He’s risen through the ranks at Tsogo Sun, but now has a fresh climb ahead of him: sweating up and down the hills of Pine Lake Resort in Mpumalanga on guest rounds … and wondering what do with his suit and tie. Thuso Moroe, a go-getter in the world of corporate-style hotels, became the resort’s new general manager in April this year and admits the strangest thing has happened: he’s enjoying the place even more than the guests do. He spoke to us to about his experiences, his management ethos and what drives his quest for excellence.
What was your first day like at Pine Lake Resort?
Thuso: I come from a background in hotels, where you work in a corporate environment. On my first day at Pine Lake, I arrived in a suit and tie. Everyone looked at me. They said, “No, man, that’s not how we roll here.” I asked, But why? They said, “This isn’t the hotel world, where you’ve got people staying over for all sorts of reasons – this is timeshare, where they’re here for one thing only: for leisure.”
What are you wearing nowadays?
Thuso: (Laughter.) I bought myself a new pair of takkies – to put in my golf shots now and again. But it’s difficult to get rid of suits and ties and the mindset that goes with that. I’ve been working hard at getting into the rhythm of casualness. (More laughter.)
So, hotel environments are a bit different from those at timeshare resorts?
Thuso: Com-pletely different! In hotels you don’t get to build up much of a relationship with guests. They check in today, they’re gone tomorrow; they flit in and out. Here you have one check-in list, on a Friday, and they stay for a week. If the timeshare owners see a need for improvement, you have the chance to amend matters in depth. And they have a lot more of a sense of humour than guys at hotels. They’re relaxed, because they’re coming in for a holiday.
What’s your overall ambition for Pine Lake Resort?
Thuso: To ensure we’re the number-one destination in White River and the Nelspruit area. If you want to get away from the hectic stuff out there in the cities, we provide absolute relaxation. We’re around the corner from the Kruger National Park and the sightseeing routes, so we’re centrally located – but when you’re back here, you’re in chalets overlooking Longmere dam. It’s utterly quiet, and took my breath away when I first saw it. After-hours I love going to throw my line in the water and catch fish.
What approach do you take in managing the resort?
Thuso: Whenever you’re in a new position, you’re automatically in the position of a trainee, so what’s important for me is building relationships with the timeshare owners and learning from them. With the staff, I have an open-door policy: if there’s a problem, I want to know about it. I’m an approachable guy; at the same time, as a manager you have to manage – so sometimes you have to push for results and apply all the management styles, not just one. It’s also critical to involve your management team in decisions. As the GM, the buck stops with you, but you need to engage the advice and expertise of people working with you to make sure those decisions are for the best of your timeshare owners.
Tell us a little about the career path you’ve followed.
Thuso: I’ve been in the hospitality industry, and Tsogo Sun, my whole working life – this is my seventh year in the company. I studied at Walter Sisulu University in East London, and by the grace of God was able to join the hotel business. I started out as a reservations clerk, and from there went on to being an executive housekeeper and then an accommodation services manager. Afterwards I was in charge of front-office housekeeping, and before coming to Pine Lake, I was deputy manager at Southern Sun Emnotweni in Nelspruit.
You’ve risen through the ranks at Tsogo Sun, then. How did you do it?
Thuso: I used to believe getting ahead was a question of “who you know”. My philosophy now is that it’s about “who knows you”. When people are sitting at the table making decisions, they should remember you. To get my career up and running, I would always speak to the right people and say, “I’m struggling with this or that problem. What can I do to improve my performance?” Every time a position came up, I’d think, alright, I’m not going to get it, but I’ll apply anyway – and the reason would be to put my name out there and let people know: I am here, and I believe I’m ready for the job.
What are some of the things that drive you?
Thuso: What motivates me is seeing other people succeed, particularly people in my age group who are developing in the hotel sector. It makes me want to push ahead all day when I get a phone call from a person who tells me he’s moving from one position up to another. It’s an even bigger boost if he says, “I’d like you to be my mentor.” Knowing that I’m motivating other people helps me a lot. You choose a mentor because there are things about that person that make you say, “I want to be like him.” When I get a call like that, I feel humble, happy – and very motivated.
Any immediate personal goals?
Thuso: (Laughter.) I need to get fit. Man, this property at Pine Lake is big, and there are so many hills. The walk from my office to the swimming pool and back is less than 600 metres, but it’s uphill all the way – it’s not like a hotel, where you just catch a lift to the second floor. It takes me about two hours to walk the entire property when I do my rounds to see guests. I’m sure by December I’d be able to do it in an hour. But I’m getting clever – and doing it on a golf cart.