DURBAN: HOTEL group Tsogo Sun’s constellation of female general managers (GM) continues to sparkle and grow at some of Durban’s key holiday hot spots.
Last week, the group landed another victory for women empowerment when they announced Leean Murugan as their GM of the Garden Court South Beach hotel.
Murugan’s appointment took Tsogo Sun’s tally of female GMs in the city to five.
The others are Samantha Croft who heads the Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani complex; Michelle Bregger, the acting GM at the Garden Court Marine Parade; Sunsquare Suncoast’s Lettisha Singh; and Mickey Rautenbach, Garden Court uMhlanga’s GM.
Given the demands and challenges of the position, which requires them to be the “captain of their ship” and take responsibility for every detail at the hotels, these ladies have silenced their sternest critics, especially those from the “old boys’ club”.
For the sake of clients, in their own inimitable way, they have each tinkered and tailored their respective establishment’s offerings, in relentless pursuit of “service excellence” and delivering “unforgettable experiences”.
Mike Jackson, director of Tsogo Sun’s operations in KZN, said he was proud of what the GMs in the province had achieved, and having five females at the helm of major hotels in a city was a first for the group.
“It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and pure grit to make it to the top in this industry,” said Jackson.
Rautenbach concurred that it had been a long and winding road for her.
She said the hospitality industry found her. She had no intention of joining it when she completed school and studied law, only to later realise it was not for her.
After a stint in investment banking, she landed a job as hotel receptionist.
Although she dropped many calls on her first day working on the switchboard, her will to succeed and “soft touches” have helped Rautenbach climb through the ranks.
She remembered when she started working in the industry that “women were not the big decision makers”.
“The majority of companies are now more open-minded about women in top positions.
“Women are also leaders in the hospitality industry. I believe the remarkable women of Tsogo Sun in KZN are an inspiration to others.”
Rautenbach said being a good communicator and having the right team and strategies helped her and her staff to achieve their goals.
For Bregger, being a hotelier is a calling. Growing up in a hospitable family stirred her interest.
Initially, she had thoughts of becoming a chef. “But you can’t have pretty nails and hair, it’s just not glamorous,” laughed Bregger.
Creating experiences for her guests is her focus and no job is too menial, even if it means her cleaning toilets and taking out bins.
Key to her success has been her “hospitality eye”.
“Attention to detail is what it’s all about,” Bregger said.
“Every hotel is different. Once you walk into the foyer you immediately get a sense of the heartbeat and soul of the building.
“Your person and outlook to life is infectious and is adopted by your team. Creating a sense of family and pride within my team translates into how they welcome and host our guests,” said Bregger.
Murugan also had an affinity for hospitality from a young age.
Her first hotel stay was a defining moment, while on a road trip to Port Elizabeth with her parents while a teenager.
“The guest relations manager made me feel special from the moment we walked in and that’s what I wanted to do for others.”
As a hotelier, Murugan loves adding her personal touch and keeping up with the latest trends.
She noticed that over the past 10 years there was an increase in women travellers, so she adopted the international trend of setting up a “women’s-only floor”, loaded with an array of “girly things”.
“It is well loved by women and they feel satisfied and secure there,” said Murugan.
Away from her demanding job, a weekly family gathering is priority for her.
“Without fail, we get together for a meal after church on Sundays. But I never talk about the challenges of my job, only the wonderful memories my team and I are able to create,” said Murugan.
Singh is aware that Durban generally lags behind in service excellence, but she would not have that at her hotel. Therefore, she and her staff pride themselves with going the extra mile for each client, and service with a smile is an intrinsic part of their offerings.
Singh even has a dedicated team that ensures all their operations is friendly to the environment.
A close eye is kept on their waste management. Singh is a stickler for upholding Tsogo Sun’s “no straws” for drinks policy, and she plans to soon have a herb garden on the premises.
“I do my homework thoroughly before engaging service providers to ensure that they are also conscious about the environment.”
Some of the traits that has distinguished Singh’s style of leadership includes integrity, agility, communication, innovation, empowerment and enhancing Tsogo Sun’s brand.
When Croft became Durban’s first female GM in 2014, the “old boys’ club” made some “snide” comments, questioning her mettle.
Croft was tasked with managing two entities (Elangeni and Maharani hotels) that functioned independently previously, but now merged into a 734-bed establishment, the largest in the country.
She admits to being nervous at first. Croft was wary that she was in charge of two Durban buildings with their own traditions.
But she achieved a harmonious blend of cultures and her efficient team has made her job easier.
Croft said her forte was people skills and that had helped her get the best out of her team.
“My mantra is to create an environment that is conducive to growth. If your people are growing, they are motivated and engaged and this turns into great customer experiences.”
About making vital contributions to the local economy and the tourism sector, Croft said she enjoyed that responsibility.
“This is what makes me tick. While I enjoy creating experiences, I enjoy running a successful business. It’s all about balance. We are all businesswomen - we just happen to run hotels,” said Croft.