GM of Sun International’s Table Bay hotel in Cape Town, Joanne Selby, has led teams through the ebola crisis, Cape Town’s water crisis, COVID and she still finds time to mentor and guide others.
She stepped into hospitality almost by accident when, while studying, she got a part time job as a hotel receptionist.
With that first temp job, Selby found her passion in the industry. “I love that every day is different. You meet the most incredible people from all around the world that you would normally never meet, and you can almost travel vicariously through them and their stories,” she said.
Selby joked that her start in the hospitality industry was at a time before cell phones which nobody else seems to remember. “It was actually just me and god,” she laughed.
Before stepping in as the GM at Table Bay, Selby had spent just over a decade in Zambia at the Falls Resort in Livingstone. “I fell in love with Zambia, and I met my husband there so you could say I fell in love in Zambia too,” she said.
Selby loved being a part of the developing tourism industry in Zambia. “Everything was new and you could build from scratch, I loved feeling like you were actually doing something substantial,” she said.
She was particularly proud of the environmentally friendly and socially aware ways in which her hotel in Zambia operated and has tried to bring that same spirit to Cape Town. “It’s very different, in Zambia is was all about establishing systems that worked whereas here it’s about changing systems to operate at the best possible level.”
Selby’s experience leading her team at Table Bay through COVID had been a learning experience. “Having been through the water crisis here in Cape Town, we adapted so much then,” she said. “Now with COVID protocols requiring you to wash your hands for 30 seconds, that’s very different to what we’ve implemented following the water crisis. It’s just a whole new way of doing things, but this too shall pass.”
As a woman in a leadership role, Selby said that she had been lucky to have been pushed and encouraged to succeed by the people around her, but recognises that not all women are as lucky. “As women we’re often competitive, which can be a problem, we should be building one-another up whether that’s through mentorship or just offering guidance.”
Selby doesn’t miss an opportunity to give a leg up to others in the industry. She mentors students in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Graduate School of Business GM programme, and some of her past mentees have gone on to be their year’s top achievers.
“I’m still in touch with many of those I’ve offered guidance to,” she said. She recalled one of her porters from Zambia who was now a GM at another hotel, and two of the UCT students she’d mentored who now work in the hotel industry too.
“To me it’s important to create a legacy and really be a part of something,” said Selby.