Renu Hanegreefs-Snehi is Vice President, Corporate Communications, PR & Reputation Management for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. Here we discover how her love for beautiful things, creative flair and incredible tenacity has helped shape her successful career.
Please, tell us more about yourself, Renu…
I started to work in fashion industry, in India, as a teenager. I was soon selected amongst a few thousand applicants, to serve as the International Flight Attendant for Jet Airways. I finished the training but soon realized that my dreams were bigger than that. I loved being involved in design and creativity that pushes boundaries, helps making connection with incredible people who design the future with a purpose. I guess I was on a quest to explore the world in its fullest sense. I chose the hotel industry – starting as Guest Relations Manager for one of the finest five-star hotels in Delhi – and I knew I have found the place (the industry) that brings it altogether – glamour, people, service, design and purpose.
Soon thereafter, I met my amazing husband, Hans Hanegreefs, (I call him my Belgian Shepherd), and moved to Europe in 1998. I followed love! Which then turned into a possible possibility for a woman like me to live and work in a society which offered more freedom and greater opportunities for women. A fairy tale? Not quite! As a mixed-race couple, we had a lot of push backs and insults – both in India and in Europe – but we didn’t give up, and made it through, together.
I joined Rezidor more than 15 years ago as an Executive Assistant to the COO and found a great champion in Kurt Ritter, Rezidor’s former President & CEO, and a legend in the hotel industry. I went on to work in most areas of the company: brand, operations, new hotel openings, food and drink, technical services, interior design and architecture. In 2006, I helped the company through an IPO to become listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange – the hardest and most incredible experience of my professional life.
I have worked hard – quite possibly harder than my European counterparts – as I was considered double trouble. Woman and Coloured. No regrets! It was fun… but at times, incredibly unfair. Once again, I did not give up! I stayed loyal and kept moving. It took me longer than some, but I am very proud of the journey and accomplishments I have had.
After 15+ years, I am today the Vice President, Corporate Communications, PR & Reputation Management for the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. I have achieved almost everything, I wanted to. My only ambition in life today, is to coach the future generation of ambitious women, to follow their dreams and never ever give up.
Describe a typical working day for you – if such a thing exists.
That’s why I love what I do – there’s no typical working day. From launching new brands and campaigns, to hosting journalists, media and influencers, to working on global creative campaigns, working with the smartest agencies in the PR and digital space to find unique ways to tell stories about our business and people behind it, driving employee engagement, to handling crisis across 100+ countries, and helping our Global Leadership Teams on strategic development of the company, is what keeps me and my team busy everyday.
Currently we are on an incredibly exciting journey to launch a new global name and identity of our company – Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. I am part of the Global Steering Committee to bring the new company to market, and I am so incredibly excited and proud. This is the kind of stuff that fuels my passion and energy! Create something that will live forever…
You’ve worked in the travel and hospitality sector with the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group for over 15 years – what initially attracted you to it (industry and Rezidor) and what do you still love most about it (industry and Rezidor)?
I love beautiful things in life. I love intelligent and creative people. People with an attitude and a strong desire to make things happens. I love travelling. And I love fashion. And I love dressing up! My own sense of style and attitude is a true reflection of who I am. Like Gandhi said: Live, as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn, as if you were to live forever!
So, I love the hotel industry. It’s a glamorous business and you get to see the world – although it’s also hugely competitive, unpredictable and very hard work.
Carlson Rezidor has a very strong focus on design and innovation, which resonates with my personal background and lifestyle. It’s a people company that recognizes and rewards talent. And its rightly proud of its very high ethical standards.
Our company’s Scandinavian heritage promotes a flat culture – we don’t believe in massive layers of organizational charts and bosses over bosses. We are all accountable, working as a very lean and effective, multi-talented, multi-skilled team. And, when push comes to shove, we all stand together.
Our Yes I Can! culture encourages every team member to use their emotional intelligence and connect with our guests on a truly human level. People travel for many different reasons – but every guest in every hotel wants to experience a genuine sense of place and feel a connection with the local community and culture. We understand that. And I love this appreciation of authenticity.
Please describe the characteristics you feel are key to success in a career in communications in the travel and hospitality industry.
Working in travel and tourism’s Communications & PR is a bit like being a fashion designer, an artist or a journalist. It’s a 24/7 commitment! It requires real creativity, dedication and passion. It also takes real patience, a problem-solving mindset and the ability to multi-task, plus a special capacity to reinvent yourself continuously. PR is all about building and maintaining trust and meaningful bonds between people.
I believe that laughter is a magic PR potion – which I try to drink in abundance every day. Passion and confidence are also essential for a persuasive communicator. You MUST believe in your story. And you must have that precious sixth sense… to connect with people on an emotional level. I am a firm believer that PR = EI+EQ.
Being an effective communicator is a natural gift. But it’s also a skill that can be learnt. Listening – especially things that are not being said – are a vital part of this process. As the Dalai Lama puts it, when you talk, you are only repeating what you know… but when you listen, you learn something new.
So, to be a great communicator, you need to master the art of speaking eloquently, writing effectively and listening carefully.
It’s also important to sometimes draw breath. Take a moment to think deeply, slow down! And remember some stories are best left untold!
What has been the most significant change you’ve observed in the sector over the last five years and what do you anticipate for the next five years?
I think social media – and the ability for everyone to communicate – has truly revolutionized the communication industry. I embrace it wholeheartedly, but I also respect journalism to its truest sense. Social media, or any means of communication, is extremely powerful. Words are powerful. And with power, there comes responsibility. We have given the most powerful weapon in the world, ability to communicate and influence, without any training and thresholds to teenagers and terrorists alike, and that’s dangerous. As communicators, we need to bring the trust back in unbiased and fact-based journalism that focuses on telling the truth.
So, instead of going wild on social media, we’ve developed close relationships with key influencers – who we know act with ultimate integrity. They don’t just want ‘content’ (an ugly word) – they want authentic, unique stories.
Brands that thrive are always culturally relevant and engaged with a loyal customer base. People talk about them because they trust them. Reputation is everything – and it’s more important than image. In communications, we strive to guard that hard earned reputation by using real emotional intelligence to ensure the right people are saying the right things in the right spaces about us.
Your work has led to extensive travel opportunities – which has been your favourite place to visit so far and why?
I love Brussels. It’s home! Despite its current reputation, it’s a fantastic, small and sturdy European Capital. It has so much to offer – from an international working environment, humble and respectful people, the best dining and wining scene in the world, fashion at its greatest, and a real sense of freedom. You can be anyone you want to be.
J’adore Paris! For its fashion, understanding of true luxury, great journalism, and its ability to continuously re-invent itself, in every possible way. And at times, its arrogance too. Why not? If you are Paris – you can afford to be obnoxious (smile).
And I LOVE India – for its colors, tolerance, diversity, spices, rituals, family values… and a unique ability to not take itself so seriously. Nothing works, but everything goes in this organized chaos. There’s no place in the world like India.
Which city is still on you travel to do list and why?
All of Japan. Do I really need to explain why?
What epitomises luxury (in the travel and hospitality world) for you?
Unforgiving obsession with details.
Please share the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you.
Don’t explain, don’t complain… a smile is a curve that sets everything right.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Everything turns out well at the end. If it has not, it’s not yet the end.
Find out more about Renu on LinkedIn