Top hotelier stays ahead of the game
Edited by Sheree Hanna
Nick Seewer, who has a wealth of experience in the hotel trade, recently tried to retire but could not resist the offer to become the Chief Executive Officer of the luxury Pepperclub Hotel & Spa in Cape Town, South Africa.
He is passionate about his industry and here reveals how he made it to the top but hopes soon to find more time to go wild in Africa’s wilderness regions.
ABR: Who are you?
NS:I was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, England to a Swiss Father and a British mother. I am a dual national – British and Swiss and have residence in South Africa.
My early upbringing, from a very early age, was in India where my parents lived for many years, before moving on to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Malaya and then to Pakistan before returning to live in Switzerland.
ABR: Where were you educated?
NS:I was educated and boarded at Merchant Taylors Public/Private School where I passed my O and my A-levels.
Instead of going to university I convinced my parents to send me to the highly acclaimed Lausanne Hotel School where I succeeded in getting first place and the diploma of the Swiss Hotelkeepers Association in Hotel Management – rated one of the very best in the world.
ABR: Tell us about your career and how you got to your current position?
NS: After Hotel School and three practicals at three five star Swiss hotels, I managed to get myself a job as Resident Manager at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, which was part owned by William Holden, a famous, American film star.
This was a five star luxury hotel located at the foot of Mount Kenya, attracting many famous international clients.
I then came to South Africa for a period of 10 years, eventually being appointed to several General Manager [GM] positions, including my final one as GM of the then five star President Hotel in Sea Point.
Returning to the UK I became Director of the Crest Hotel and Shoppenhanger’s Manor, before returning to South Africa at the beginning of 1989 as General Manager of The Mount Nelson Hotel.
Then, when our business interests expanded, to being the Managing Director, Africa, for Orient-Express Hotels – further looking after The Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg and Orient-Express Safaris in the fabulous wilderness area of Botswana.
I took early retirement in 2010 after 21 years with the company. My ease into retirement, however, was short lived as I was offered and accepted a role as Chief Executive Officer of Pepperclub Hotel and Spa, where I have been for the past four years.
ABR: What influence did your parents have on your career choices?
NS:None what-so-ever. I made my decision based on my father’s family interests in the hotel industry in Switzerland.
ABR: Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
NS:Firstly, Sol Kerzner, for whom I had great respect during my early years in South Africa, and then James Sherwood, Chairman of Orient-Express Hotels until just recently. I was able to take much guidance from them both over the years.
ABR: What does success mean to you?
NS:It means pride in one’s achievements, a passion for one’s job, wherever it takes you, enjoyment in one’s professional and personal life, and a wish to encourage others to achieve and succeed in their own goals. Success equates to happiness in life.
ABR: What motivates you?
NS:Success and guests who enjoy what you provide for them and become loyal followers. A loyal and proud team is also very motivating.
ABR: What do you consider are the main ingredients for business success?
NS:Always being at the top of your game, leading by example and from the front, understanding every aspect of the business right from the bottom to the top, listening to others and not being too arrogant to admit to mistakes or failures.
Finally, understanding the profit and loss/balance sheets of your business and learning to find ways to meet your financial goals.
ABR: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
NS: “Never place yourself above others, show respect and always be available to provide assistance – and work to an “open door” principal.”
ABR: What do you do in your free time?
NS:I love watching sport, especially cricket, rugby and football. Liverpool Football Club is and always has been my passion.
I also like reading mystery novels, walking in the mountains and travelling to new and interesting destinations.
I adore wildlife and enjoy visiting the wilderness areas of South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. I hope to have much more time to enjoy destinations that I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting
ABR: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
NS:Learn to listen and put into action all the positives that one has learnt. Never be too afraid to question your decisions and learn from your mistakes!
ABR: What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
NS:Turning down the opportunity of promotion to Vice President, Operations for Orient-Express Hotels, Europe.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.