Jack Nargil of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel discusses breaking into the hospitality industry, how he transitioned from politics to hospitality, his love for D.C. and more as our October Expert.
Before you began working as a concierge, you worked in politics. How did you decide to transition from politics to the hospitality industry?
I went from politics to hospitality due in good part because I had grown up in the hospitality world. My father was a hotelier and graduated from the famous hotel school I Lausanne, Switzerland, in which I was exposed to the hotel world.
After college, I worked for my father in France, and became more familiar with the hotel world while traveling from New York to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to British Columbia, Canada. I believe that my knowledge of Washington from Capitol Hill to Georgetown is very important as well. Having lived in Washington from undergraduate to graduate school allowed me to know the ins-and-outs of Washington which is very important to the concierge world.
What do you love most about being a concierge?
I love the daily challenge of the unknown. If I receive a phone call from a colleague or guest, or someone comes up to the desk to ask a question, I have no idea what is going to be asked. Whether I'm helping a celebrity guest or the regular traveler, I know I help people have a better day. If I learn one thing each day, no matter what it is, that means a lot. I have daily closure which many people might not have at their jobs.
On the other end of the spectrum, what’s the most challenging aspect?
The challenging aspect is to keep up with information flow. From technology and people who are being bombarded themselves, you must maintain your relevancy. You must also not be an app, but be able to demonstrate the humanity side of our daily lives.
What’s your proudest moment as a concierge?
My proudest moment was maintaining my composure during the morning of 9/11 while working at The Hay-Adams. I was working the morning shift, and it was a tough and challenging day dealing with people's emotions and logistics while trying to be rational and remain positive. My hope was to give people strength by keeping them from panicking. I can vividly remember many trying to get out of the city by any means, and the phones were ringing off the hook. It was a day that I will never forget.
As you’ve worked all over the city, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of interesting requests. Which one comes to mind?
One of my regular guests once asked me to send a goldfish to her friend at a hospital in Connecticut. I contacted my colleague at the Ritz in Boston to take care of it. When I asked her the name of her friend, she said Kate. Later, I learned that Kate was in fact short for Katherine Hepburn.
Let’s talk tourism. Where should every first time visitor go during their trip to D.C.?
Every first time visitor must visit the U.S. Capitol and the Arlington National Cemetery. They represent the soul and spirit of our great country and the sacrifices Americans have made to keep the world sound.
If a visitor wanted to spend the day outside of the city, what day trip destinations would you suggest?
I'm a lover of history, which many people are not aware of. I love the Virginia countryside in Middleburg, and suggest traveling countryside to appreciate the great state and the home of Thomas Jefferson, which is very important from a historical perspective. I would also suggest spending the day outside of the city at the Gettysburg battlefield.
As a New York native, what do you love most about Washington D.C.? What made you fall in love with our Nation’s Capital?
I love the feeling of freedom that Washington D.C. has and I love being able to see the blue sky from any vantage point. I've also found that if you have your logistics in order, you can get around the city quite easily—during non-rush hour of course. With so many of our neighborhoods developing their own personalities, the restaurant and cultural scenes really draws so many people from around the world to Washington which is very exciting.
What is one of the city’s best-kept secrets?
One of the city's best-kept secrets is President Lincoln's Cottage where Lincoln spent 25 percent of his presidency and composed The Emancipation Proclamation.
With such a longstanding career, what advice would you give to someone looking to break into the hospitality industry?
The hospitality industry has become a melting pot of humanity and a great symbol of American diversity. It affords great opportunities for everyone, as long as you are not afraid to work hard and enjoy meeting people who you would not normally meet in a lifetime. From movie stars, historians, politicians and finance moguls to princes and queens and heads of state. As long as you have a positive attitude and are not afraid to learn from older persons with experience, the industry can be very rewarding.
To break into this field, you must be willing to take an entry position to get your foot in the door, with a desire to master that position and then start an upward movement. With so many positions in a hotel, it takes time to understand where you fit in best, so you should keep an open mind. It's important to remember that there is no limit other than your own limitations.