The recently appointed front office manager at the Radisson Blu Hotel Port Elizabeth in Gqeberha, Nokwazi Mlambo chats with us about her career journey so far, the challenges and highlights of her new position, her industry mentors, and her advice to aspiring female hospitality leaders.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
My career journey has been a bumpy one filled with sweat, tears, laughter, growth, hard work, sleepless nights – and no social life! However, throughout it all, I was surrounded by amazing, strong women. I was a trainee straight from the Hotel School where I was offered a job as Food & Beverage Duty Manager. However, I declined that offer – partly as I knew that I still had a long way to go, but also because I was scared of the challenge, having no experience.
My employer at that point saw something in me though, and I was placed at a hotel front desk as a receptionist. A year into that role, an opportunity presented itself for a reservationist so I applied and got the job. It came with more responsibilities and presented an opportunity to work closely with timeshare, which also exposed me to international guests. That’s when I realised my passion for hospitality. After six months of being a receptionist, I was promoted to Reservations Supervisor, a role I held for three years before being offered the position of Front Office Duty Manager.
I knew that if I stayed at one property, this would be as far as I could grow so I started applying for jobs in bigger cities. I kept getting rejected as my experience only covered small properties and timeshare self-catering units. However, when a hospitality group expanded, I got the opportunity to work in reservations for their head office in Durban, which looks after seven properties. While this meant a slight step down from the position I held at the time, I took the opportunity and changed my five-year goal to an eight-year goal. The growth and experience I received were amazing.
After three years, I needed a change, so I decided to spread my hospitality wings and applied at Radisson Blu Port Elizabeth, starting from the bottom as a reservationist in 2018. It was here I met one of the most amazing women in my life: Elmarie Fritz, the hotel’s new general manager. At that time, however, our relationship was short-lived as she became Revenue Manager. I only worked with her for two months before I moved to a new hotel, but Elmarie offered me a position as Reservations Supervisor. Having seen what a strong, smart woman she was, I couldn’t refuse the offer.
What are some of the challenges and highlights involved in your current position?
Splitting myself into 20 pieces and understanding that I am responsible for so many team members who have different personalities and how to deal with them individually has been challenging. To assist me, I made a chart I keep at home that notes each team member’s unique qualities. One of the highlights of my current position is being able to see the growth of individual team members and I feel really proud when guest reviews have good feedback or the guests compliment the staff.
Do you have any mentors in the industry?
My journey has been filled with women like Xolisile Mzinyane, who taught me systems; Nisha McDougall, who taught me emotional intelligence; Veloshini Naidoo, who taught me that I can sell anything; and, of course, Elmarie Fritz, who has been moulding, guiding and polishing me into the person I have become. She taught me procedures and management of systems while ensuring I did not lose myself in the process. She still teaches me on a daily basis, but I am good at what I do because of her. I use the lessons she has taught and instilled in me every day, even in my personal life.
What would your advice be to aspiring female hospitality leaders?
You need to have passion and love for the industry. Also, know that your personal life will change or be non-existent and you’ll need to be okay with that.
What is a learning moment that has helped shape you into the manager you are today?
I’ve always been patient and all the things I’ve been through during my career have taught me that this journey is unique to me – I am running my own race and only competing with myself. Elmarie taught me that I should never take anything personally and that patience is a virtue.