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Castell@College Comes to the UK! Key Takeaways from Debut Session Across the Pond

Wondering what it really takes to have a fulfilling career in the hotel industry? This week three leading executives: Carmen Hui, Director, Commercial Strategy, Global Partner Services,, Jan Hazelton, Vice President of Global Business & Real Estate Development, Kerzner International, and Janine Marshall, General Manager of One Aldwych Hotel participated in a candid panel discussion on their career journeys for Castell@College at the University of Surrey, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

If you don't know it already, Castell@College is part of Castell, an AHLA Foundation Project, and offers hospitality students "real talk" about working in the industry from women who are in it. To date, Castell@College has reached over two thousand students and engaged over two hundred industry executives, this was the first foray into the UK and I was the moderator and Professor Emily Ma was our host from the University of Surrey.

Lots of knowledge was dropped––not always the kind they teach at college––and here are some highlights from the session!

Castell Project Castell@College in UK

Hospitality Careers Have a Variety of Starting Points

Jan shared a story about how her dream, while she was in college, was to work for Westin Hotels. She applied for the management trainee program and wasn't selected. She ended up working at the front desk at the Westin in Seattle. She decided to take a risk and drove to Los Angeles because she knew the Westin there had a management training program with openings. It paid off, she got the job and joined the program launching her career! The lesson here, if at first you don't succeed, try again.

Carmen started her career as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. She was put on a deal with a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) and was exposed to tax structuring and how that can work in hotels. A surprising entry point, but she fell in love with the business and ended up working for Host on the investment side.

As for Janine, she began at the Front Desk but realized after a guest complained about the size of his wardrobe (closet) that she didn't love dealing with customer complaints. She bumped into the Director of Finance for the hotel who suggested she might like working in accounting. She did! She retrained and now, ironically, runs a £30 million a year hotel business and deals with the occasional unhappy guest.

Big takeaway: Try as many roles as you can starting out, you never know where it will lead.

How to Cope During a Recession

In their careers, each member of the panel has lived through a few economic cycles. You may not be able to control the economy, but you can control how you react.

Jan recounted her experience in the financial crisis of 2007/2008. She was laid off from Hilton when Blackstone took over the business. Nobody was hiring and everyone reducing headcount. So Jan decided to team up with another banker in the industry and offer consulting services. They approached banks and offered to help them deal with bad loans and restructuring. It was a way to get herself out there and also she was able to earn money during a difficult time.

Big takeaway: Do something to get yourself out there, become a consultant, speak at conferences, or volunteer with associations.

How to Have Work-Life Balance

Both Jan and Carmen realized they were working too much and it was making them unhappy. "Nobody is ever going to say thank you for working late every night and nobody is going to tell you to leave the office, either," said Jan. "You have to create your own boundaries." She decided to try online dating––back in the early days before it was common––and this is how she met her husband.

Carmen shared a similar story, she had moved to London for work which was a great professional opportunity for her, but personally, she was lonely in a new city without friends or a support network. She had left a boyfriend to take the job, and while ending that relationship was the right decision, she needed more balance in her life. Friends visiting from New York suggested online dating, which she never thought to try, and the rest is history, now she is married with two daughters.

For Janine, to maintain balance scheduling workouts in her diary is a must. She trains at least three times a week and this gives her energy and balance. She also works to make sure she has time to spend with her husband and dogs. Delegating tasks to others is also a way to make time in your schedule and it is good for your team as it stretches them into new tasks. Janine used the example of letting someone in accounting help design the hotel's new bar!

Big takeaways: Your well-being is your own responsibility, take charge and find ways to bring joy into your life. Whether taking a risk on dating or making sure you schedule "me time" to do something that you enjoy. Delegating tasks can not only free up your time, but can also offer exciting challenges to your team.

How to Handle Being the Only Woman in the Room

Jan shared how working in finance, early in her career, and even today, she is the only woman in the room. In the early days, it was annoying the habit of men asking her to take notes or fetch coffee. "I would do this but learned to always speak to whichever guy asked that he shouldn't do this." The bigger point was that during any meeting, women need to SPEAK UP. Don't worry if you are not sure, just say your point. Jan also cited studies that men actually can't hear higher-pitched women's voices as well, "so in meetings, I intentionally lower the register of my voice, and that really made a difference."

Big takeaways: If you're the only woman, SPEAK UP, and don't worry if you are right or wrong. If possible try to lower the register of your voice.

How Defining Your Core Values Helps with Decision Making

Carmen shared how she has spent time over her career to really identify her core values. These are shaped by the experiences in life that form your personality and what is important to you. Carmen was lucky enough to work with a career coach to ask herself the big meta-questions, "this is not easy and takes some real soul searching." But she came to realize that having moved around as a child, "I was forced to turn culture shock into learning opportunities, and having some of the most positive experiences in my life with people of different perspectives. These defining moments shaped my core values of respect for diversity, transparency, partnership, balance, and continuous learning." Once she knew her values, she can easily decide which professional opportunities are right for her. This is one of the reasons she was happy to take a job with in Amsterdam!

Big takeaway: knowing your core values helps ground your decision-making. Take the time––either on your own or with the help of a coach or counselor––to figure out what is truly important to you and then apply those parameters to any opportunity.

How to Handle Criticism

Jan and Janine shared how bosses told them "they were too nice" and that in order to get ahead they needed to be more aggressive and confrontational. In the case of Jan, this advice totally backfired. When she tried to be more aggressive the people were offended. She knew then and there that her best way to "get ahead" was to be herself.

In Janine's case, the GM job at her hotel opened up but her boss at the time said she lacked the courage for the role. This was crushing for Janine, but she knew her style was softer and not so aggressive. Luckily that boss left for a competitor and Janine's new boss saw that she was basically already doing the job of GM and promoted her without hesitation. She noted, "I have learned to be firmer, but in my own way."

Big takeaway: If someone offers criticism or advice that goes against your instincts, it probably isn't right for you. Spend time learning about yourself as self-awareness is critical to leadership and ultimately your success. (see last takeaway).

How Networking Can Lead You to Unexpected Opportunities

Meeting with Brad Pitt to advise him on a hotel transaction? Yes, this happened to Jan through networking. After working in London for several years, Jan got a call out of the blue from a French lawyer, because he knew she was American but used to work for a French bank. He had a client, which he was very private about, who needed some advice on a business plan, could Jan help? That client was Brad Pitt.

Big takeaway: You never know who knows who and what it may lead to in your career. Don't burn any bridges!

For more information on Castell@College, click here.

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