This two-generation family has a unique claim to fame, perhaps never to be repeated: Both father and daughter – 30 years apart – were president of the HIM Student Ambassador Forum (SAF)
We had the delightful experience of talking with this father and daughter who hold a very special place in HIM history. As we got to know their stories, we learned of the many ways they are not at all alike! Nicholas, the father, is a Cypriot by heritage who grew up in Australia speaking English as his mother tongue. He came to HIM 30 years ago as a self-confident bon-vivant ready to take on the world of hospitality from day one. Whereas when his daughter, Marilena, who grew up in Cyprus speaking Greek as her mother tongue, first arrived on campus, she was shy, reserved, and afraid to speak in class.
Even if they got off to a very different start in the HIM student experience, Marilena surprised everyone – family, friends, teachers – by rapidly changing and growing into the self-confident student leader she is today as SAF President.
We were intrigued about their very different paths to HIM, and set out to learn more. We especially wanted to discover how Marilena managed to bring about such a dynamic change in her approach to and experience of her student life in Switzerland.
Nicholas’ HIM Story
Marilena and I had quite a different journey in getting to HIM. Our generation’s student experience back then was so different to Marilena’s today! We weren't able to speak on WhatsApp, we had one phone in the lobby with a long line, and we had to use Swiss coins to call. You can imagine how expensive it was to call Australia! The extraordinary thing is that, even if I came from Australia and had never set foot in Cyprus, I became very close with all the Greek guys here because of my Greek ethnicity. And it was my Greek friends here who encouraged me to run for SAF president in 1993! They got all of the first year students to vote for me and they ran a really great campaign for me. They really pushed me through until the last day. We five candidates made speeches the day before the student body voted, so my English language ability really helped me while running for president. Back then, students voted by dropping paper ballots into a box, the old-fashioned way.
Student life was very different before social media. We did a lot of things together as a group. We would put notes up in the lobby announcing activities people could join and then everybody would hopefully meet at a particular place. We had some really crazy times with all these pub crawls that we used to do. The way students communicate now is so different, and results in a very different social experience.
Also, back in the day we had to find our own internships, and we applied for jobs by mailing or faxing all these letters over and over – we didn’t even have email! You can imagine 30 years ago trying to contact somebody in Greece or in Germany, compared to how easy it is now for Marilena to do. Now the students have the International Recruitment Forum with access to so many recruiters at one place. It's an incredible asset because it allows them to speak to a large number of potential employers at once – we never had such an experience!
Marilena’s HIM Story
It’s true that my father and I are very different in personality and background, even if we both ended up as SAF president! I was so introverted when I came, so I decided to run for SAF president to challenge myself. I wanted to do something out of the box and to see myself as a leader. In our election, 10 people were running for president. We had to make a speech on election day, so all the students saw us in person. Everyone registered on Moodle, then voted on the app and we knew the voting outcome right away!
Now that I’m president, I'm having so much fun with my team, it's amazing. We are trying to do something different every day. And being SAF president definitely has its perks and advantages. I’ll give you a little example: We recently had the International Recruitment Forum, and students came from all the Swiss Education Group schools to meet with lots of recruiters. They organized a small event to welcome the recruiters. I wanted to go take advantage of it, but I didn't really talk to any recruiters. One of the recruiters came up to me and I said, “My name is Marilena and I'm SAF president,” and I thanked him for coming. He then handed me his card and said he wanted to see me the next Monday. I went to see him, and the next day they hired me for my internship!
That internship is coming up in Germany. It's going to be a big change because in Greece we have a different style of service. So I think it can help me to follow the hospitality trends better. The experience will help me to see another culture and other habits that they have, because I think Germany is similar to Switzerland, where you’re expected to be on time every time.
I’ve learned from my classes and my first internship that I want to stay in operations, because I love operations. I’ve enjoyed my exposure to HR, Food & Beverage, and housekeeping, but I really want to stay in operations for the future.
Nicholas’ Advice to HIM Students
Education and training
My best advice is to attend a great university! I’m amazed at the changes in Marilena since she came to HIM. She was so introverted when she first came to Switzerland, and she still was when she left for her first internship in Greece. But then she surprised us all by taking this step to become SAF president and lead a team. I think the school has given her the confidence that she needs to be able to do this right. You find so many times the pressures of both academia and the social setting in a school – sometimes it's quite overwhelming. But for her to step forward and take this decision, I’m really quite surprised and proud that she did that. I’m really so happy.
I worked for the first five years in hotels, and then I moved into the field of commodity trading. Look, I'll tell you something. What I learned at HIM has really been the guiding light for me in my career: that the customer comes first. I learned that both in my internships and at the school itself. The Swiss schools and especially HIM immerse you into customer service, and really make you very customer centric. People in commodity trading don't have the same approach to their customers as we do in hospitality. We know to put the customer in the middle of the value chain in such a way that we really differentiate from other industries. We believe the person we are speaking to is the king, and that we have to be able to deliver what we promise.
Also, hard work is a defining trait of the hospitality industry. You have to be the first person there and the last to leave. You have to own the problems that you see – to solve those problems from the beginning to the end. You shouldn't pass them down the line if they land on your desk. No matter if you're the manager or trainee, you have to do it yourself. You have to solve the problems. When you're solving problems, when the customer is happy and the customer experience is what it is expected to be, then you will move forward in your career.
We need to understand that our customers work very hard every day. They come to our hotel to relax, to feel something different for a week or two. And the people serving them or those responsible for customer experience make all the difference in how they experience their time in the hotel. What sets hotels apart is having a team of employees who, no matter at what level, truly care about the customer experience. That's what defines the hotel, and that's what makes it different from everything else in the market. Solve problems, work hard, and put the customer first.
Marilena’s Advice to HIM Students
Education and training:
Be very observant. I study how leaders work when they're president of something. I watch the different styles, see the different options to learn, but on my watch I want to do something that represents me and who I am. With the guidance of my teachers, and the courses I took, I saw the academic theory, now I am able to put these things into practice from my side.
Being at HIM helped me a lot to come out of my comfort zone. When I first came, I couldn't talk. It was so hard for me to raise my hand and answer. Seeing me now in this position as SAF president, so actively leading, my teachers ask, “What is happening? That’s not the Marilena we knew.” They tell me that they are so proud that I came out and am in front now. But without their guidance, I would not have done anything. I would still be this shy girl never talking!
I haven’t yet started my career, but I’ll pass on the advice my father gave me: be yourself! I’m keeping to this advice now, and I will pass it on to my own children. Because you can either be yourself or you can be a fake. If you’re a fake, you’re not going to enjoy the journey.
¨Make the best decisions for yourself. Trust your gut. And trust your God. And then, of course, work hard! Offer exceptional service at all times.
If you want to come experience the life-changing, career-launching advantages of a first-class education in hospitality, our HIM career counselors are happy to answer your questions and help get you on the road to a brighter future.