Final advice from Accor women: carve your own path

In our final installment in recognition of International Women’s Day, HOTELS hears from Accor’s Sara Glenn, chief operating officer, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America at Accor, as well as Anne Marie Johns, general manager, Fairmont , Tremblant in Mont-Tremblant, Canada, who share their perspectives on how women in hospitality can better carve a path to success.

Throughout this week, HOTELS presented similar insights from Accor executives, including Heather McCrory, Mansi Vagt, Agnes Roquefort and Valerie Gavin.

HOTELS: What advice would you give your younger self?

Sara Glenn: Feel confident carving out your own path because there is not one blueprint to success. I believe this is truer today than it ever has been.

There is not one ideal path to success. Often the path we set out on diverges dramatically, yet some of the most pivotal moments in our lives are the unplanned and unscripted ones. I believe these moments provide the greatest opportunities and learnings.

You do not need to have your life mapped out by the date of commencement. You may have a vision of what your career path should look like – and then it looks and feels completely different or job opportunities in your desired area are not available – but that’s okay.

I started my career at the recreation desk at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise [in Canada]. It was there that I developed a passion for the hospitality industry with the early days of my career spent in hotel operations. Eager to learn more about the hotel business, I left my role in operations and spent 25 years in ownership and asset management. Four years ago, I returned to operations at Accor to apply what I had learned.

Anne Marie Johns (l.) and Sara Glenn

While this path was not what I had envisioned in school – and I don’t think I could have ever predicted it – the experience I gained along the way has been invaluable to my current position. I can confidently say I would not be in this role today if I had not taken that divergent path.

If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, I would tell her to embrace the unknown and avoid the need to have life mapped out. Instead, lean on your intuition and spend time developing your tool chest of skills while exploring your passions. What you learn along the way will be the foundation for your future success, and you never know what skillset or mentor will change your career trajectory.

Anne Marie Johns: My career journey started over 30 years ago when I was introduced to the hospitality industry through summer employment at Chateau Lake Louise as a server; the hotel was historically part of Canadian Pacific Hotels and known today as Fairmont Château Lake Louise.

In the early 1990s, there were no structured programs in place for leadership development or mentorship making it difficult for young professionals in the industry to understand how enriching a hospitality career could be and the many different paths – hotel operations, sales, marketing, etc. – that could lead to a leadership position.

Fueled by a passion for the industry and motivation to grow and learn, my career in the hotel industry has progressed through 11 different hotels, including a series of progressive positions in North America and Europe. Starting in hotel operations to spending 20 years in sales and marketing, and most recently, general manager at the Fairmont Tremblant since 2020, this industry has been very rewarding and has taught me many things.

My advice for the next generation of young female leaders is to:

  • Find a good mentor or mentors to help guide you through the endless opportunities available in the hotel industry.
  • Be mobile in your career and leverage the vast opportunities available in working for a global and dynamic industry. Mobility in your career provides extra exposure to many great leaders and will expand your perspective.
  • Continue learning to improve your skill set. Explore industry related courses and leadership management courses. Attend internal brand meetings and conferences, industry events, and social networking functions. It is through these experiences that you will develop new skills and critical relationships that will further influence your career path.
  • Take time to care for your wellbeing and engage in other interests and hobbies outside the hotel.
  • Focus on the people and culture; make authentic connections at all levels of the organization and in your community.

H: What leadership lessons can you share with young women hoteliers?

Sara Glenn: Pack your bags. Explore the world – work in different places, countries, systems.  Working and living around the globe increases your ability to adapt, make connections, learn new languages and appreciate the subtleness of cultural difference. These opportuntiies are all valuable tools for growth.

Figure out what works for you. When it comes to networking, I prefer a one-on-one conversation. Shaking hands and making small talk in a crowded room is not my forte, but I recognize the importance of networking so I have found a way to embrace my version of it. Early in my career, I discovered that I was much more comfortable with a one-on-one conversation so whenever I attend an event, I choose one person at a time to focus on or I forgo the larger gathering and make a call to connect with attendees, which feels more comfortable and authentic for me.

Choose quality over quantity. Over my career, I have learned that it is not the amount of time I spend at work or with my family that counts – it is the quality that counts. The pursuit of work-life balance is an arduous one – the pursuit of quality is much more fulfilling.

Comfort is a trap – embrace the deep end. Taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone is where real growth happens. We often default to comfort because comfort zones are about keeping the fear out. It is natural to fear change. But sometimes, the biggest reward lies just outside of the zone. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had to-date was raising my hand for a role in a destination where I didn’t speak the language or know the culture. The learning curve was immense, but the move ignited a passion, creative drive, and joy in me that I would have never have experienced if I had stayed in my comfort zone.

Take a risk on someone. When it comes to hiring and someone lacks a particular skill or experience, don’t necessarily write them off.  If someone has the capacity to learn and grow together with the desire to do so, that is equally as important. Someone took a risk on me and you can do the same for others.