Tsogo Sun’s Chief Operating Officer Ravi Nadasen has a long history with the group, with his first job in a hotel as a management trainee at the Wild Coast Sun. He’s since worked in a number of different hotels in the Tsogo Sun group and now, in his position as COO, oversees a whopping 24 500 rooms in total! We chatted with Ravi about what advice he would give his 21-year-old self, which leader he looks up to, and what he’s learning right now.

What is your story?

I grew up in Overport, Durban, and started my tertiary education at the Durban University of Technology (then ML Sultan Technikon) with a National Diploma in Hotel Management. I later completed my BTech Management and the Advanced Business Programme simultaneously and more recently I received my MBA from the University of Stellenbosch. I’m now in the process of completing my thesis on Employee Wellness. I was also fortunate to attend IMD (Institute for Management Development) in Switzerland for two eight-week blocks, where I did a leadership programme. It was very insightful and I regard the experience as a definitive period in his life. It was a turning point and a catalyst to self-discovery and development.

My first job in a hotel was as a management trainee at Wild Coast Sun. I then joined Tsogo Sun’s Drakensberg Sun where I spent six years, working my way up from Assistant Food & Beverage Manager, to Guest Services Manager, and Assistant GM. After another stint as an Assistant GM in Durban, I was appointed GM of the now Southern Sun Bloemfontein hotel, which converted from a three-star Holiday Inn to a four-star Southern Sun hotel during my time, and I was awarded the MD’s Gold Award for Customer Orientation in 2006. In 2007 I transferred to Southern Sun North Beach in Durban as GM, which was followed by Southern Sun The Cullinan in Cape Town as GM in 2009, where I stayed until 2012 when I moved to Joburg as Tsogo Sun’s Director of Operations – Gauteng East. In this position I was responsible for a portfolio of brands in the East Rand, Pretoria and Vanderbijl Park, and was the winner of the 2013 DHL Rising Star Award. In 2015 I became Director of Operations – Central Northern Region, until July 2017, when I was appointed to my position.

As COO of hotels my portfolio includes more than 24 500 hotel rooms across multiple global brands that span all sectors of the market, from luxury to budget in South Africa, across Africa and United Arab Emirates and Seychelles.

I’ve been privileged to be very active in tourism bodies, having been on the board of Cape Town Tourism and a board member of the CT Chamber of Commerce while in Cape Town. I am currently serving as the deputy chairman and board member of the Tourism Business Council of SA, I’m a committee member of the SA National Convention Bureau and the Tourism Grading Council Awards Committee, and a member of the National Tourism Sector Strategy review panel. In May 2016 I was appointed by the Minister of Tourism as a member of the B-BBEE Charter Council to advise to advise on the state of transformation in industry.

Explain who you are to the industry in a couple of sentences

I grew up in hospitality; my dad worked in the industry all his life. I see myself as a servant leader to the industry, helping to grow its people, and contributing to the GDP of our country by making sure the industry is growing.

How is the South African hospitality industry different from those in different countries that you’ve worked in? 

I haven’t worked anywhere else, but I believe the difference is South Africa’s diversity – in our cultures and our offerings. We are truly a world in one country. It’s also the warmth and friendliness of our people that differentiates us from other countries.

What are some of the overall issues that you’ve seen affect the hospitality industry in SA?

Africa has had such a bumpy ride of late, with Ebola, Boko Haram and many other issues that impact on tourism to the entire continent, because there is a perception of Africa as being one big place. Within South Africa, we’ve been faced the visa debacle of a couple of years ago, the state of the economy and more recently the water crisis. All these issues have affected our ability to maximise the benefits of the tourism industry.

What are some of the challenges that Tsogo Sun is facing at the moment and how are you addressing these challenges?

Our challenges are no different to the industry challenges. We’ve felt the shockwaves of the bumpy ride the industry has been on. However, the resilient nature of our company is such that we don’t take time to mull over the shockwaves. Tsogo Sun are market leaders and, as in the case of the water crisis, irrespective of the outcome we work to provide solutions, not just for our company but for the city. We’re blessed with longstanding and stable leadership, which has enabled us to navigate around the stormy waters. The cycle we’re seeing now isn’t something we haven’t seen before.

What are some of Tsogo Sun’s focuses at the moment and going into the new year?

There have been significant changes at Tsogo Sun from a leadership and company point of view, including the senior management restructure and the acquisition of the Hospitality Property Fund. We are focusing on consolidating, making sure our brands are refreshed, revitalised and delivering to the needs of the market, that our people stay energised and that we remain industry leaders and well positioned to take on opportunities. The recent changes in the state of the country have been incredibly positive; only good things can come now and when the upswing comes we’ll be ready to take advantage of it.

Ravi Nadasen’s Pop Quiz:

How do you see Tsogo Sun fitting into the South African hospitality industry?

The fact that most of our hotels are in South Africa speaks volumes in terms of our role in the industry. Our roots are deeply entrenched in the key destinations of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and some of our hotels have been around for 40 years and more. We see ourselves as a major player, working with industry colleagues to ensure the industry thrives and that we collectively play our part through various industry leadership positions.

Where do you think its place and brand is, and what makes the company unique in SA?

From a grounding point of view, our DNA is in South Africa. We’re a homegrown South African brand and always be. Our foundation is in the hotels that people remember from their very first holiday, to their wedding anniversary, their children’s holidays, and their kids getting married. We aspire to create great memories, and what makes us unique is our people. We have people who have worked for us for over 40 years, which says so much about their commitment to us and to serving our guests and our industry.

