Dream Diaries Chapter 4:
Kauthar, Sello, and Maxwell share their leadership journeys at Dream Hotels & Resorts
When Kauthar Davids joined the team at The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel, working in hospitality was not part of her long-term plan. When she left school in 2013, she didn’t have much of a plan to study further due to a lack of finances.
“Growing up, I was always in survival mode,” she says. “When you’re in that situation, you’re not thinking about the future. You’re just thinking about how to make it through right now.”
From the age of 15, Kauthar began babysitting to assist her mother financially, which eventually led to a chance encounter with the duty manager of the hotel.
“Despite the fact that I had never had a full-time job or even a CV, she asked me if I would potentially be interested in completing a learnership at The Peninsula,” she explains.
After securing an interview, Kauthar was offered a trainee role at the front office, with the chance to complete a short course through the International Hotel School – a moment she describes as an incredible opportunity she grabbed with both hands.
“Going from having no plan to securing a job and being able to study was phenomenal and something I honestly thought I could never have,” she adds. After her first year, Kauther went on to win employee of the year, moving her way up through Reservations and into the Accounts department. In 2022 she was hand-selected for a leadership programme in partnership with Stellenbosch Graduate Institute.
Becoming a leader of leaders
Incidentally, stories like Kauther’s aren’t rare at The Peninsula which forms part of Dream Hotels & Resorts — an organisation embarking on a bold mission to unlock career opportunities and nurture future leaders across all 21 of its local properties.
“Developing the leadership potential of individuals within our various teams and communities is a necessity, not just to ensure the future success of our business, but tourism as a whole,” says Nick Dickson, Dream Hotels & Resorts CEO.
As someone who actively rebels against a top-down leadership style, preferring monthly coffee chats with his teams, he is determined to create an environment which encourages individuals to think ahead, take decisive action, and inspire those around them.
This approach is evident with Sello Sithole, a talented individual who has further developed his career at Finfoot Lake Reserve in the North West Province.
“I was very eager to learn when I applied for a position as Head Chef in the Finfoot kitchen, I asked if they had any programmes available to help me upskill,” he explains. “Along with Kauthar, I was selected as one of the staff members to enrol in the leadership course through Stellenbosch Graduate Institute, an opportunity I’m certain would not have been awarded to me elsewhere.”
While it is not easy to juggle a full-time role as well as his studies, Sello emphasises how grateful he is for being noticed and encouraged, indicating a desire to pay it forward by mentoring and leading other young people at various properties within Dream Hotels & Resorts.
“When people show interest in building you up, it makes it easy to feel valued, and that you matter,” he adds.
“Overall, I now want to be like Michael Jansen, the first chef I ever worked under. He gave me a chance as a young boy from Limpopo who knew nothing about international cuisine. He saw my ambition and encouraged it, as I’d like to do for others. I want to give them hope, and show them that they too can build a life for themselves within this industry.”
Leadership is not just at the top
“Try to change everything and change nothing. Transforming an organisation requires time to unlock the potential of your team, one member at a time,” Nick explains. “Change must be driven from the inside out, where a person’s desire for growth is fully supported.”
Over at Nibela Lake Lodge in KwaZulu Natal, Maxwell Mgenge details his own leadership development journey through the organisation, starting as a waiter, before transitioning into his current position as Front of House.
“When I first started out in hospitality, I wasn’t aware of the sheer depth of this industry,” he says. “My hope is that I continue to grow within it, but only under Dream Hotels & Resorts. I like how they do things.”
Having also embarked on the leadership development programme in partnership with Stellenbosch Graduate Institute alongside Kauthar and Sello, Maxwell admits that he has gained a whole new outlook regarding his future.
“Through my role at Nibela and being surrounded by people who encourage me, my perspective on life has changed, he adds. “When I first thought about tourism, I always felt like holidays were something reserved for others, but I can now see that life for myself. Hospitality is hard work but rewarding, especially if you have the right team around you to make it all the more enjoyable.”
Adding to that, Nick explains that the most valuable gift you can give someone is your time and a little encouragement. “As we have proven, this simple act can not only completely change someone’s life and give them hope, but prompt them to do the same for others.”
Unlocking hospitality and tourism
For destinations like South Africa, tourism represents a significant source of economic growth. However, less explored is the positive impact this sector has on human development – but most importantly – the human spirit.
“Tourism is brimming with life-changing opportunities which, in the greater scheme of things, can create a more progressive society where individuals enjoy a greater sense of financial freedom, and self-empowerment,” Nick says. “The future growth and success of this sector, and our country as a whole, depends on what we do now to ensure a way forward.”
He further extends his gratitude to Marius Van der Merwe, Training Specialist, and Kay-Marie Rudolph, Head: People Development, for implementing the internal leadership programme in partnership with Stellenbosch Graduate Institution.
“Here at Dream Hotels & Resorts, we are extremely passionate about bringing our shared vision to life in building a brighter future for all,” saysKay-Marie. “By actively creating career opportunities, encouraging resilience, and personal growth throughout our organisation, we can continue to support and leverage exceptional individuals like Kauthar, Sello, and Maxwell.”
“We are an industry that cares deeply for our guests and travellers, but we also need to do the same for each other,” Nick adds. “It’s time to challenge ourselves to lead and grow with purpose, exploring new ways of ensuring more accountability, inclusivity, and local impact. Ultimately, this is responsible tourism done right and well,” he concludes.
Further inspiring stories are underway at Dream Hotels & Resorts, including those of our interns: Mpho, George and Jackey who recently graduated from the University of Johannesburg after becoming part of the Groups ‘Dream Big’ mentorship drive.
Words – Chelsey Hale
Pics – supplied