Rosemary Mugambi has risen through the ranks to succeed in her career. As Regional Sales and Marketing Director for Serena Hotels East Africa, she manages the portfolio of one of East Africa’s iconic brands in the hospitality industry. She joined the company 33 years ago.
Born in Meru on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Mugambi’s father was a cook in Rumuruti and his mother worked at home.
When Mugambi’s older sister got a job in Machakos as a secretary, “it was like being posted to Timbuktu,” she says.
It was in the early 1960s.
“My sister didn’t want to be alone until now, so she asked mum if I could live with her.”
Mugambi went to Machakos, then to Kampala, and back to Nairobi.
Fresh out of Loreto Convent Msongari high school in 1982, her first choice was to be a journalist. But on a visit to the brand new Utalii College, which taught courses in the hospitality industry, she was fascinated to listen to the college principal talk about tourism, so she joined.
His first internship at Utalii was at the Jacaranda Hotel in the Westlands suburb of Nairobi.
“I went there dressed smartly,” she recalls with a laugh. And the director sent her to the kitchen.
“I was shown a bag of potatoes and told to get to work with a knife – not even a potato peeler. It was my first day as an intern and I went back in college with calloused hands while the rest of the class had more interesting experiences to tell.”
Things haven’t gotten any easier. The manager assigned rooms to be cleaned and beds to be made.
“I learned a big lesson here – that if you want to be a great manager, start at the bottom.”
“You can’t run the kitchen if you don’t know how the supply chain works. That’s when I also started to understand the staff and appreciate what they do.”
Success requires teamwork – from the room steward to the cook to engagement with the communities living around national parks and reserves.
“It’s as simple as the bed. If the bed isn’t made right, the guest isn’t happy. If the room isn’t made right, the property is a reflection of that. So what- what am I selling if not this?
“Treat the staff right to get the most out of them. You can have the best facilities and the best products, the latest technology, but your most valuable asset is the staff.”
It was at Mombasa Serena that she got her first major promotion in the early 1990s.
“I was asked to move from Samburu Serena where I was assistant manager to Mombasa Serena as HR manager. I seriously thought that management wanted to fire me and I spoke to the HR manager At the time, social relations at Serena La Plage was difficult, with the staff union in confrontational confrontations. But it turned out that the bosses had noticed that I had a skill with the people I didn’t even know I had.
“Covid has made it clear that the local market is important,” says Mugambi. As many establishments closed or downsized, Serena survived.
“Our local customers, who know us and who have been our customers even before the Covid, have remained loyal to us.”
“My dream is for Africans to roam Africa,” continues the hotelier. “And tell our own stories.”
“Serena is present in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. We should be able to easily travel to these countries.
Mugambi’s job requires long office hours, meetings, marketing East Africa around the world and meeting sales targets.
“When the stress mounts, I walk away, breathe deeply, and pray. I tell myself, ‘I’m not alone.’ I have a strong team. And it’s important to learn to trust God,” says -she.
Mugambi is deeply involved in her church and family, and walks to stay fit.
She plans to write about her journey in the tourism industry.