As you’ll know, if you’ve taken the 2 minutes it takes to read my ‘About Me’ page; I grew up in Zimbabwe.
Now let’s just be clear, this was the ‘proper’ Zimbabwe before it was lead down the tubes by a person ‘whose name we do not mention.’ So when I decided upon a career in the hotel industry there was really only one option for me to do my hotel management course. The Meikles Hotel, in the capital city Harare.
The Meikles was built in 1915 by Thomas Meikle, who had emigrated to South Africa in 1890. Along with his brother, he opened a trading post in Southern Rhodesia in 1892 and with a keen sense of forethought soon realised that a small settlement already established to the north would be a suitable location for a colony.
This led to the building of the countries first luxury hotel which opened in 1915. I’ll not bore you with 95 years of history lessons and memories of those times; suffice it to say that The Meikles has always been Zimbabwe’s most luxurious and popular hotel, and remains so to this day.
When I began my 3 year hotel management internship I had already been staying at the hotel on and off since I was 6 years old. My father has been a regular guest at the hotel for over 30 years. Not hard to see why it was a given that I would learn my trade in this illustrious hotel. It has the same long-standing reputation that the Mount Nelson Hotel does in Cape Town. The countries oldest and grandest hotel, which has endured recessions, economic dips and all manner of historical factors and still remains at the pinnacle of its industry.
With 370 rooms and suites, 6 restaurants, 4 bars and a roof top pool deck with gym, spa and sauna it exceeds the standard facilities required for a five-star hotel. It has one of the largest basement sections of any building I’ve seen with golf carts required to get between far ends of it; includes a full laundry with dry cleaning facility, this incidentally was also the very first dry cleaner to be established in the country. It has a dry stores department as big, if not bigger, than most modern supermarkets, a bakery where all the hotels bread and pastry’s are prepared , a butchery where whole carcasses are cut into portions as the chef requires and a waste management system which, for that time, was extremely sophisticated and environmentally sensitive.
So with such a complete back of house system in place, and an extensive range of facilities available to guests you would imagine that similar care and attention had been paid to the selection of staff. This assumption is correct.
The hotel employed at that time over 1500 staff members, a staff : guest ratio of nearly 3 to 1 which is impressive in any country. It also differed from hotels in South Africa in that it employed an almost entirely male housekeeping compliment. I never found out why this was, but it seemed to work well. A little less gossiping and a little more productivity perhaps…I’ll never admit to having an opinion on this so you’ll not need to track me down and bash me!
Where the hotel excelled though was in the strength of its Management team. From the early days until my time there over 80 years later the hotel was run by ‘hotel people’ Don’t misunderstand, I do see the value that qualifications in different industries may bring to a hotel, however without a good understanding of ‘the ways things are done’ hotels cannot be run successfully by people who do not have the required knowledge and experience. When I was employed as a trainee, our Executive Management team of 10 people had a combined hotel industry experience of over 120 years! 120 years for goodness sake! Can you see why the hotel has won the best hotel in the country award every year since the award has been given? And why the hotel was regularly on the list of the world’s best hotels, with the highest being a ranking of 13th. Only the Mount Nelson and the Cape Grace, in this country, have ever been placed higher.
The Management was almost entirely made up of people who had followed the hospitality industry straight from school. People who lived and breathed hotels with such passion that there was no choice but for them to be successful and at the top of their industry. The Chief Executive at that time had first been employed at the hotel right out of school at 17 years old; had vowed that one day he would run the hotel and when he returned just over 10 years later he did. Two of the doormen had worked at the hotel for over 40 years, with most of that time spent in that position. The Rooms Division Manager had trained there and worked her way around each department over the hotel, and after 35 years later she is still there. A ‘lay person’ will not understand this life long dedication to service.
It’s a sad truth that the world is full of people who do just enough to keep their jobs safe. They will work in a job just to pay the rent and support themselves but rarely will they LOVE what they are doing. These people are the majority and they really should really be a minority or not exist at all. Why do something if you are not putting into it all that you can? Some people may be forced into a job that they have to do to make ends meet, but I am really talking about the majority of people who go after the big salary or the glamorous lifestyle. These people live shallow and empty lives and it shows in the work that they do and the results speak for themselves.
We all need to have drive, determination, love and ambition for the work we do. It’s not exactly breaking news that many people spend more time at work that at home or at leisure; so why compromise on the most important part of your life? You wouldn’t marry someone just so you didn’t end up alone, so why ‘settle’ in your professional capacity?
I have even been accused of having a lack of ambition for wanting to be a Concierge for the rest of my life. Nothing could be further from reality. The reality is, that yes, I do want to be a Concierge for the rest of my life; but don’t ever accuse or suspect me of having no or little ambition. I have always put in more hours than necessary, I’ve sacrificed money, sweat, tears and relationships for my career as a Concierge. I’ve worked damn hard to get as good as I am, to know what I know and to have the connections and contacts I have had. I actually find it offensive when people think that I am ‘settling’ by doing this job forever.
Concierge is not just a job for me.
Concierge is a career.
Concierge is a lifestyle.
Concierge is my life.
I am Concierge.