In our Hospitality ON issue (No 308-309), we interviewed professionnals of the hospitality industry around the world. We present here Inge Huijbrechts's point of view and thoughts on her job, Global Senior Vice President Sustainability, Security and Corporate Communications for Radisson Hotel group.
Could you tell us about yourself and your background?
I’m Belgian and have lived in various countries. My academic background is composed of a Masters in Business Management & Engineering, followed by an MBA in European Studies which I completed in Germany. My career started with a good 10 years in European business development of financial and ERP IT systems. Then came a break of a few years where I enjoyed the privilege of sailing halfway round the world and discovering stunning remote locations on our planet. After that, I re-oriented my career towards corporate responsibility and have been leading CR for major companies in the past 10 years.
Why did you choose this specific career?
When I returned from my 4-year long sailing voyage and seeing the beauty of nature as well as the damage humans are causing to ecosystems, I wanted to have a job with a purpose. Once I set this goal, it became a reality as European lead for CSR at Toyota Motor Europe.
From there I moved to become the European Responsible Business Director at Radisson Hotel Group, then called Rezidor. This is now 10 years ago. In this period my responsibilities for Corporate Responsibility became global and I also became the leader for Safety & Security and Corporate Communications.
Although I definitely chose Responsible Business as a career, some of the steps happened thanks to my network or thanks to bosses who believed in me and my capabilities to do more. I am still very grateful for these opportunities – all I had to do is ‘say yes’, believe in myself and execute.
What exactly are you doing daily?
My days are full and varied. Since the start of the pandemic and remote working they are filled almost back-to-back with calls. Some calls are 1-1 with my team members or with the CEO and the executives I report to; others are with other departments – often that’s operations, branding or technical services. After the calls, I digest the essentials of the day and prepare the next.
During the week, I always try to find time to reflect, either whilst taking a walk, doing sports or even during yoga practice. This helps to see solutions and the strategic path forward more clearly.
What skills/human qualities are necessary for this position?
For any position, I believe a sincere interest and eagerness to understand the business model of your company is essential. We have to be open to learn every day and have the openness to discover novelties.
Secondly, in a small and efficient team as the one at RHG, you need to be ready to define strategy as well as execute with total commitment to quality.
Finally, for any role like Responsible Business or Safety & Security where we engage hotel and office teams around the world, it is essential to be truthful to your own values, the mission of your departments, and passionate about your work.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of your work?
One of the major advantages is doing what I love and believe in, in an industry and company that has a ‘Yes I Can’ attitude at its core. In my role and together with my team, we are at the heart of operations and at the same time also in the driving seat and part of the company strategy.
The disadvantage is that, especially in Safety & Security – which includes Global Crisis Management, we are always on duty. This puts a weight and gravity on my shoulders, which can only be balanced by a strong, practiced and uniform global crisis management process which we have implemented at RHG.
No two days are the same. We work hard and are totally committed but are always motivated by the knowledge that what we do matters.
A last word for people interested in your job
In Sustainability, we have witnessed professionalization in the past 10 years. To make sustainability your career, it is advisable today to take a specialized education in the subject.
In Safety & Security, we start seeing more diversity – in the past 12 months in hospitality, we’ve seen more women leaders take the Chief Security Officer’s role. In addition, there’ a lot of interest for the convergence and mutual reinforcement between security and sustainability – a topic that will only gain interest.
If you want to be part of your company’s sustainability or security journey, express interest in the subject, learn about the topic and never be afraid to fail.
I firmly believe fail stands for 'First Attempt In Learning' !
Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes that you’re willing to share about your working experience?
One anecdote which I’ll always remember is from the beginning of my time with Radisson Hotel Group and illustrates our ‘Yes I Can’ spirit. I had just joined as Director Responsible Business. A few weeks in the job, I got a call from the Director Learning & Development. He asked if I knew of a good way to engage the 200 delegates of the anniversary Business School in a community action.
I proposed to do a Flashmob for charity (UNHCR, the refugee organization of the United Nations) – as a very wild idea which would never have been approved in any of my previous companies. Long story short: everyone, including the CEO loved the idea and we trained everyone (200 pax) in 1,5 hours. At the last minute, because of the pouring rain, we even moved the Flashmob from the central square to the central station! This was a true YES I CAN action from all colleagues which still puts a huge smile on my face, even after all these years.