From porter to manager: a hotel career born out of teen curiosity

26 June 2024
From porter to manager: a hotel career born out of teen curiosity

Calista Williams has risen to management level at the Raddison Blu hotel by soaking up every lesson the hospitality sector has to offer.

As a young man growing up in Gqeberha’s Northern Areas, Calista Williams often wondered what it would feel like to be inside the city’s Radisson Blu Hotel.


His best friend’s parents often ate breakfast there and, to his mind, there had to be something incredibly special about the towering beachfront building to keep them coming back.


Little did he know that, within a year of finishing matric, he would find out for himself.


Williams was born and raised in Gelvandale, where he attended the high school of the same name. With no immediate opportunities to study at tertiary level, he spent the months that followed his school career looking for work.


It just so happened that the very hotel that had roused his curiosity for years was in the market for a porter.


“I applied and got the position for a three-month probation period. I took guests’ luggage to and from their rooms and moved cars,” the affable 25-year-old said.


While pleased to be working at the hotel, what really sparked his interest in the hospitality sector was meeting guests from different backgrounds, cultures and countries as well as a host of government, media and entertainment personalities.


It proved to be the catalyst that would propel him from humble porter to a key position at the Radisson.


In the latter half of 2018, a more senior colleague noticed his growing interest in engaging with guests and decided to teach him a few skills that would be needed to run the reception desk.


What he did not know at the time was that his line manager was paying close attention too and, much to his surprise, Williams was given the opportunity to see how he would do at reception for a day.


Two weeks later, he was informed that he would work the desk on a probation basis for three months. Needless to say, he became a permanent fixture for the next 22 months.


Even the arrival of the pandemic in South Africa could not curb his willingness to learn.


After taking care of the graveyard shift at reception – which basically meant that he was running the entire ship – management once again gave him an opportunity to make the position his own during what was an extremely challenging time for the industry.


As expected, he responded beautifully.


“I had to pull my socks up. I thought that if my bosses could give me this trust then I should also believe I could do the job.


“Management gave me all the tools to do my work, and everything went smoothly.”


Midway through 2022, with Covid-19 in the rear-view mirror, the hotel’s front-office assistant manager was appointed to another position. It meant the department’s manager was left to oversee operations on her own.


That was when Williams’ bosses came calling again. Not even 24 years old, he suddenly found himself among the Radisson’s key personnel – and that is where he has been ever since.


He said his rise through the ranks would not have been possible without the support of general manager Elmarie Fritz, known in the industry as a leader who loved to further the careers of young people.


“She empowers you with so much knowledge and wisdom. You’ll do anything for her,” he said.


The responsibilities Williams has in his role as front-office assistant manager are considerable. He needs to ensure all guest arrivals happen seamlessly, accounts are paid in full and that staff put into practice what they have learnt in training.


He explained that front-of-house was the hotel’s point of contact with its patrons and “if this goes down, a guest’s whole experience goes down”.


What makes Williams’ story so inspiring is that he has worked his way from the ground up, putting in the hours and never asking for anything other than the chance to try new things.


He has closely followed the example of his uncle and another proud son of Gelvandale, Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who famously saved four penalties in a shootout at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.


It is from him that he has learnt the importance of a sound work ethic and being receptive to learning.


He also found motivation in Radisson’s motto: You grow talent, talent grows us.

Author: Coetzee Gouws, Full Stop Communication