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Pearls of Wisdom: Vivien Sirotkin

By Luke Nicholls , 09-Mar-2012

In a week that marks International Women’s Day, there is no one better placed to give her thoughts on life, her career and hospitality than Vivien Sirotkin. With over 30 years experience in the industry, Sirotkin - currently director of hotel operations at QHotels - has devoted her entire life to developing excellence within hospitality. She made history as the first female manager to run a five-star resort at The Gleneagles Hotel and also ran the first five-AA-Red-Star hotel outside of London in Cliveden. She has more recently been the figurehead for a government-backed initiative which aims to allow more female business managers into training.

The first and foremost thing that I love about working in hotels is the variety. Most people come into this industry because they enjoy dealing with people. Customers have different likes and demands, so dealing with them certainly creates the variety. I also really enjoy managing a team, which also has a great deal of variety to it. A corporate role it’s about influencing people, so being able to use a certain degree of emotion and intelligence is paramount.

I’m a very driven individual, I don’t like failure. I think what has always motivated me is a drive to do betterand to make sure the company I work for is the best it can possibly be. There's always a way of improving on your performance year-on-year, whether it’s building on the weakest hotels, trying to drive the customer satisfaction or trying to improve your AA status. I always set high targets for improvements in any area of the business and I try my hardest to achieve them.

I left the industry for two years to run a contract cleaning company and that made me realise just how much I enjoyed working in hotels. I was happy to give up office hours, a company car and a very nice package for the job satisfaction of working in hotels.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I received was all about understanding how different people work and learning how to deal with them. It enabled me to easily get the measure of people and adjust the way I approached people, often men, to get a result. To get on in your career you have to learn how to manage up and impress at a lot of levels, so emotional intelligence training will help women get on.

If you’re a married woman, you have to be exceptional to be able to manage your family alongside the hotel. When my son was growing up, we had nannies and childminders, but what I needed was a wife, that would have been the perfect thing! You have to be a very good juggler between being both career orientated and a family person.  When I had a child and he went to school, my mobility and ability to go anywhere for the right opportunity became more difficult. However, the more senior you are in a business, the more easier it is to manage the demands of your home life.

My advice to other women would be to begin their career by specialising in rooms revenue, and then you can fast track into a senior corporate role and up to board level. If I was starting again now in hospitality, I’d get more of an appreciation of operations, as that’s what drives the direction of the business.

This current generation of young people are very different to mine. With the changing demographics, getting young people to want to work is so hard.They don’t want to work lots of hours, they want lots of ‘me time’ and the industry being what it is isn’t very attractive, certainly the hotel industry.I did lecturing at Oxford Brroks university and I was really surprised when I found that

The highlight of my career has to be becoming general manager of Gleneagles Hotel. To run a five-Red-Star leading hotel of the world was not only an achievement, it was a fabulous job. When you’re working at a hotel that attractive, you attract some fabulous people to the hotel. I cut my teeth on Gleneagles - how fabulous is that!The other greatest career achievement is to be a board member at QHotels. Only six per cent of people in the boardroom are women, so I’m very proud to be one of them.

Retirement is next for me. I’m getting on a bit, so I would like to stay with this business for the next four or five years and then do a bit more golf and badminton and lots of other relaxing things. The recession at the moment is very tough and I’ve been here before. I want to help the Group get through these challenging times and then I can stop working and enjoy my retirement. But I’ve worked too many hours of the week to just completely stop.

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