Belinda Paterson’s inspirational climb to the top of the American hotel industry is helping bring change to our shores.
I’ve always thought it odd that men direct operations at hotels when excellence in room presentation, housekeeping and cleaning up after guests require a woman’s touch.
It was encouraging, therefore, to discover that the General Manager of the stunning Sebel Kirkton Park Hotel in the Hunter Valley was a disarming dynamo called Belinda Paterson. It was also encouraging to discover how she got there.
Belinda fell in love with the hospitality business while temping in London. It seemed to her like an irresistible roller coaster ride that paused only to allow guests to get on and off.
She returned home to gain a Diploma from the Blue Mountains School of Hotel Management and decided to have a shot at making it on the biggest roller coaster ride of all, the hotel industry in America.
She joined the iconic Marriott organisation and went on a whirlwind catering, front office, back office, housekeeping, promotions, conferences and sundry dirty jobs tour right round the country. On one occasion she worked ninety days straight but still found time amongst it all to complete a degree in hotel management from Cornell University.
When a category-three hurricane hit the hotel where she was working in Fort Lauderdale, Belinda ensured it was the service that blew guests away. When a burst waterpipe drenched guests in a hotel reception area, she made sure it didn’t put a dampener on their stay. She learned negotiating skills that could handle the most disaffected of American guests – perhaps even capable of tempering the tantrums of a Trump locked in a toilet.
It was, however, a tough road to the top. Marriott was customarily a male management domain and none of their hotels had glass ceilings. Belinda said the secret of her success was “always putting her hand up.”
At Thirty, she was promoted to General Manager of a Marriott Hotel in Columbus Ohio. Upon taking up the position, she discovered that standards had slipped to the point where the property was in danger of losing its Marriott brand status. In other words, it was a big dipper rather than a roller coaster. Within six months Belinda restored it to full Marriott operational standards.
Marriott were so impressed they quickly promoted her to become General Manager of one of their premier hotels – a three hundred and fifteen room property in Atlanta, Georgia. This was an astounding achievement, like getting coached at the Blue Mountains Baseball Academy and six years later making the Yankees starting line-up.
Belinda’s career prospered in Atlanta but after two-and-a-half years, she decided it was time to come home, and is now revelling in her role at the Sebel where she is demonstrating that good taste in the Hunter is not exclusive to wine.
She is now an enthusiastic champion for the Accor Group’s plan for 50 percent of their hotel general managers to be female by 2020.
While quotas and targets play an important role in promoting gender equality in the workplace, I believe inspiring achievers like Belinda are the catalysts that will actually make it happen.