Meet Verona Oliver our alumni taking over Zimbali

After studying Hospitality Management for 3 years at the International Hotel School, attending at our Durban Campus. This amazing lady has made huge steps in the hospitality industry, becoming the General Manager at Zimbali Lodge & Zimbali Vacation Club. We got a chance to catch up with her and this is what she had to say:

What are your some of your responsibilities in your current position? 

In brief, I am responsible for the overall management and strategic direction of the Zimbali Lodge and the Zimbali Vacation Club. Overseeing the operations functions of the hotel and club, including the Spa, Food & Beverage and Rooms Division. My scope includes leading and supporting all departments in the achievement of their financial and operational targets through the establishment of a positive culture, clear expectations following policy and  procedural implementation.

As the General Manager I also direct the preparation, presentation and subsequent achievement of the hotel and club’s annual operating budget, marketing & sales plan and capital budget to name a few. In addition to the above mentioned responsibilities I’m actively involved in various industry and community initiatives, acting as spokesperson and ambassador for both the Zimbali Lodge, Vacation Club and the Dream Hotels & Resorts Brand.

Congratulations, the hospitality industry has been good to you… which other doors has the industry opened up for you?

The opportunity to grow, and keep growing. Just like me, many students entering tertiary education today seek out jobs that excite them and provide limitless growth opportunities. This was one of the most important factors for me when choosing a career path in hospitality, and of course worldwide travel, along with a wealth of possibilities and endless contacts with which I am able to network in.

Any treasured moments in the hospitality industry that bring back fond memories? 

I have had many memorable experiences throughout my hospitality career, however one that sticks out most is my selection for The WAAG (Women at Accor Generation) committee.  WAAG consists of an esteemed panel of mentors to support a small group of up and coming female leaders within the Middle East, Africa and India regions of the Accor Brand. As much as I provided support, guidance and inspiration to my own mentee, she did the same for me. I learnt so much about the capacity I have to inspire change in an individual, together with the value of conscious leadership and how this establishes trust. These discoveries were deep rooted and core to how I navigate as a woman in the world of work.

Talking about students, what piece of advice would you give to new students? 

Passion is everything. If hospitality is what you love, then understand the sacrifices that come with this demanding industry – being present on weekends, public holidays and key periods is expected. It does not matter what position you hold or which area of the hotel you work in.

Additionally, any career advice do you wish you had received when you entered the industry, especially as a woman? 

Don’t be afraid to try something new and/or different. You may have never done it before but there is a first time for everything. You might also not have 100 percent of the skills required and that’s okay – you can learn the rest. You may get critiqued—and that can be a good thing. Learning from helpful criticism is one of top skills women need, and we often find it difficult to do. However, when you venture out of your comfort zone, you grow.

That’s amazing! Tell us more, what are your Top 5 secrets that helped your career to grow? 

ENTHUSIASM is often one of the key attributes in the hospitality sector. If you can demonstrate enough interest in doing a particular role, you’re likely to be given the freedom and empowerment to develop yourself in that area.

We all face challenges and adversity throughout our careers. In today’s dynamic and fast-moving hospitality industry RESILIENCE is a very important competence to demonstrate in the workplace, particularly as a leadership skill. 

HUMILITY… Humble leaders understand that they are not the smartest person in every room, nor do they need to be. They encourage their team to speak up, respect differences of opinion and champion the best ideas, regardless of whether they originate from a top executive or a line level employee. 

Play to your STRENGTHS. If you can identify what’s unique in your background, use those skills to advance and if you don’t have all the skills you need to succeed, go out and learn them. Take a class, read a book, listen to a podcast – just do everything you can to distinguish yourself and grow professionally. 

Learn how to HANDLE CONFLICT, instead of engaging in conflict or avoiding it. Learn to communicate forward by acknowledging the conflict and asking, “So how do we move past this?” Don’t make personal attacks, always be professional and once the conflict is over, shake hands, hold your head high, and most importantly get back to work.

Finally any favourite books, podcasts or shows that you refer to for some career inspiration?  

Multipliers – Liz Wiseman

The Adversity Advantage – Paul Stolz & Erik Weihenmayer

7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey

I am a huge fan of Simon Sinek, have listened to all his TED Talks and podcasts a few times over. I find him very relevant and approachable, so whether you are a student starting out in your career or in leadership role you will be able to connect to his message and apply it in a meaningful way to your daily life.

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