The Swiss Hotel School 2012 Graduate, Mutsa Masamvu.

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The Swiss Hotel School 2017 Graduate, Lara van der Merwe.
14th June 2020

From the onset, I knew all I wanted to do was travel the world and I was firmly convinced that the Swiss Hotel School would be the best route to the fulfilment of this life-long dream. I proudly confess today that this conviction has been vindicated in more ways than one. 

So in 2010, I joined the pack and as fate would have it that year we were the biggest enrolment class with probably the most complex personalities. We ranged from the timid and reserved, the gregarious and supremely confident, the driven achievers, the weird and unpredictable, the ambitious go-getters and the talkative ones who avoided solitude at all costs. This cocktail of characters gave both Mr Tee and Mr Martin a torrid time but, I must say, we were overall a determined and focused bunch of lads and lasses.

During my 1st year, I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know which career path I would take. A lot of possibilities were being offered and I just wasn’t sure which path was best for me. I was in a rut, akin to a runaway horse-full of zeal and enthusiasm but unsure of the direction I should take. But all credit must go to SHS for it makes you try it all practically and, in doing so, you eventually find yourself and the path that invariably leads to the fulfilment of your dream. I had the good fortune of being exposed to Pastry, Service, the Bar, Hot Kitchen, Housekeeping and Stores. Having tried it all, true to my reticent character then, I preferred downstairs with Maria and James Banda far from the madding crowd so to speak. I was never one to flourish around many people so Housekeeping and Stores offered a safe harbour for me, or so I thought.

2nd Year: For the long internships I knew I wanted to go to Switzerland but only a few seats were available. Quite out of character, I walked up to Mr. Tee one day and I told him to place me in Stafa, Switzerland for the long internship and l wasn’t negotiating I was demanding a seat. Mr. Tee being himself came up with a calm and witty rejoinder by saying, “my German and my grades were the determining factors for a seat headed for Switzerland.” Then my grades were okay but my German well…let’s leave it at that. I took up the challenge head-on and worked diligently to improve both my grades and my proficiency in German to at least give myself a fighting chance to go to Switzerland. When we started applying for internships, I went back to Mr. Tee and told him I had achieved excellent grades and my German had improved tremendously. I felt I had a better negotiating ground so I firmly presented my case. He just smiled that mysterious, dispassionate smile which does not reveal much. A few months later, I was on a plane heading for the dream, Switzerland. In Switzerland, I met a lot of people, made new acquaintances, and started opening up and gaining more confidence in my abilities. Though I made a lot of mistakes and was aptly nicknamed “Catastrophe” I still showed up every day with renewed determination. I am reminded here of the words of Martin Luther King who said, “If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” I faced every mishap, every disappointment, every mistake with stoicism, and a renewed commitment to do better for that is the spirit that SHS inculcated in me, and it is a badge that I will carry with me throughout my life with pride and honour. 

I travelled around Switzerland and across Europe during my free time and experienced a lot of things that were once only confined to travel channel or cultural studies class. So when we returned to school I decided I wanted more. I wanted to work and travel across all continents. I was young, determined, full of ambition with no commitments or any other encumbrance to hold me down. So I gladly took on the world with nothing more than my solid SHS education and my Green Zimbabwean Passport.

3rd Year: a few days after graduation I flew to Germany where I had secured a job. Initially, I started in housekeeping and, as my German improved, I was moved to service in a Michelin Star restaurant. There was a lot to learn with average German proficiency but with focus and determination, it all worked out. My restaurant manager then, Frau Dilek, one of only 2 people who spoke English in the entire Hotel used to say, “when you screw up Look them in the Eye, Give them a Big Smile and Just say Et tut uns leid.” 

After Germany, I felt my part in Europe was done so I secured a job in the United States. My initial visa application was rejected so went for plan B secured a job as a pastry chef Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe. A few months later reapplied got approved and I moved to Massachusetts in the U.S. Having worked in a Michelin Star restaurant with so many do’s and don’ts, working at a Forbes 5 Star establishment was relatively easier. There was a lingering sense of familiarity and elegance was always, always a priority. My friend SamK used to laugh at me every time I was in service. I was not in my element and this was an open secret. But, here I was pouring Boudreaux wines and conversing with guests with the aplomb of a veteran. The more I exposed myself the more I gained confidence and became quite good at it if I must say so myself.

As my time in the U.S. lapsed, I decided to take on the Middle East. I had never been there and was not sure if that was the right move. On my way back from the U.S., KC, a classmate took me on a midnight tour showing me all the glitz and glamour Dubai has to offer. That was it! I bought into Dubai hook, line and sinker and a few months later I landed back in UAE, this time not in 5 Star establishments but cafés and QSR. I was working for an Australian coffee company to move to Australia after a year. Well, in the end, Australia never happened primarily because Dunkin’ Donuts gave me an offer that I couldn’t resist. To date, I am an Area Manager for Dunkin’ Donuts managing the Emirate of Dubai. Daily, I lead the most diverse team you can imagine (religiously, culturally and ethnically). It is not easy at times to get everyone on the same page but that’s 1 of my KPI’s, among others. Besides, anything worth doing is never easy for it is the struggle that makes us great. 

Most people ask me why Ops Management? The answer is simple…

I graduated top of my Business Class at SHS in Mr. Martin’s class. He wrote me a graduation note indicating how he was amazed by my entrepreneurial mindset and how well I had done in his classes with minimum effort. I am certain this was tinged with a bit of unusual flattery but coming from Mr. Martin I will take it anyway. I personally never knew this until I was exposed to decision-making situations, navigating stores to success and profitability, building effective teams, and thinking ahead of the competition. That’s when I realised that oh! I am not bad at this. Hence to this day, I have stuck to want I think came naturally to me, Business Management and Daily Business Operations. I chose a path of less resistance and a path I knew I would excel in. The rest, as they say, is history.