Naureen Ahmed credits moving around as a child to her interest in the hospitality industry. She attended the renowned Swiss hotel program at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) and began her hospitality career working in food and beverage. While she loved the creativity of F&B, Naureer found her happy place when she learned about Revenue Management as part of her management trainee program. From there she went to STR and worked her way up in marketing, helping build brand awareness for the company.
Along the way, Naureen realized she was looking for guidance and inspiration to shape her career and couldn't find what she wanted to know from other women easily. This was the catalyst for her to start interviewing other women for what is now Inspiring Women in Hospitality, a community, and a collection of interviews with nearly 80 women whose careers span all sectors and levels in hospitality. We turned the mic to Naureen to let her share her journey, as she is about to head off for a year of travel.
What drew you to hospitality? The multiculturalism. From a young age, we moved around a lot with my family. By the time I was 10 I had already lived in four different countries and I was also being raised in a dual culture household. Growing up I always felt different. Hospitality is where I found my home and my people. Everyone came from a diverse background, everyone was social, open-minded, and shared a love of travel and experiences and I felt I belonged.
Do you think hospitality is a gene or can be learned? I think it’s a bit of both. I don’t have anyone in my family who have a hospitality background, so it's not something I grew up with. It's something I grew to learn and love on my own. I think the one gene you must have is a love of creating memorable experiences.
You have an interesting career path, you started in F&B and shifted to revenue management. How did you navigate that transition?
The beauty of hospitality is you have so many career possibilities and you don’t only have to have one path. You can work in F&B, rooms, sales, marketing, HR, etc really any department or position. When I started in F&B I loved the creativity and creating guest experiences. As part of my management trainee program, I spent a few weeks in reservations, and when I discovered revenue management and tapped into my love of data, numbers, and excel spreadsheets. I was hooked on the numbers they just spoke to me, I loved working with the data and strategizing the pricing for the hotel and seeing the results. And I won't lie, the hours were significantly better. A full-time position opened up and I took it.
From there you went to STR, how did you get the opportunity to join STR?
After a few years when I realized I had no career progression in that role, I started to look elsewhere. In my role within revenue management, I of course knew of STR. So I took a chance and applied to STR and expressed my interest to join them. At first, there were no open roles, a few months went past and they reached back out with two open roles. Account management and Forecast Analyst. After the interview, I knew the Forecast Analyst was the right role for me. And the rest is history. And once I got in, I took every opportunity to progress my career within STR.
You were at STR for 12 years! In that time you built and grew the company’s marketing department and a stream of communications channels. What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of during that time? So much to be proud of during my 12 years! First I will say, my team. The teams I have built, and the various team members I have had. Some have stayed on and others have left the industry to go elsewhere, and I am so proud of all they have achieved. I created two departments at STR: Research & Analysis and Marketing. I am so proud of how they have both grown and evolved.
Second, is my role in the growth of the STR brand. When I first joined, STR was still a little-known brand in the industry and I am proud to see how it's grown globally. Working with multicultural teams around the world. I was able to say I had colleagues from Japan to Bogota and that was really special.
The series of webinars I started during the pandemic as a way of sharing some data and insights during an extremely difficult time for our industry.
On the side you began Inspiring Women in Hospitality, tell us what inspired you to inspire others?
I started the interviews in 2020. It was COVID that was the catalyst that made it possible, no one was traveling, everyone was at home and suddenly everyone knew how to use Zoom. There were three main reasons that inspired me:
I was looking for role models. Where were the role models from our industry? When I was going through a career crisis, I was looking for women to look up to.
I had attended an event organized by Carine Bonnejean from Christie’s and she would always bring in a female guest speaker that she knew and inspired her, but not from our industry. And I always used to think about where are the inspiring women from our industry.
A few years ago, I read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, at the time I was going through my divorce and I felt like a failure. However reading her story and her experiences and knowing that she went on to have a really successful career, made me feel less alone and inspired for a different future. I wanted to share the stories from our industry to inspire us.
I read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, at the time I was going through my divorce and I felt like a failure. However reading her story and her experiences and knowing that she went on to have a really successful career, made me feel less alone and inspired for a different future. I wanted to share the stories from our industry to inspire us.
What key themes have you seen emerge after completing 79 interviews?
It has been an incredible privilege to meet and interview so many women and learn about their career paths. I've been exposed to a variety of roles: entrepreneurs, revenue managers, GMs, developers, consultants, commercial roles, owners, sales and marketing, hospitality real estate, investor, recruitment, social enterprise, media, ESG experts, president, coaches, food and wine, hospitality tech, guest relations, people and culture, students, wellness experts, to name a few! The three main things I have learned:
Every story is different.
Career possibilities within hospitality are endless.
Women need platforms to be heard and to share their stories
We are fans of your interviews and share your mission, bravo! You held your first in-person event in London, how fabulous, tell us about that and will there be more? It was really great to have my first in-person event. Anne Golden and Claire Gilbertson from Pan Pacific London were fantastic hosts. 12 inspiring women around the table sharing their experiences of career highs and lows. It took us 45 mins to get through introductions, which speaks volumes about the talent we had around the table! One and half hours just flew by and we could have stayed longer, as everyone had a lot to say. We heard of challenges where we had to fight for our positions, prove our worth and own our space. Standing up for ourselves and other women within the organization. We celebrated successes such as award nominations, promotions, being on your first panel, etc. I most certainly want to do more events all around the world as I embark on my year of travel.
Hang on, you are about to embark on a year of travel and being a digital nomad, how exciting!?! What was the impetus for this life change and how are you able to do it? I think there are several things that happened that motivated me to make this decision. The catalyst was probably my Swiss grandmother passing away unexpectedly. It reminded me how precious life is and to spend more time with those you love, and COVID robbed this of us for nearly two years. I also decided to leave my 12-year career at STR and take some time off and this morphed into giving myself a year. I have rented out my flat in the UK and will spend some time with family and friends around the world.
Sounds amazing Naureen! We are going to keep tabs on your travels around the world! Wishing you a joyous year of discovery.