Author International Hotel School   |  May 29, 2017

Filming “How Lucky?” with international film makers in early 2013.

Not many people know my real story as to how I got to do my programme at the prestigious International Hotel School, I’d say everything happened exactly how it was supposed to happen. I remember it was towards the end of March early April 2013 and I had just moved in with my aunt still figuring out what was I going to do with my life, I knew I wanted to go into the arts and go study Music or Drama but I was very playful in high school so I did not meet the requirements of the programmes I wanted to do specifically so what was to happen next? Well I was very adamant that I was going to apply again for the same programmes, work on my marks and do it but, it did not happened that way. My aunt envisioned me doing bigger greater things and applying my intelligence.

At the screening of “How Lucky?” at the Rapid Lion International Film festival 2017

We had come to a Jesus meeting, it was on weekend in the afternoon and she asked me what I wanted do which was quite simple for me, I wanted to be in media and do arts. It was a very stern no! All she wanted me to be was to be empowered which I understood. We had a good conversation about longevity and being able to sustain whatever lifestyle that you want to have and at the time she saw no prospects of me being in the media industry, in that moment she gave me a brochure from the International Hotel School so that I could have a look if there was any programme that I would be interested in. She recommended the traineeship in cookery as I enjoyed cooking – I am a good cook if I can say so myself, I saw no future in cooking for the rest of my life & took interest in the management traineeship programme. It sounded very exciting taking charge of situations I imagined I would literally have to act as a manager every day of my life, influence employees, run the most lavish hotels in the world; I already had a full picture of exactly how I would look and act so I said let’s do it to my aunt. We did all the paper work of filling in the application forms and sending them through, we got an interview date and it was done!

The lake at African Pride Irene Country Lodge, the property where I did my work-integrated learning programme

Survey day: The excitement of being at the YFM studios

Now I had a whole new career ahead of me I laid the media thing to rest a bit so that I could focus on getting a qualification, at the time I was still going for my theatre production classes that I started attending in the previous year so it did not feel like I was letting go of my dreams of being in the media industry completely. The interview date came, I had no idea of what to expect going into an industry I did not know. Our campus at the time was in Sandton so I took two taxi’s to get to the school I arrived, everyone was in formal wear and it felt right like I was in the right place. The interview process was rigorous I went through 3 interviews at the school on the same day, a week later I was accepted into the school for the programme and then began my journey into the hospitality industry. The first couple of weeks were spent at campus getting inducted into the programme, the ethos of the school, and preparing to start at the properties that we were placed in to do our work-integrated learning part of the programme. Induction concluded, we started at our different properties and it was an experience!

Starting at the property was another week of induction of which at that point I was over inductions! I could not wait to start working in the property and start doing great things! So came the new week. I started in the Food & Beverage division very flamboyant and out there, I wanted to be seen, I wanted to do the cool stuff and guess where I started? The in-room dining department…no one wanted to work there it was a tiny little office integrated with-in the main kitchen, I honestly saw nothing wrong with it, I was new to the industry as a whole so any little thing that I was given I took it and made it desirable; and that is exactly what I did! I got the in-room dining department the highest audit rating that they had ever received 94%, right there I started believing in my awesomeness, it is also here in this department that I honed my communication skills and mastered my sales skills that I was not aware I had. Shortly I was moved to the restaurant where I slayed! I was very popular with guests in the hotel and locals who visited the hotel often, the hotel had quality control tools they used to improve on service delivery like the audits and the guest questionnaire where guests filled in a form to share their experience and comment on anything that stood out for them during their time at the hotel, guaranteed I was always on the guest questionaire on a daily basis. These would be reviewed in management meetings and that is how I gained popularity amongst management. Some of the trainees would ask how I do it, and for me it was simple?! I remember saying it’s a stage and every day is a performance, sometimes you won’t feel like smiling but someone comes here to find their happy place and you help them get there, the result is both of you end up being there like it or not. It is a contagious thing.

