Ms. Sonja Vodusek
General manager of The Peninsula Tokyo
Inter Media Japan sat down with Ms. Sonja Vodusek to discuss her position and goals as the new General Manager of The Peninsula Tokyo.
—You have 16 years of experience in hotel and business management in the luxury hospitality sector. Why did you choose this career path?
I come from a family that has always ran a business. My parents were really involved in community programs and I was their social coordinator. So, I had to do a lot of event planning and I really enjoyed doing that. So then, I decided that I wanted to make this my career. I looked for a course and what I found was an event-planning program at a Swiss hotel management school in Sydney. So, I left the family business.
When I was growing up, I took every opportunity that presented itself to me and it did not matter where it sent me. After I got older, I began to be more selective in where I went. So I stayed with Four Seasons for 13 years because it was such a great training ground and I traveled the world with them. Afterwards, I moved on to The Peninsula Hotels, which resonates strongly with my values and ethics. Our employees, in The Peninsula, feel as though they are a part of the family, and so, in a sense, it feels like being in a family business again.
As a result, I have been with the company for 6 years. They gave me the opportunity to be a hotel manager when I was in New York, and then I moved to Manila as General Manager and now Tokyo.
—What is it that keeps your work efficient, given the diversity of people, cultures, and places in your work environment?
It is the way you treat people. Treat people the way you would like to be treated, it does not matter in which part of the world you are in. You discipline in private and praise in public and you never take credit for other people’s success.
Furthermore, I have never had to adjust the management style, no matter where I go. You just have to know the pace at which the hotel operations run at, and understand the people. For example, one of the things I do, no matter where I go, I always meet with the senior leadership first and talk about what their expectations are, then I go to next level. So, communication is very important. It is especially important that you tell people your opinions. I am very much a collaborative manager, not a directive manager. Therefore, I have utilized that style everywhere I have gone, and it works.
—You are the first female general manager for The Peninsula Hotels in both Japan and the Philippines. Why, in your opinion, are there not many women in management positions in the luxury hotel business?
I have worked in a male-dominated environment ever since I was a child. I used to be the only woman out of 400 men in my family’s business, so I have an experience working in such environment. The essence of a woman is very different than a man’s. A woman’s touch in the hotel business is like running a house. Women run the house generally, even though a lot of men run the house too, but women are very detail orientated in making sure that everything is nice, cozy, and inviting for guests. So, that is the way I treat the hotel, like a house.
Currently, there are 4 women general managers managing Peninsula Hotels (Hong Kong, Chicago, Bangkok and Tokyo). Gender diversity in our company is quite high, even at the corporate offices, where most of our senior legal counselors are females.
As a female general manager, you do have to make some sacrifices and that is a choice. You have to decide if you want to have your own family or have a career, but then there are women capable of having it all. I chose to be without a family. Do I regret it? Absolutely not.
—This is your third time to work in Japan – the first was as a room attendant. Was it a long way from the bottom to the top?
It was in 1992, 24 years ago, that I first got into this business. Japan was my first job and it seems to be so long ago.
There have been some tough times, but something tells you to never give up and just keep on going.
All I can say is I can’t believe it is actually me when I talk about what I have done and achieved, for it all has gone by so fast. It has gone like that because I had fun. There was never a time where I wanted to quit. There have been some tough times, but something tells you to never give up and just keep on going. I have always loved meeting people from around the world and traveling. It has always given me the opportunity to try to understand and appreciate different cultures. As a result, this has made working in this business fun and has really made the time go by fast.
Work hard, don’t give up, be passionate in whatever you choose to do, have energy, show enthusiasm, and be good to your people and have fun. It’s very important to enjoy what you do and to be yourself.