational year in Lausanne and internships.
The cultural mix is also just as diverse with many on exchange programme from Switzerland, while half are made up of Asians, four of whom are Singaporean. Over 100 students will attend the Singapore campus this year.
A place for art and beauty
The restored heritage building houses classrooms, meeting rooms, a cafeteria, a large multi-purpose hall and numerous breakout spaces for students. The interiors are bright and uncluttered with wide walk- ways and high ceilings sporting stark white interiors contrasted by pale wood flooring. On the second floor, there is a well-stocked bar of spirits (donated by staff) with an expansive social space for student mixers, corporate events, mixology classes, wine appreciation workshops and more.
The interiors are bright and uncluttered with wide walkways and high ceilings sporting stark white interiors contrasted by pale wood flooring
Injecting some of her personality and passion to the interiors, Ang loaned her vintage grand piano to the school which is free for the staff and students to use. “We have a lot of talented people in the EHL community who are very passionate about music. Enabling them a chance to play not only gives them an outlet but also reinforces the importance of soft skills such as appreciation of music, communication and leadership to deliver the true essence of hospitality,” she adds.
The school is in partnership with Intersections Gallery to showcase two exhibitions a year featuring artworks by Asian-based artists
Art also plays an important role in hospitality and magnifying the beauty of the building. All throughout the campus, white-washed walls are adorned with colourful art, which is close to Ang’s heart as she used to frequent art galleries as a young girl with her father. “For me, it was important that arts and culture also feature in our students’ campus experience, both for enjoyment as well as part of their professional development.”
Currently, the school is in partnership with Intersections Gallery to showcase two exhibitions a year featuring artworks by Asian-based artists. Gallery owner Marie-Pierre selected pieces that not only celebrate the Singaporean identity but also bring out the soul of the campus and its connections with hospitality.
Diversity, inclusion and women’s leadership
Ang is equally proud of her commitment to empower her female staff and students to strive for more prominent roles in the industry through a Women in Leadership (WIL) Initiative which was launched in 2018. The aim is to promote social changes through workshops by addressing topics such as leadership, inclusion and belonging; entrepreneurship for women; networking and mentoring opportunities, as well as family and work management.
According to United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, only 20% of managers in Asia Pacific today are female. This figure is even lower for women in middle and senior management positions, at 17%. “It’s about recognising that women have different ways of operating and a different focus in life but that doesn’t mean that they are any less better than their male counterparts. By taking into account women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives, it allows them equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term,” says Ang.
To create an inclusive and diverse community, EHL is also looking to increase the percentage of women among its staff and within positions of responsibility. Today, almost 50% of women are in management positions including executive dean Dr. Inès Blal, and president of the board Dr Carole Ackermann.
With close to 120 nationalities among its student body and around 40 nationalities among its staff members, diversity and inclusion are at the core of EHL Group. A prime example of this is the introduction of a new “guide for professional appearance” that complies with industry requirements while enabling its students and staff members to express their personalities and individual identities.
“Our dress code is now inclusive of cultural and religious diversities, which means that wearing religious symbols is acceptable, and is also gender neutral, which means that we do not make a distinction based on a binary view between dress codes for women or men,” she explains.
Ang is also involved in integrating sustainability into every aspect of school life, from its operations to its curriculum as well as student-led activities, and encouraging students and staff members to make conscious decisions that leave a positive impact on the environment. “EHL aims to ‘walk the talk’ by adopting sustainable initiatives including reducing its carbon footprint across its campuses as well as supporting local communities.”
With so much on her plate, we wonder if Ang has any time for leisurely pursuits like reconnecting with the piano? “Yes, I really value setting aside downtime to recharge. I actually enjoy hiking at Bukit Timah or MacRitchie Reservoir, and I still play the piano with a cellist friend whom I meet regularly.”
Photos: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore; EHL