I continued my rotation in the various departments at the hotel and an opportunity to go and work at the Spa on a supervisory level came, the Spa was doing well but there was just something that was missing in the whole picture, my trainee manager & Deputy General Manager for the hotel offered me the position. At first I was reluctant to take I felt at the time it was too soon in my career 6 months in this and already I was being offered an opportunity to grow, I said yes and it only took a couple of weeks to adjust my programme plans for the hotel and I started as a receptionist at the Spa. I was very nervous again it felt like another deep end where I had to learn how to swim again, the training was very intense and at a short notice. I used to leave late every day because I did not understand how the systems operated, I was learning how to operate two systems; a Hotel interface system and a Spa operating system. I concluded that this was not for me, I expected to do all the cool stuff like working with the upmarket products, make-up, making people look good and I thought they were just wasting my time! The Spa manager could see I was not into this, I went to my manager and asked her to get me out of there “there are no guests to interact with, I’m being told I’m too loud it’s a serene place, I can’t take a full hours lunch, etc.” it was depressing I even cried. I felt like I was failing and there was no fulfilment. She gave me some good words of encouragement, helped me understand the bigger picture and the purpose of why I was there – which was to potentially hone a future General Hotel Manager or even owner. I pulled my socks up, I went back in and redeemed myself.

The Spa became my baby, I took it in and nurtured it. I learnt everything that I needed to know so that I would be able to run the place. I am a slow learner and I took a good three months to understand everything thereafter I started getting very involved in running the Spa and all its division – housekeeping, food & beverage, front office, therapists and receptionists. Everyone knew how to do their discipline however there were short falls here and there especially in sales, I was able to encourage a sales culture. It was one of my greatest highlights in my career at the hotel, I was the first at the Spa to reach the optimum level in sales, I set a bench mark for the employees at the Spa and not only for them but for the other trainees. I showed all the other trainees that it was possible to apply yourself in anything you do and succeed. It was a cool moment I got recognition from the directors, I received a night in at the hotel, some spa treatments, and a helicopter ride with one of the directors. I really grew intellectually as a student, I got to understand labour relations and dynamics, revenue management, operations of establishments, and all the business shebang. I started attending managerial meetings, I got a title as Spa Administrator, my own email address which was really cool no other trainees had all those privileges. I got to do sales and marketing for the Spa attending all the cool events, meeting with big clients that brought in sums of money into the business and running the Spa when the manager was not there; I was the cool kid. The greatest experiences that I had in all of this, was getting the opportunity to train new and existing employees! Then seeing them apply what I had taught them, seeing them succeeding, and coming back to me and thanking me; that alone reassured me that I was doing great work and it was just fulfilling. I was out there making a difference in someone’s life and making a difference in the bigger picture.

In all of my successes at the hotel, I had a series of gnawing thoughts in my mind; “you have done well Lesego but why are you not in the media industry?” “Why are you not looking for work in the art?” “Why are you not actively following you dreams?” And on top of it all, my colleagues would ask me “why are you not in the media industry? You are so influential?” or “You should be an actor or presenter” it happened on numerous occasions even from friends and family. I knew that it was what I was supposed to be doing, it was always what I wanted to do, however I had different circumstances. In my last year at the hotel school and at the hotel, I knew already that I was going to probably get a good managerial job and a comfortable salary but it was not what I wanted. I yearned for that burning fire I had inside of me before I had consumed myself in hospitality, of which turned out beautifully for me. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and lifestyle of the entertainment industry. So I decided one odd day in June 2016 that I was going to actively look for work in the industry, I had no idea how or who I was going to ask for help but I figured that was my plan, somehow things started happening around me that made me want to leave and actively pursue this media thing. I began to feel no satisfaction whatsoever in my work, I was not there anymore, there were also issues at work just like any other person. I was not performing as good as I was, I could see and feel it. I knew it was time to leave so I submitted my resignation letter and I served my notice period. Right there I felt like I was doing the right thing again, I was on a role.

The scary part became apparent now, I was unemployed, going into an industry that I love, and had no idea whatsoever how I was going to maintain a living doing this thing? I moved back home, started looking for work and it was bad there was no prospect of work it was towards the end of the year so most events I applied to Host/Present for were already booked! One lucky day I got a call from a Radio DJ from a local radio station in Eastrand that I know and she asked me if I was interested in Hosting for a local event, I jumped for the opportunity and said yes. I had a meeting with the organizer, she loved me and I got hired! It was a big and exciting moment for me, I was not a recognised public figure and this woman was willing to give me a chance to carry out an event for her. The whole experience was nerve racking for me, hosting for over 500 people and children was absolutely out of this world! I remember doing my first link I was a bit shaky but after that I had a great time! After that event it went quiet for a good 2-3 months.

