We chat to TFE Hotels CEO about adventure, the rat race, and where the grass is greener.
Can you tell us a little about your career progression? How did you get your start in the travel industry?
I was studying my MBA when Carol Scott, MD of Imperial Car Rental in South Africa came to talk to our group. Carol was then one of the few women leaders in tourism in South Africa. I was completely inspired by her. Like so many people in Travel and Tourism she was full of heart and had a passion for life and for people, travel and sharing experiences.
I knew I wanted to be just like her. I believe people either have a heart for service or they don’t. I truly care about customers having a good time and believe in customer centric businesses, regardless of industry.
I came to my current position not by specific design but by being engaged with and passionate about what I do, always building strong teams (I believe an intelligent and motivated team is the best strategy there is) and being very goal oriented. A critical part of leadership is making sure that work has a “purpose”, that we can be proud of what we do.
As a team at TFE Hotels we feel we are striving towards something meaningful, hitting outcomes, growing peoples’ careers, delighting guests and all our stakeholders and can be very proud of what we do. My mantra is “companies don’t succeed, people do”.
It is true for all companies but especially true for the travel industry. I have never regretted my career choice and genuine love what I do and the incredible team I have the privilege to work with.
What would you say is your defining career achievement or the thing you are most proud of?
I am most proud of the career progression of so many people I have worked with.
Over 70% of the roles we fill are filled with internal candidates and there are countless stories within our organisation of people who started on the front line, in reception or housekeeping, and then progressed through our various future leaders training courses, to become Duty Managers, Assistant Managers, Hotel Managers, or as with several people, to now hold executive roles at our ‘Home Office’.
In addition, the launch of a refreshed brand with Vibe Hotels, the expansion into Europe of Adina Apartment Hotels, and the growth of our business from 7 to now over 70 hotels are significant achievements which the whole team can be proud of, but truly it is the growth of people which is always the most inspiring.
What have been the biggest challenges to success you’ve encountered professionally?
I have had many failures in my life. None of these have been insurmountable. I believe it is always important to try something but equally important to monitor it and if it is not working, to change it or try something else.
Also, to always be willing to listen and change my mind for a better outcome if others have better ideas.
With the benefit of wisdom, what advice would you give your 21 y/o self when you were starting out in your career?
Stay true to your passion. Always assume good intent. Know the value of honest feedback. Remember that delegation is not abdication and that focus is transformational. Get things done today – tomorrow will bring fresh challenges. And my favourite quotation: “the grass is always greener where it is watered.”
How would you describe your business/management style? What sorts of things are most important to you professionally?
My style is collaborative. I believe that business is built on relationships and that people do business with, and their best work for, people they like.
So integrity, fun, passion and a focus on achieving meaningful goals are all important to me. Human beings are always at their best when they are challenged and striving for something important and real and which they can see adds value.
Who are the people you admire most professionally or in any field/walk of life?
I admire people who have high positive energy, a sense of humour, and want to make a difference. And people who do business well, but who do it with grace.
Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat! Make sure you can be proud of what you and the team around you are achieving.
What do you do to unwind when you aren’t working? What is most important to you outside the office?
I run (some call it fast walking) a couple of times a week and do yoga on a Sunday, at our house, with friends. We have three children and a large circle of wonderful friends and entertain a lot. I love having people over to our house for meals. Life is busy, but good!
For you, what’s the best aspect of working in the travel industry?
I know I keep saying it, but the people who work in the travel industry have a zest for life, a spirit of adventure, and are interested in life and love to travel. They are the best colleagues you could ask for. Given the chance to go back and select any industry I would choose the travel industry and the service industry again.
What one thing gets you through a stressful day?
Tea! A cup of tea cures most things in life, gives you a moment to catch your breath and regain your sense of humour.
You can see the other ladies from our exclusive Women in Travel series here: