AlumniOn Creating Joy At Work

As Director of Operations, Susanna is on a mission to bring fun to her colleagues and guests at Nordic Choice Hotels.

Susanna Ståhl is responsible for operations at Nordic Choice Hotels – 60 hotels and over 6000 employees. Success in her role is measured against financial results, winning over the competition and creating happy and satisfied employees and guests.

What was your path leading to this role?

I have worked for Nordic Choice Hotels for 18 years. I started out in sales at one of our franchise hotels and have since then worked through the whole chain of sales; Salesperson, Director of Sales and Marketing – to mention a few. I have also had the opportunity to be General Manager and CEO at different hotels.

Why did you want the job as Director of Operations?

I’m driven by change- and development processes and we were embarking on a journey to change our brand and culture. We also have many colleagues and I love working with the social aspects and help people grow. Quality Hotels was a little bit forgotten and I wanted to put us on the map again and make everyone here feel pride for working at Quality.

Why the service and hospitality industry?

Originally, I wanted to become a diplomat or an archaeologist – that was the plan. But, when I was 15, I started to work weekends at a hotel in Norway, where my brother was Restaurant Manager. After high school, I felt that it was lots of fun working with guests and people in general. To immediately receive feedback on the many little things you do, every day.

What is the most important skillset you need in your position?

You need to have a genuine interest in people, have patience, be humble and dare to communicate. You can’t succeed without this.

As a manager, you need to considerate all of your employees, but also coach and help every single individual. Not everyone sees what their next step is. It can be personal growth and not a new title. If we create joy while working it will give our guest a better experience. At the hotels where everything is in harmony, I also see that the financial results are better.

What does a day at work look like?

At a perfect day, I’m at one of my hotels and working together with the management and the employees. I also spend a lot of time on the phone and in Google Hangout meetings. We are a big organization, with many support functions that must work together with the daily operations. So, it can be a lot of mediating and things to follow up. This means a lot of travelling for me, around 100 to 150 days a year.

What did you study?

I studied Hotel Management at IHTTI School of Hotel & Design Management in Neuchatel, the French part of Switzerland. It was a good education, to learn everything from scratch from all the different departments – while running a hotel. I was 18 years old then, so much has happened in this industry since! Some of my former teachers would probably be infuriated with the things I do today. I work a bit different with discipline and traditional leadership. How you are dressed and serve guests, for example. In my own team, joy at work is very important and we are not afraid to have fun together with our guests.

We want to be perceived as fun and friendly. We want to look at our guests the same way we do with our best friends, this way it doesn’t become so stiff or uptight. Our guests shall feel like home when visiting us.

A good example of this is a recurrent guest at one of our hotels in Gothenburg. He always forgets to return his keycard and always calls us afterwards about it. And we always joke around that we are calling the police on him because we know each other so well. The last time he was visiting we had posted a warrant on him in the elevator and a Most Wanted poster in his room. Something he enjoyed very much and gladly showed his colleagues.

What was the best part of your studies?

I don’t think I truly appreciated enough when I was in, because it was so extremely demanding to be in operation and study at the same time. But you do appreciate it later on when you have the chance to process it all. It was many late evenings, where you needed to study afterwards, and then start the day again early in the morning. I remember going up to my room to sleep during my 10-minute breaks because I was so tired.

With the modern-day leadership techniques, you probably would have more time for reflection. I also got to know lots of new cultures from all over the world from all the different students that gathers for the program.

Any recommendations for someone who is about to start studying?

Just do it! This is the best industry to work in, in the world. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, there are so many titles and possibilities to explore, even if you aren’t a very outgoing type. This is a job for the future, whatever happens in digital, AI and robotics.

Any recommendations for someone applying for their first job?

Come work with us! We will recruit around 10 000 people every year. We are building lots of new hotels so we need lots of new and hungry employees. Bear in mind that it’s your attitude and who you are as a person, that is often more important than what’s on your resumé. Think of your cover letter and why not send a video where you present yourself!


Susanna Ståhl graduated from IHTTI School of Hotel Management in 1995.

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