It was a new year 2017 and I started helping my uncle with his business, I was listening to my favourite radio station YFM whilst at his office and I heard an advert that they were looking for new academics who want to learn about radio and the media business and who would possibly work at the station and all you had to do was apply online. I followed the instructions filled in the form online, chose that I was interested in being an on air Radio DJ/Presenter. Right there that was my beacon of hope, reassuring me that leaving my job was the best thing I had ever done, I was excited even before getting any call. I remember even practising how I would do my show and who I would be interviewing and it wore off eventually, the excitement that is. In February I received a call and it was from YFM, the excitement I had was out of this world!  I thought this was it, I could not believe it until I was told to come in for a survey that YFM was having and it was all gone. I was very disappointed, I agreed to come in for the survey. The survey was on the Thursday there were a couple of us, we sat in one of the studios and there was a lady who was doing the actual survey for YFM. The survey concluded and we got to tour the studios which was super exciting, spotted one of the celebrity Radio DJ’s , we had a light lunch and it was over and we went home. I could not stop envisioning myself working for YFM, having my own show and living the great celebrity life. February ended and it was March, March was coming to an end and I concluded it was not going to happen.

In the last week of March on a Thursday I received a call again from YFM to come in for an interview on Monday! Did I not die and come back in that very moment? I said yes I will come in for the interview it felt like the weekend was a drag, during the day I would practise how I would do my show. The Monday came and I was ready, everything was still not going as fast as it was supposed to be, I was commuting using taxis and little did I know that traffic was a major thing on a Monday! I never had to experience that in my time when I was working at the hotel, I stayed quite close to the hotel which I worked at. Back to getting to YFM on time, because of traffic I was late for my interview I was mortified! I was supposed to be at the studios at 08H00 and at that time I was still at the CBD. I called to apologise that I was running late; which is the right thing to do always. I got to the studios running and panting and very happy that I made it! I signed in at the reception area and sat down with all the other potential academics. Right there it began, that thing or little voice inside you that brings doubt in your head when you are about to do something great – the nerves. The name calling began and I waited for my turn, there was more than one Lesego on the list and every time they called “Lesego” I thought it was me, I would enthusiastically stand up and start walking towards the entrance boom and thereafter walk back to my seat it looked really ridiculous, for a moment that day I went deaf all of a sudden I could not tell the differences in surnames after “Lesego” was called. Morning turned into afternoon and I was still at the YFM studios, just after 13H00 it was my turn to get interviewed. I went into to the room I was so nervous but I put on a front. My now present manager before we started the interview put me on the hot seat he asked me to do a 30 second link and told me “If you mess this up we will not bother continuing with your interview but if you do well maybe we can continue” in that moment I went blank! I gasped within, I felt like I was on a reality TV show and 1 million rand was up for grabs right then and there. I presented my link however it did not come out the way I wanted it to, I wanted to re-do it. He nodded his head and we continued with the interview. In the room was the CEO was present, the Programming manager and his assistant and the Head of News. The interview was very brief and that was it done.

I got a call back the same week on a Thursday again informing me I got the job!

It was a full circle moment for me, I was really touched and very thankful because, in the beginning I wanted to do something that I was passionate about however; at the time I wanted to do it, it was not possible it was not my time. The scenario that I wanted for my life went the other way and I ventured into a different discipline where I learnt so much about myself taking something great out of it – two qualifications, working experience that not everyone gets to experience at all, and valuable lifelong skills. After all of this I am back again where I wanted to be; in the media and entertainment industry! That is my full circle.

What I would like for the next trainee to take out of this is to know that you are not just a trainee and that anything is possible, you can start out as a management trainee and end up being the Head Chef of whatever hotel you like simply because you were passionate about that specific division. The purpose of the programme is not to make you a manager of a division in a hotel. It is about making you an all-rounder. So apply yourself, Graduate and most importantly follow your dreams!

Graduation 2017: Traineeship Managing Executive’s Award recipient.

It is not an exam. It is about learning and succeeding.

Instagram/Twitter: @lesegolehari

Facebook Page: TheRealLesego


Lesego Lehari