Married, with two young daughters, Sherin Francis,the CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board talks to Cosmocreole about family, and work and how to be bolder and braver to succeed in your career. She shares how she is navigating motherhood, finding a good work balance and confidence to face the challenges that come with work and family.
By jini gilbert-finnigan
How did you end up working in the Tourism industry? My first degree is in Economics and Business Studies and I have a Master in Finance. I was approached to join the tourism sector in January 2013, at that time I was the CEO of the Seychelles Investment Board, a position which I occupied for 4 years.
I know your work requires a lot of travelling, but can you describe a typical day for you when you are not working overseas? I am an early bird. Living so far from town and the traffic situation forces one to be. I normally wake up around 4:30 am. Yes, 4:30 am! (smiles) Before my second daughter started French school, I would normally wake up at this time to exercise before getting ready. But now, given both of them are not keen on eating at the canteen, I wake up the same time to prepare their lunch and snack pack, get myself ready, get them ready, have a quick breakfast and then we are normally off at 6:10 am. That is the routine every single day.
After I dropped them at school, I go straight to the office, starting off with emails or specific tasks that requires a bit of concentration before the day gets busy. Normally, once 8 am strikes, it is a fast-moving day with back to back meetings, phone calls, and staff coming in and out of my office, and in between, the occasional lunches and events. Normally, when my schedules permit or family duty calls, I collect the girls from school or do the round of dropping them off to their dance classes.
I try to be home, in normal circumstances (providing there is no events or long meetings) by 6 pm and we normally have dinner together. Between 6 pm and 8 pm, it is family time until the girls go to bed. After, it is either my ‘me’ time or time with my husband.
Your day sounds hectic, but you seem to have it under control, now let’s talk about your family and your never-ending travel schedule. How do the girls cope with you constantly being away, and do you have a support network? It’s not easy. It requires a lot of discipline, personal sacrifices and being able in all of that, to strike that balance. Thank goodness the travel is planned ahead of time, so I can organise myself and the family support can also organise themselves. Sometimes it also involves negotiations with the family. You cannot do this job without family support. It is impossible. I am truly blessed to have my mother in law who only lives next door.
I always try to keep my trip as short as possible. The whole team knows my schedule very well—I work from the moment I land on foreign soil to the day my mission ends; I try to catch the earliest plane out. So many instances, I have had to rush straight out of an event to the airport, and had to shower in the airport lounge. I tried also to be home by the weekend as much as possible.
When I am away, I always try to connect with them through video call as often as possible, though I have to say, they are not fans of this. I also try to make up by ensuring that the weekend I am home, we spend time together doing their favourite things.
What’s your working environment like when you are overseas? Is it hard having to change location every so often? Being young and open-minded about things, I have never really had difficulties to adapt with time zones, cultures or climates. I love experiencing with new food especially the speciality of that particular culture. However, I detest the cold, I get ‘brain freeze’ in a cold environment, so I always make sure I overcome this by ensuring I am always dressed warm—yes here, I am grateful for my one and only very warm red coat, and I also ensure my hotel room is always warm.
I work from my laptop, it’s my whole office right there and I carry it everywhere I go. I refer to it as my comfort working space. It is very easy for me to pull it out in an airport lounge, a train, a hotel room, Starbucks or even 3000 miles in the air. I am always amazed at the amount of work I can get done on the move; what other people consider as dead time, for me it’s valuable time.
I just need to say that I am with you on ‘I detest the cold’- hold on to that red coat of yours! Now, 2020? This year has not been kind to us, the pandemic plunged the world into turmoil, as the CEO of STB what has been your greatest challenge this year? Seeing tourism completely at zero and planning the recovery of it. I am proud that together with various actors in the country and the industry we have diligently gone through this stage of reopening, the work is not finished though; I acknowledged the worst is not yet over and remaining on alert to react to the ever-changing landscape makes one job even harder, but I am hopeful that we will bounce back.
Even if the destination has opened, airlines are flying and our operators are back into operation, the planning has been an extremely difficult task as the situation globally is still very volatile; with fear of quarantine for visitors, restricted list of countries, amongst others.
Maybe now is the right time to ask you, What are your hopes for the tourism Industry in Seychelles? That we show the world how resilient we are despite being small and that we rise better and stronger. I hope that our industry remains sustainable, that the environment remains the cornerstone of the industry and that my children are able to earn a livelihood from the industry, just like I have had the privilege and opportunity.
Both on a personal and professional level, what do you feel has been your greatest achievement so far? Having my little family! Being a mum and passing on my legacy to them. Professionally, having been able to make a difference for my country and in people’s lives. During my time at STB-during my seven years of office, we have not had a bad year and every year was better than the previous year. Except for 2020 of course. Two very emotional moments for me was seeing the wings of Air France and British Airways on our international airport and knowing I played a part in their historic comeback. My first plane trip as a little girl was on Air France to Mauritius, and two years after, it was on British Airways, so seeing them back on our soil was an immense pride.
What are your personal and career plans for the future?. What are your ambitions and where do you want to be? I would like to be always there for my family and grow with them, devote more of my time for them, travel to places together and make more memories together.
Wherever the path leads me professionally, I wish I can keep doing it with great love and devotion and keep growing and learning wherever there are growth and learning opportunities.
From what I’ve gathered, you have had an interesting career so far. What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know? Look for fulfilment outside your job. Your job does not need to be ‘The Thing’ in your life. I wished I had learned this earlier and did not make it so much of a priority in my life. Of course, when the children came, I automatically had to strike that balance, but then I wish I could have done that much earlier in my life. I could have made time for a new hobby, hang out with my friends or discover the world. There are more to life than just work.
Don’t let burnout break you. Learning to rest is beyond valuable. You need to listen to your body and take breaks if you need to. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so you always have to take care of yourself first, so you can be productive.
You actually cannot please everybody, in the real world, this is impossible. The workplace comes with so many different personalities and you would not be able to make everybody happy at the same time. Focus on your job and remember people’s emotions are not your responsibility, just ensure you are as fair as possible. The day I finally came to term with that, it felt like a relief.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the tourism industry? Working within the tourism industry, regardless of which position you end up in, it is never an 8 to 4 job. You have to be ready and willing to go the extra mile for your visitors or potential visitors. Working for a small island tourism, like Seychelles, where resources are scarce, you need to have great love and passion for this job. It is almost like a vocation.
Who has been your greatest inspiration in life? My grandmother. She is the pillar of our whole family and through her great sense of ‘family-hood’, she managed to keep the family together. she rules by the rod but yet has a heart of gold.
Is there a motto which you live by every day? Carpe diem. Seize the day.
Finally, happiness is…Self-made.