Sandra Kloprogge is the Area General Manager of Singapore at IHG. Throughout her 29 years with IHG, she has taken up various roles and has worked in Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
As an Area General Manager, what does your role entail?
It’s about building relationships. As a General Manager, you build relationships with a lot of people, including your team, your guests, your suppliers, independent owners of hotels we manage, as well as IHG, to make sure we have enough focus on our brand.
Another focus is to lead and develop my team and build leaders for the future. We have General Managers in each of the hotels, who are all highly capable individuals; as an Area General Manager, I’m their sounding board and their support network. There are times when more complex challenges come their way so it’s important to have someone, they can pick up the phone to, on top of a support network to help them build relationships with their stakeholders.
Can you tell me about your career journey with IHG?
My first job after immigrating from the Netherlands to Australia was at an international hotel, I knew a number of languages which was a useful skill in Hospitality and one that not many people had at the time. So, I fell into it by default. I love spending time and interacting with people, so I knew I found my niche and soon after I joined IHG.
I started in operations and the General Manager at the time saw my potential and pushed me out of my comfort zone into Sales & Marketing, which allowed me to look at the business from a different perspective and learn how to build relationships from a sales point of view. Around 16 years ago, I was given the opportunity to become a General Manager, making me the only female General Manager in Australia, for IHG at the time, which was a massive learning curve.
IHG is a great company that really believes in developing their people and supporting them through opportunities. With my time at IHG I have had great mentors. Having worked in several properties within Australia, I made the bold move to work at two resorts in Thailand, which was a totally different environment and learning curve. It was a more multicultural environment with a whole different set of challenges, and I got to learn a lot about myself.
You mentioned you're the only female General Manager at the time in Australia for IHG, how was that experience?
There is no handbook on the shelf to tell you what to or not to do. I really had to draw from my experience, get on with it and be myself. As I mentioned I was fortunate to have great mentors that I could reach out to.
My male counterparts at the time didn’t know what to do with me because all of a sudden there’s a female around the table, and my way to navigate that was to let my results do the talking. I felt back then, as a woman, I had to try twice as hard to be considered an equal. We have come a long way since then.
At the General Manager level, the gender balance has improved greatly, but when you get to the next levels, looking at area, regional and beyond, there’s still some journey to travel.
Would you regard hospitality as a male-dominated industry?
I would. Back when I first became a General Manager, it was assumed that position would be held by a man. I did have, on several occasions, guests who’d come to the front desk and ask for the General Manager. I would introduce myself, give them my business card and they would say, “but I want to see the General Manager”.
As I have mentioned, we have come a very long way, but I also think that we are still a pretty male-dominated industry. However, that will continue to change in the years to come.
Having worked in Australia, Thailand and Singapore, how does your experience managing in these countries differ?
The one thing I’ve learnt on my journey working in these countries is that they all have similar issues but for different reasons. If you look at recruitment, there is a war for talent and it is tough no matter where you are.
When I left Australia almost 10 years ago, we were struggling to hire for front line roles because working in hospitality wasn’t seen as sexy or as remunerating as others. We had predominately university students which was good because we had a lot of smart people, but they weren’t necessarily invested to remain in the business as they’d go off to pursue a career in other fields.
Thailand, on the other hand, was very different as people didn’t tend to move, even if there were great opportunities to grow in another location. That presented its own challenges.
In Singapore it is difficult to attract locals for front line roles. As we work with a quota system, while it’s been working so far, it’s becoming more and more challenging in the future as quota’s for foreign workers will be reduced in the service industry.
It’s critical for us to advocate for the industry more because you can build an incredible career if you have the passion for it.
As someone who has moved a lot in their career, how do you achieve a work-life balance?
I had my daughter when I joined IHG, so having a work-life balance wasn’t easy when she was young. I had to consciously put off moving because I wanted stability for her up until a certain age. I also knew that offers for great opportunities wouldn’t keep coming, so I had to make a move. It wasn’t easy at the time, but in hindsight, it’s was the right move as it allowed her to grow and develop into the person that she is. It also helped make me the person I am today, developing my skills with the opportunities I have had and learning. What I am most passionate about is giving back to the industry, share my knowledge and developing the team around me to grow within the industry.
In order to balance between being a parent and having a career, I believed and had the passion and drive to do it all. I was very fortunate to have a great support network. We certainly have come a long way and made great progress as there are now opportunities for flexible working hours, however, there is still more that can be done.
Are there any programs at IHG that aim at promoting diversity and inclusion?
Diversity and Inclusion is incredibly important, and we have a global diversity and inclusion board as well as a great leadership team.
We have a program called RISE, which I have been asked to join as a mentor/coach. This program aims to support high-profile women within the organisation who aspire to become General Managers. Being able to be coached and mentored by another female creates a safe space for conversations and acts as a support network for their journey. The program started in Australia two years ago and has since been implemented globally. We’re putting a lot of emphasis on this as we know business will thrive as a result of diversity and more opportunities will arise.
Have these efforts paid off yet?
Very much so. It’s a journey, we can always do more and that’s something we’re focused on. It’s about ensuring we not only address gender, but also embrace and grow the diversity of our team in all facets. It’s a critical part of our culture and something I strongly support and believe in.
Who are some of your influences?
When I started with IHG, I was working with an amazing female leader, who was instrumental in shaping my early career. She really encouraged me to apply for my first department head role, which at the time I thought I wasn’t even qualified to do. I got the role, it was the biggest learning curve I’ve had in my career, but it undoubtedly made my journey a lot easier as I progressed.
Another of my influences was a Regional General Manager I worked with in Australia. What I loved about working with him was that he was all about developing people, giving opportunities to try different things so you could learn and grow. He also provided a safe space where it was fine to make a mistake as that’s your best learning.
This has been instrumental not only in my journey but how I give back to the industry and team – to offer that support and a safe space that enables growth.
What advice would you give to future leaders?
Don’t be afraid of change because change is the only constant. It’s important to remain curious, remain focused on self-development and learning, have great mentors and pay it forward, no matter what your role is.
In addition, you need to be true to yourself, be authentic and not what you think other people expect you to be. The sky’s the limit, if you believe in yourself, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.