Sacrificing a pawn

I always give people what I owe them

Country Duarte Bon de Sousa

American dream has become an idiom associated with Hollywood scenario. From a paperboy to the head of publishing house, from a janitor to the senior municipal manager. We don’t take this more seriously than a movie scenario. Who could believe that a young night manager in Lisbon would make such a meteoric rise in quite a short time and become a General Manager in L’Apogée Couchevel Château Saint-Martin & Spa Oetker Collection? Our new columnist Duarte Bon de Sousa proves that anything is possible in this life.

I was very lucky. I think that our careers are impossible without a part of luck and of course a big part of education. So, when I say that I was lucky I mean that I was blessed when someone believed in me and identified that I had the potential to do more and more.

My first position was a night manager in Meridian hotel, Lisbon. I was lucky because the General Manager was also a head of the hotel in Oporto, the second biggest city in my country. After six months of being in the company I was offered to be a manager in the hotel in the North of the country. And I was quite young, twenty-three and the team was around thirty people by that time. Of course I accepted the challenge. When you accept a challenge like this you have to be thankful and humble enough to accept the help of people around you who will develop you. To start managing a team at twenty-three without any experience is dangerous. It’s like a kid without a license given a car driving the way he feels. He’ll drive too fast enjoying the speed. I was even more lucky to find a second hotel manager from Human Resources department who taught me and developed me. It was amazing: I had a position of manager and two coaches.

Then one day I was supposed to take a position in Africa. I was a front manager in Oporto and I was offered the position of room division manager in Africa. Every time that I was moved in my career I spoke to my superiors about it. I’m not the kind of person who’d just say good-bye and turn around.

I always give people what I owe them. We had a very nice relationship with my HR coach, so, she said, ‘I cannot decide instead of you but I can help you with decision making process’. We took a white page and she put plus and minus on top and we thought of many things accurately placing them. And in the end there was one important thing, a salary three times higher than my current one. It was a huge plus.

When I told my first manager about my decision he said ‘I know you’re not taking a right decision, you won’t like it. I know you’ll come back’. He was right. I stayed there for six month but the country was still in war so it was not easy. It was a small Portuguese group from Oporto, they suggested me to come back and work for them there.

My next step was a decision to lose in status but start working for Four Seasons. It’s like a chess game, you sacrifice a pawn to beat a queen. I had a position of division manager and I was developing a sales department of that group, had a company car, a company apartment. So, working for Four Seasons would bring me some steps back in my career becoming assistant of the office manager. But sometimes making a few steps back is strategically proven, you step back to run up and make a better jump. Not everyone is able to see this, sometimes people are afraid to go back. Working for international company is better than working for the national company and I can have opportunities to work all over the world which I would like to do. Working where I am, I’ll probably become a general manager of a small Portuguese hotel. But may be one day I’ll grow in Four Season. I chose the second path.

 I know French. So in a couple of months I was transferred to Paris, same position but in Four Seasons’ Hotel George V. Living in Paris was quite difficult at the beginning, it’s not easy to live in this city, to make friends and adapt. But six months later I was having the best days in my life. I was working in one of the best hotels in Paris, I loved my team, we had fun, we were young.

 But the chess game was on. One and a half year later I met my General Manager in the corridor:

’You are going to be transferred to our Lissabon hotel, congratulations!’

‘What? Transferred? But I’m not aware!’

‘Oh, not aware? I’m sorry, I’m sorry. So you’ll receive a call from Lisbon soon because they want you to come back. Instead of assistant of the office manager you’ll work as a front office manager now. Yes, I loved Paris but it was a high time to move on.

         Soon the owner of a small hotel in Madeira Island suggested me to become their General Manager. I was very young and I said ‘Nonono, I’m very happy with what I have in Four Seasons, thank you but no’. Six months later after the first attempt they tried for the second time and they acted smartly, bought a ticket and suggested an apartment to look around as a guest. I spoke to my manager and he said something that I would never forget. He said ‘You know what? I’d like to make you stay. But sometimes it’s good to remember, the water doesn’t pass under the bridge twice. The sales manager becoming a General Manager in a small independent property, it may not happen ever again. If I were you I’d take it’. And there I was for the next four years. Then I was suggested to join a clothing brand which wanted to open their hotel in Portugal, I worked with them for three years. And now I’m a General Manager of the L’Apogée Couchevel Château Saint-Martin & Spa Oetker Collection and in terms of the chess game I definitely didn’t lose.

Working in the hospitality industry is something really different. You learn to be tolerant, open minded and flexible to understand mentality and culture of people from other countries. You shake hands and talk to people you’d never dare to meet in a normal life circumstances. I remember one big European Union summit in Oporto. The hotel was privatized, we had all government heads with us. Controlling the security of all these people was a special occasion. I met many extraordinary interesting people.

My job gives me this chance and I’m grateful to those people who once believed in me in the beginning of my career, taught me and helped me to become what I am. I keep their traditions and try to develop a lot of young talents, now myself becoming their mentor. They work in one team with me and I adore to spend time sharing with them, exchanging knowledge, giving advices. My team feels comfortable talking to me and this is great, I take time to develop them, I know in few years they’ll become happy by my advices. We need to see happiness everyday. I think I’ve achieved it and now my goal is to be happy and make other people be happy too.