A career in making people happy

 Sam Swaffield, Operations Manager, Crowne Plaza Auckland

Since leaving school it has been a bit of a rollercoaster to get to where I am now.


Q. What school qualifications did you attain? In which subjects?

I went to Orewa College and finished up there with a Merit endorsement. I was never an Excellence student, but worked hard and tried to balance an active sport and social life with doing as well as I could in class. I did a pretty broad spectrum of classes. Economics, English, maths, P.E. and geography were all subjects I enjoyed and did well in.

Q. Outline your career path since leaving school?

I left Auckland and went to Lincoln University in Christchurch where I studied a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Hotel Management and Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialisation. Lincoln was a fantastic place to study and I made the most of being on a Future Leader scholarship. I got involved in sport on campus and took advantage of the exchange programme they have with Oregon State University in America.

In 2013 I graduated from Lincoln and was fortunate to become a part of the Future Leaders programme for InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG). I spent the whole of 2013 at Crowne Plaza Auckland in the programme. After finishing I was placed at Holiday Inn Auckland Airport as the Front Office Manager. After six months in that role I went to Sydney for a year on a secondment as the Operations Analyst in the Sydney corporate office. In April 2015 I came back to the Crowne Plaza Auckland as the Operations Manager and am currently still in, and absolutely loving, the role.

Q. How have you seen your pay increase as your career has progressed?

I have friends in all sorts of industries such as banking, law, medical and engineering, and so far in my journey my pay has stayed in line with theirs. The other thing to remember is that the hotel industry offers a great overall package including meals at work, cheap hotel stays and a great place to host friends for a night out! Pay in the industry is often scrutinised but educated New Zealand school leavers who work hard and study in business/hotels are sought after – and often paid well for the work they do.

Q. Highlights of your career to date?

A massive highlight for me so far is seeing a hotel I worked at go through an absolute transformation. It was a great team to work for and the results we started to see were a reflection of really focussing on what is important – looking after the people! Although I do not work at this hotel anymore, it’s great to see it’s still going from strength to strength and finished 2015 as the most successful hotel in our IHG region of Australasia.

Q. What are your main responsibilities in your current role?

I currently look after a great team of Head of Departments who run all the operational departments of the hotel, including Housekeeping, Front Office, Food and Beverage, Conference and Events, and the Kitchen. We look after the smooth running of our 352 room hotel. Our main responsibilities are to look after two groups of people – guests and staff. With over 200 staff and more than 100,000 guests a year, we are in the wonderful business of making people happy and developing careers.

Q. What do you enjoy about it and what are the main challenges?

While it is quite a hotel cliché, I absolutely love people, and the challenges and opportunities that come with that. It is the perfect mix of working and leading a large diverse staff, while also running a massive business with its daily challenges. The New Zealand market is very strong at the moment so it is a great time to be a hotelier.

Q. What are your career ambitions?

I have always been extremely ambitious, and with the right support and great opportunities I have been encouraged to set the benchmark high. I would love to one day move from being a leader in the industry, to being a leader of the industry. I would love to be responsible for helping to shape the hotel industry not just in New Zealand, but on a larger scale.

Q. Would you recommend a career in tourism, if so why?

Tourism is a major, if not the major player in the New Zealand economy now. With record passenger arrivals at all airports and ports, and a strong focus from government on the sector it is only going to continue to grow. Of course I would recommend a job in tourism in New Zealand – it is world renowned, it has amazing career paths and growth opportunities.

Q. What attracted you to tourism?

When I was at high school and looking at going to university I had to really think about what skills I could leverage. I never had any strong ‘skills’, e.g. I wasn’t the best in maths, or a fantastic athlete or really strong in science. But I had always been a good people person, and it turned out that working with, for and around people was an area that I was strong in. Working in tourism, especially in a hotel, you have to be very comfortable and strong in dealing with all sorts of people, both guests and staff. That, mixed with the ability to travel with a job, were the main reasons I was drawn to the industry.

Q. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in tourism?

Contact a hotel and reach out to find out if it is what you want to do. My door is always open to anyone who wants to find out more about the hotel sector, and the challenges and opportunities. I started off my hotel career working for free for three weeks in a hotel just to see if that was what I wanted to do. Working in a hotel isn’t all about making beds and polishing cutlery – but you need to start somewhere so jump in early and watch your new career.

Sam won the Outstanding Young Executive Award at the 2015 New Zealand Hotel Industry Awards.