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Not long after taking her first role in events, Kayleen Elizabeth Elenz was given the opportunity to become Managing Director. What followed was a steep learning curve as she led a team of five, ran an office and ensured her operations were compliant with new government legislation on sustainability.

After finishing her studies, Kayleen started her professional career in one of the fastest growing sectors of hospitality. “Because of my dad’s job we moved around a lot, and I ended up being in Colombia. I graduated from high school there, then went to the US to do my Bachelors, then came back”, she said.

“Once I started working, I worked in events and that’s where my challenge was. The company I worked for was ESA Latin America, they are a DMC (Destination Management Company). I started off as the Sales and Operations Manager and basically I just did proposals and executed events. At that time it was just five of us in the country, it was a small office, but then all of a sudden they decided to restructure and offered me a leadership position.”

Stepping up to leadership

Although it came as a surprise, Kayleen seized the opportunity to lead. “I became the Managing Director of the Columbia Office and that entailed a lot of extra administrative responsibilities, apart from the ones that I already had. For example, being the legal representative of the office, and doing all of the banking and the bureaucratic procedures”, she commented.

“I was executing events, doing the proposals, talking to clients, plus all the administrative work. The challenge really started when the Colombian government changed its policy, and told the tourism industry that they all had to go sustainable and implement a strategy or a business plan for sustainable tourism.”

Leading and learning

For Kayleen, transforming the Colombia Office into a sustainable business gave her an opportunity to develop her leadership skillset. “The company didn’t really have much knowledge of this sustainability policy because they weren’t in the country, and as the head of the office the responsibility came onto my shoulders”, she said.

“I had to figure out what the policy actually meant, what they required, and what changes we needed to implement in the company, so I had to come up with the entire business plan for the Columbia Office. That was very challenging because Colombia is very bureaucratic and they like to have double procedures on everything.”

“From little things like how you throw away your trash, to showing you are hiring locally.”

“You had to get audited, then you had to submit legal documents stating what you’re new plans were, from little things like how you throw away your trash, to how you conduct the tours, how you are being responsible with communities, and showing you are hiring locally.”

Sourcing sustainable suppliers

Whilst managing the office, the events team and dealing with BAU, Kayleen’s sustainability responsibilities meant she needed to find new suppliers across the business. “We did have to switch suppliers for transportation, we also had to change to a more sustainable supplier for our print brochures, considering the type of paper and type of ink”, she said.

“It sounds a lot, but then if you’re going to do something like that, you have to do it right, no half measures. If I’m going to change the trash I’m throwing out in an office of five people, that might not have a big impact, but if I start changing transportation for an event of 150 people, it makes a difference.”

Managing client expectations

Changing to more sustainable suppliers typically meant higher prices, but with contracts already in place, it was up to Kayleen to ensure those costs weren’t passed on to clients. “We didn’t want the clients to be impacted, especially the ones that we had already sold the programs to at the costs of the previous suppliers”, she commented.

“We had to talk to the suppliers saying ‘hey look we have these programs that are about to be executed that clients have already signed contracts for, we can’t do anything to modify costs but for the future programs that’s what we can actually do. The suppliers worked with us and were understanding.”

“I had just come in two months ago, so it was a lot to take in at the time.”

“It was all something very new and especially as I had just come in two months ago, so it was a lot to take in at that time. But we managed to do it, and eventually it all went into place”.

Why the Glion MSc?

“I studied International Relations in my Bachelor’s, so I felt I still needed more academics in terms of hospitality, especially because I only had insight into events, not the whole industry.”

“Eventually, my dream is to open my own restaurant, so I want to stay in hospitality. After this dual degree I want to get some experience in F&B to help towards that.”

Thank you to Kayleen for sharing her greatest professional challenge. Want more inspiration? Hear from more MSc students as they share their greatest professional challenges:

 

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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