Annalisa Maestri is the Global Communications Manager for Dorchester Collection hotels.
She was born in Milan, Italy, where she began her career 12 years ago before moving to London in 2011, which had been a long-time dream of hers.
New doors opened for Annalisa arriving in London as she was a part of the opening team of a hotel and followed this by working in PR for leisure companies such as hotels, bars, and restaurants. After a productive start in her new city, Annalisa moved into the role of Director of Communications for a different hotel, before joining the team at Dorchester Collection 2 years ago.
Tell us about yourself and how you began developing your career?
It started with an internship in a Milanese hotel. It was like a dream to finish university and move into an internship that allowed me to build my skills and discover my expertise. I’m so grateful to the people that gave me this opportunity. The company I interned for was quite small, so no matter how old you were you could shine there if you put your mind to it. They really looked after us.
I have a lot of passions outside of work – I play piano and guitar, I love literature and languages, I love to swim and to ski. Most recently I’ve taken up ballroom dancing and this has really helped me to reintegrate music into my life. I think that’s so important that while you are developing your career that you must keep your hobbies up, to keep being inspired and to be able to turn your mind to other outlets. My career is exciting and every day I come into contact with change in terms of ideas, people and technology, and I firmly believe in doing a good job with the hours I’m given, but you also need to have a private life and develop your passions outside of work. We cannot grow and teach others, particularly our junior team members about new ideas if all we have is work.
What does success mean to you?
Choosing how to invest my intellect and time in something I believe in. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re at the top of the ladder doesn’t matter so long as you’re using your brain for a certain cause or value in a company that you believe in. That to me is success, and if you’re not experiencing this then you’re not meant to be there.
Aside from that, I feel personally that I’ve been successful knowing that my rise in my career, the new positions or promotions I’ve had, they haven’t affected my relationships with other people.
I always check on myself to make sure that I am still close to people, and they’re close to me, and there is still that human relationship between us. Whether I look up to you or I’m the person you report to, it’s important to me that we feel comfortable and in sync with one another. As a leader I think that this defines my success. I’m human, I’m humble, I’m true.
Working in hospitality, what role do people play for you in the work that you do?
Hospitality is all about people. “From people, to people”, that’s how I see it.
I’ll tell you an anecdote.
During my induction at the internship years ago, I had a nice chat with the Head Concierge of the Hotel (Principe di Savoia) who was a very experienced man, and he told me very clearly that “whenever you are in doubt about what to do, remember that we are here to serve people”. We are here for other people.
Hospitality really teaches you a level of empathy. People come back because of the relationship they build with other people in hotels. It’s not just about the hard work, it’s not just about how beautiful the lounge is or how good that food was – this is luxury, it’s expected of a hotel. What brings people back is that level of empathy from person to person, it is key.
People are fundamental, but it’s not just the client, it’s your colleagues as well. It’s so important to work together with a team that is in harmony, because a team like that will produce something great. You’re not an island, we’re here to stick together. I heard a great quote about people in hospitality that really sums it up for me:
Having had a long career now, how do you see the role of women in hospitality changing?
In Italy, I have to say that my generation are basically the first to live and work with a certain amount of independence. It’s quite late compared to other countries, but it’s happening. We have more space, more flexibility – whether we become mother’s or not, we all have this entitlement now to grow. We’re breaking away from traditional expectations that by about the age of 30 we will have to stop working to raise our children and get married, in fact when I moved to London none of my friends were really in that frame of mind. We can choose our own path; it’s not written for us and we don’t have to view the alternative as so much of a risk. I have a personal garden to grow, and I can do my work from 9 am until whenever in the evening, but after that it’s my time and I can do with it what I like and what I need. Mother’s can work flexible hours, and in fact nowadays anyone can open the conversation about flexible hours, it’s not just reserved for the parents among us!
The whole workplace environment is changing.
I see many women now holding senior positions of authority as well, in fact in our company, 2 out of the 4 senior executives are women.
The most poignant change that I have observed is that there is a tendency now to hold in esteem characteristics that are typically female; understanding, kindness, nurture and so forth.
The old Yuppie culture, that mentality of survival of the fittest or, of the pragmatic, is kind of fading away now. There is a feminine side in all of us, and it is beginning to take the stage. I refer this back empathy because fundamentally that’s what this change is all about.
People work for other people; people don’t work just for a brand.
There is something magical about the fragility of humans, everyone has their own short life, and we are beginning to take this fact into account, and that’s what is making the workplace better.
I’ve seen so many men standing side by side their female colleagues, not trying to stand above them. The times have already changed, it can only get better from now on.
How can we empower more women at work, in your opinion?
We need to give each other opportunities. Forget your stereotyped ideas and your preconceived expectations, open your mind, and whether you’re a woman or a man, give others opportunity.
Second, and I refer back to this again because I want to impress how important this is – flexible hours. Not just for women, but for everyone. This is the key to the future of effectiveness and happiness at work. We are privileged but we can be even more so with remote working and flexible hours.
The third point I’d like to make on this matter is the importance of male-female collaboration, because if we start working together it prevents us from viewing each other as a threat. We are two sides of the same coin; we need each other, and we have designed to be complimentary to each other. I’ve always really enjoyed this in my life – my best friend is a man; we grew up together and it was quite enlightening for both of us to view the world through each other’s eyes.
There will be people who struggle with this collaboration of the sexes, but I thank every macho-man and snooty woman that I cross paths with in my life because they’ve made me into a person who says “you say I cannot do this as a women, but I can, and I will, and I will show you.” And for the women who believe this mentality or who live in a society that suppresses the capabilities and the rights of women, for you I will do my absolute best.
Finally, tell us about a bold decision you have made recently?
Oh, I have the perfect one! I’ve just decided that on Sundays I won’t see people because I want ‘me-time!’ I don’t have to have a reason not to, I can rest and be by myself just because. I am very grateful that my friends see me as the person that they can turn to when they have a problem or they feel down, but sometimes I just need to be the person that I can turn to and save some of that energy for myself. So, Sundays are just for me, and I proudly and boldly reclaim them as my own.