Since launching our mentorship programme, back in April 2020, The Growth Works has been keen to learn more about the mentors and mentees who make up our network. This profile series offers a glimpse into the minds of industry leaders who are generously sharing their time and expertise with our mentees, as well as shining a spotlight on the upcoming talent within our industry.
Name: Benedicte Ollagnon
Why did you get into hospitality?
I stayed in my first hotel when I was probably eight years old. It was a five star hotel in Andalucía and from that day, I said I’m going to work in a super luxury hotel because it was going to be so much fun. I had such a good experience. All the staff were looking after us and it was a five star hotel in Marbella. So I wanted to work in hospitality and I studied in business school and the years I was there, there were two people who were crazy enough to say, ‘we’re here in the business school but we want to work in hospitality.’
My first year in business school I had to do an internship and I worked in a family hotel in the Catskills in New York and I was a cocktail waitress, I had an amazing time, collecting so many tips. That was amazing. I never understood why I was making more money than my boss but it was great. Only in the US!
Jokes aside, I’ve spent many years in the hospitality industry, I really wanted to work in sales, and I’ve enjoyed really good sales careers in great companies such as Radisson and Accor. I just love the products, I love the fact that we are really there to make the customer feel good and have a good time and the products are just amazing. When I was working for Accor they were in the process of rebranding and making sure that their Sofitel hotels were really a true luxury brand and it was a privilege to be able to promote these.
What are your career highlights?
I’ve got quite a few but I think in the hospitality, Accor was a great company to work for. There were always some great projects to take on. One of the highlights at Accor was the introduction of SalesForce for 400 colleagues and I was part of the advocate group and I loved it, it was such an amazing experience. That was my first proper introduction to technology and when I left the hospitality business four years ago to go and work in distribution and technology, the time I spent there was very helpful.
Another highlight is working for a technology company, like Duetto. That’s where I really realised that the hotel industry is underusing technology and there is so much good technology that can make the hospitality industry even more efficient, so that was a great highlight as well.
What is the project you are most excited about right now?
Well, right now I’m creating my company in the middle of Covid which is just mad, but it has been amazing. I feel like I’m taking everything I’ve learned, everything I experienced in my career, I’m using all of it now. I’m the founder of Certain Logics. I support companies, technology companies but other businesses as well, with their sales and their partnership strategies and I love it. I’m going from one company to the other, really understanding and making an impact. I’m getting some really nice references which is great, so this is the highlight at the moment. It’s a big, big project.
What are you most looking forward to after the pandemic?
I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes that the hospitality industry is going to make. I think the hospitality industry has a big task which is to rebuild trust and rebuild the desire for guests to go back, to feel safe. But this is not going to go away. We will always look for new experiences and because we work so hard, we are looking for places to relax so I’m not concerned about whether business will come back.
So what I’m looking forward to is seeing how we’re going to come back. At the end of this journey, what is the hospitality industry going to look like? I think the big change will be the introduction of more technology and a really good interaction between technology and people, so technology is not about taking away the people. It’s really to make sure the people have the right tools to offer a better customer experience and have more time for the interactions with the customer because this is what counts.
I remember staying in an awful hotel in Houston many years ago. I’m not going to name a brand but it was a brand. And it was so bad. Everything which could have gone wrong with a hotel went wrong. But I would have gone back to the hotel because the people were amazing and this is what counts and this is what hospitality is about. So we’re not taking away any of that. We’re just saying ‘we want to give better tools so you can do what you’re best at’. And that is a smile, being helpful, talking about the destination and making the customer’s stay amazing.
Why did you join The Growth Works mentorship programme?
I’ve always been either a mentor or a mentee. I recommend for everyone to be both. At the beginning of my career, I wanted to work in the hospitality industry but nobody in my family was in hospitality and I just had some people who really helped me just by having the right conversations and helping me to get into the industry.
I think it’s time for me to give back and when I saw The Growth Works mentorship programme, it was in the middle of the most difficult time, a few months ago, and I felt it was the right place and it was very well organised and I’ve been enjoying my group.
It was actually the first time I was doing group mentorship. Usually it’s one to one but it’s been fabulous and we’re having a really good time.
What are you looking for in a mentee?
For the mentee, they need to do their part and they need to take ownership of what they want to achieve. I get contacted sometimes by people who say ‘I really would love to talk and take a bit of your time’. I think what’s really important is that mentors are usually super busy and what I’m looking for is someone who is very clear about what they want to achieve and what they need from me and if we are going to meet a few times, show up on time and put as much as you can into it, otherwise it will not work. It’s actually a very proactive journey and it needs to be. Otherwise, I can’t help you: it’s not going to work.
Tell us one thing you’ve learned since you joined the programme/from a mentee.
The group that I mentor, what I’ve learned is that they’re really different. Geographically they’re from as far apart as Singapore to Brazil. What I’ve found, and it’s my first time mentoring a group, is that we need to adapt and that this is relevant for everybody.
So what I suggested, and they really loved it, is that for every session one person took a subject that they wanted to get more insight on and they presented to the rest of the group. This really helped. Because we agreed on the subject or topic and it was relevant for everybody, regardless of where they were from and which journey they were going on in their career.
I heard from all of them that they found it really useful to have the opportunity to present in a very safe environment where they got really constructive feedback. This was not what I was planning to do, for them to do the job and work but actually it turned out to be really helpful for everybody.
Would you recommend The Growth Works mentorship programme? Why?
Absolutely. For me, it’s a way of life. Maybe some people view it differently. Maybe for some people a mentorship is too formal but I would recommend in the current circumstances to reach out to people that in this time, these circumstances are really different, we’ve never seen it before.
I really believe that if someone is looking for a new job or someone is looking for a promotion, or someone wants to start a career change because the industry they’re in just has no work any more, you need a network and people to call on which gets you out of the official way of applying for a job. Sending a CV, sending a letter, it’s not going to work. You are going to need to pick up the phone, speak to people, get yourself out of the official recruitment process.
Mentorship is key for that so reach out to people, people whom you maybe think are role models for you or they are where you want to be. If you want to be a VP of Sales and you’re Director of Sales, reach out to VP of Sales and find out what is missing in your CV to make it suitable for a VP opposition. They may end up finding jobs for you as well. So I see it almost as a prospective process and mentorship is part of it, it’s crucial.