How do you engage your brand to the local SA market? Any engaging media initiatives and marketing campaigns that you run?

We are very connected to the South Africa market and we’re a proudly South African brand. I’d like to think that we connect with the market in many ways, for example the incredible work we do in the CSI space. We’ve been involved in several initiatives for a long time, such as our entrepreneurship programme, Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurs, which has evolved from the Book a Guesthouse programme. We work in communities with a focus on learning and education, and on helping the industry rise. I am a firm believer in the old adage that when the tide comes in all the ships rise.

What are the company goals for future excellence in the local industry?

We always seek to be at the forefront of pioneering innovation. One of the dangers of having buildings that are 40 years old is that you can get trapped in legacies, and we make a concerted effort to look at ourselves from the outside in. We’re also extremely fortunate to have global brands associated to our portfolio, which exposes us to global best practices.

Let’s talk Sustainability and the steps you have taken to make a difference here?

If you look at the basics of Sustainability, water and energy have become two very important resources over the last couple of years. Not so long ago, a shortage of energy had a huge impact on South Africa’s growth as a country. We sought to be more responsible, and it’s been a focus since then as we realised that we had preserve and use energy effectively. The recent water crisis has taught us incredible lessons in terms of how flippantly we treat the resource. Only through this crisis have we realised how much we’ve taken for granted. Our Cape Town hotels have reduced their consumption by 40%, which is an achievement we’ll be aiming to maintain going forward. We also have a long-term partnership with Miss Earth, which provides us with valuable insights into sustainability, and green practices recycling and reducing plastic bottles in our business. We take sustainability very seriously and there are many innovative initiatives we’ve embarked upon and will continue to explore.

How do you incentivise and motivate staff as an organisation?

Our behaviours are largely driven by our value system, and we recognise our people and their contribution to the company through our livingTSOGO moments programme. We’re committed to a culture of participative management, and staff engagement is vital in ensuring our people remain energised and understand our purpose, which is to create great experiences. I am constantly humbled by their commitment to us, by the fact that they wake up and co to same place to work every day and that they go the extra mile, which is so key to our business.

2018 Trend Prediction for the local industry?

The outcomes of the last few weeks as Cyril Ramaphosa has come into power have left me feeling hugely positive. The industry is in a dip at the moment but the trend will start changing. 2018 will see us coming out of the slump, rising to better occupancies and trading levels. There is such positive sentiment in terms of doing the right thing. Government spending is going into the right areas, which will yield good things.

 If you were going to teach a college course, what course would you teach? 

Leadership and strategy. One of the things our country needs the most is leadership. If we had sound and ethical leadership that focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, half the issues we have encountered in the last five years wouldn’t have happened.

What leader or leaders do you look up to and why? 

We are blessed to have had many leaders who have given their lives for the right reasons. I believe in the concept of servant leadership, of which Nelson Mandela is an absolute icon.

Who is your mentor/s and what recent challenge/s have you sought their advice for?

I’ve been fortunate that I have a few people around me that I can draw on, depending on the reason. I’ve recently had cause to have discussions with more than one of my mentors as I’ve transitioned from one position to another. I’m a firm believer that you should never be arrogant enough to think know everything about everything. You can’t bring it all together yourself.

Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough business decision that supported your company’s purpose, but may have had a negative, short-term financial impact.

We are a company with roots in the likes of SAB, and one of the most amazing things about Tsogo Sun is how entrenched we are in governance and in doing business ethically. If an opportunity ever came about that required us to breach ethical guidelines, there wouldn’t be a question.

If you could go back and give your 21-year old self a valuable piece of advice, what would you say? 

In the words of Steve Jobs, stay hungry, stay foolish.

As you think about your career, who is a team member you had a huge impact on and what are they doing today as a result of your leadership?

My take is a little different. When I started off my career as Assistant F&B Manager at the Drakensberg Sun in 1996 I was in the trenches every day, ending my nights waiting for the bartenders to lock up the bar. One of the things that had an impact on me is the number of people on the shop floor who do their jobs consistently every day, delivering on our company’s purpose. I have immense respect for these people and an inbred understanding of their value to the business.

If you could work on solving any problem in the world, what one problem would it be? 

There are three, which are global problems, but in our context, homegrown: Unemployment, inequality and poverty. If you can change these three things you change the world – lives, economies, and future generations.

What is your leadership philosophy? 

To remain grounded and to ensure people stay energised and focused.

What specific mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual activities do you engage in to keep yourself operating at your optimum level? 

I’ve always been a believer in the value of exercise, and even more so since I stepped into my new role. When you’re running at full tilt, your wellbeing becomes more important than ever. I’ve taken up running and I’m engaging in mindfulness as a concept. It assists in fighting off stress, helps with responses, and gives you the ability to focus. I’ve found it hugely beneficial.

What are you learning right now?

In keeping with how much has been happening as part of my new role, I’m working on developing the ability to focus. I’m reading a book by Daniel Goleman called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, which speaks to the fact that your productivity and your ability to operate optimally is impacted positively by focused preparation and focused recovery. Focus is an underestimated driver of performance.

Favourite Inspirational Business Quote

It’s a quote by Albert Einstein that’s on the wall in my office: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.