What drew you to pursue hospitality originally?
I was always fascinated by exploring new things. I think what really started to challenge me was my very first trip with my parents to see family members in British Columbia, Canada. Now it's common to see young families traveling the world, but when I was younger, it was quite unusual to fly and see a totally different culture. I grew up in a small village near Rotterdam, so I started to realize that there is way more to explore in the world.
How did you start your career?
In hotel school, I did two internships. The first was at Park Hotel Amsterdam during a very interesting period. The hotel was going through a management ownership change and the organization was really disturbed by that. I came in thinking I’d be a receptionist during the day. It ended up that I was there for seven months, working nights and I was the only one there running the hotel. But I can tell you, I learned a lot because they gave me full responsibility. I think too much [Laughs]. And, of course, I experienced really weird situations. One time, in the middle of the night, a tour bus of 45 people arrived and the hotel was fully booked. It's like, OK, you need to pretend you're not an intern, you need to pretend that you're pro.
After that, I had an internship in the Caribbean working as a ground handler for various US and Canadian tour operators. I had to hop from island to island. It was like very long vacation for eight nine months. From that experience, I wanted to work in the travel industry and tourism, not particularly hospitality.
“Don't rush it. Take your time to learn.”
What was your first job after school?
After hotel school and my internships, I was actually working for a tour operator for specialized trips to Egypt. And this was in the old days when there were little ads in the newspaper. I had to pick up the phone and sell those trips, and when there was a group of 20 passengers, I took the group to Egypt. I was really afraid flying. I always remember those flights on Egypt Air and having to be the confident leader [Laughs]. On those many trips, I started to experience more and more hotels, from luxury to budget, and hotels really started to get my attention even more.
How did you move into the hotel industry?
My career started in sales and marketing. At the time, the Gulf War was going on and the whole market was disturbed. Before that time, believe it or not, most of the hotels didn't have any sales or revenue departments. It was just a hotel reception and a back office, and in the back office, you had a bookkeeper and maybe one or two people just taking reservations by telephone and fax. That was it. The Rooms Division Manager at Park Hotel approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping her set up a sales and marketing department because they felt they really needed to do something different. We started to define what we have today in our business. In those eight years in sales and marketing for various hotels, I started as a junior junior junior sales representative and ended up as a regional sales director for a group of hotels.
How did your journey take you back to Park Hotel as General Manager?
They approached me because they were looking for a GM with a strong sales and marketing background. Honestly, I really had self-doubt and fear. My expertise lied in sales and marketing, not in legal, finance, HR or food and beverage. I felt that I needed to know every single detail of every department to be a GM. After a lot of thinking and talking with people, I decided to do it.
The lesson I took from that is you have to surround yourself with experts. You need to look at yourself and see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Everything you don't have and you feel is really critical, you need to surround yourself with those kinds of people.
Now as CEO of the collection, what lessons do you keep in mind from your first internship at Park Hotel?
I aim to give full responsibility to people and make them feel empowered to do great things. Through this, only great things happen and ultimately shapes the company for the better. If they make mistakes, that's okay, they learn through those experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to let things go and not micromanage.
Looking back at my career, I notice I had to let things go and move on. With every new project, it was like my new baby, and as Sircle Collection grew, we had more and more babies to look after. It was so difficult to let things go, but it’s important.
Looking back, what would you tell your intern self?
Don't rush it. I think the younger generation especially really wants to go fast-fast-fast. Charting your career development is fantastic, but some people put it in a short timeframe. Take your time to learn. If you're passionate and you believe in it, you will get there.
Also, many people coming from hotel schools feel the need to be the manager or director, focusing on titles. I never actually paid much attention to titles. During my whole career, every single step took time. I really dug into learning everything I could. You need to keep on learning. Don’t be perfect, just be better than yesterday.
Last question: how did you get over your fear of flying?
By just doing it!