Secrets of Productivity: Mike Harlow, General Manager, Scott Dunn

by Anton D. Javier
17 May 2022

We’re all given the same 24 hours in a day and how we use it is up to us. These individuals are no strangers to the hustle, juggling multiple businesses and passion projects, all while navigating ever-changing work norms, family life, and other challenges. In this feature, they let us in on how they spend their time so that they can work and play hard.

General Manager, Scott Dunn

Tell us more about yourself – your role, the work that it entails, and what keeps you busy at the moment.
I currently head the Scott Dunn Singapore office as the General Manager where I lead my team to develop and execute strategies for business growth and manage the day-to-day operations of the Asia team – ensuring that every team member is putting Scott Dunn’s guests at the heart of what they do. I continue to grow and oversee Scott Dunn Asia’s business across Singapore, Hong Kong, and the wider Southeast Asia and Australasia markets.

When I’m not at work, I enjoy spending time with my family, discovering new destinations, basking in the great outdoors, sampling local delicacies at the hawker centers, and cycling around the island.

Describe your morning routine. What do you do to help set the tone for a productive day?
Mornings start relatively early for me, Monday to Friday. Each day starts at 6am and after a long and resentful stare at my trainers, I complete a 5-6km run down Alexandra Canal and the Singapore River. I follow this up with a 10-minute steam in the condo’s steam rooms and a cooling shower. While I don’t bounce out of bed in the mornings, this routine clears my head, gets the blood flowing, and really sets me up for the day. This is followed by a strong coffee while catching up on the news and some time with the family before I head to the office.

(Related: The luxury of time with 25Hours)

Given that a lot of travel restrictions have been lifted, has work been busier than usual? With adversity comes opportunity. While the pandemic did have a very heavy impact on our business, in many ways we have never been busier. When borders remained shut, we pivoted to provide domestic experiences, working with local hotels and partners in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia. We’ve also been busy with setting up partnerships and at the beginning of 2021, we launched Scott Dunn Private, an invite-only membership for discerning travelers seeking access to some of the world’s most exclusive experiences and destinations.

The team has also been expanding and growing in preparation for the return of travel. It was a good strategic move as we’re now in a great place to cope with the strong surge in demand ever since travel restrictions started to relax late last year with the introduction of VTLs.

A typical workday for me starts with checking in with my Sales and Service Manager on current trading and operations. We discuss through the current pipeline for new enquiries and upcoming travel arrangements, as well as the guests we have overseas currently. Any challenges with productivity and workflow will be addressed and assigned to team members. I then typically tackle that day’s tasks, which range from touching in with the Travel Consultants, replying to e-mails, and catching up with my Marketing Manager on activity and partnerships. Afternoons are usually filled with meetings with colleagues in our UK office on longer term strategy pieces. Every day is different, but consistent communication with my team and ensuring I’m available should team members or guests require me are key aspects to a typical day.

Being in the travel industry is no walk in the park, especially given the events of the past two years. As a key player in one of the most respected travel companies in Singapore, what are your secrets to productivity to ensure success?
We’ve always encouraged consistent communication and made sure to set clear goals and expectations amongst the team. It’s key that each team member understands what’s expected of them and what they have within their control to affect their day-to-day tasks as this creates a positive working environment and ensures that our guests receive the highest levels of service and experience.

Working remotely from home also helped to reinforce how crucial it is to have consistent communication to work as effectively as possible. I’m pleased to see the positive impact this has had on the team’s productivity and the experience our guests have.

I’m a firm believer that a short break every now and then helps to improve focus and boost productivity. We’re a team that loves travel and we’re always supportive when one of us heads out for a holiday break. I think it helps to clear the mind and you come back refreshed. Also, now that restrictions are easing up, I’m looking forward to spend some time together as a team to relax as we used to have weekly Wine Friday sessions where we would gather and share about our travel experiences and how the week has been. These short sessions at the end of the week have definitely helped to bring the team closer together, improved working relationships, and is a good way to ease into the weekend.

(Related: The Evolution of the Experience — Andermatt, Swiss Alps)

How do you rest and recharge during your free time?
Not surprisingly, there is nothing that recharges and rejuvenates me more than travel. Now the borders have opened, I am starting to fill the calendar up. Aside from recently returning from Niyama in the Maldives, the UK, New Zealand, and Cambodia are all booked or in the planning stages for the year ahead.

Sleep more or sleep less – and why?
Always more. I am fortunate that I can sleep almost anytime and anywhere. This is particularly helpful when tackling jet lag or on long haul flights.

I aim to get seven to eight hours each night. Life is busy and fast paced, sleep is essential for me to decompress and recharge. I am trying to limit screen time in the evenings too, but while I have the intention, my mobile and Netflix does prove too tempting!  

If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you use that extra hour?
We recently welcomed our first child into the world and if I was fortunate enough to have an extra hour each day, then I would most certainly spend it with her.