The newly appointed Principal Secretary (Tourism Department) for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism, Mrs Sherin Francis, talks to Cosmocreole about family, work, and how to be bolder and braver to succeed in your career. Married with two young daughters, she shares how she is navigating motherhood, finding a good work balance and confidence to face the challenges that come with work and family. Sherin has served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board since 2013.
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 that I occupied for four years.
I know your work requires a lot of travelling, 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 usually 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 at the same time to prepare their lunch and snack pack, get myself ready, get them ready, have a quick breakfast, and then we usually are 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 with emails or specific tasks that requires a bit of concentration before the day gets busy. Typically, 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. Then, usually, when my schedules permit or family duty calls, I collect the girls from school or do the round of dropping them off at their dance classes.
I try to be home, in normal circumstances (providing no events or long meetings) by 6 pm, and we normally have dinner together. Then, 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, 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 to strike that balance. Thank goodness the travel is planned ahead of time so that 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. In 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 also tried to be home by the weekend as much as possible.
When I am away, I always try to connect with them through video calls as often as possible, though I have to say they are not fans. I also try to make up by ensuring that we spend time together doing their favourite things the weekend I am home.
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 adapting to time zones, cultures or climates. I love experiencing 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 comfortable 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 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 has been a challenge. However, 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. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that we will bounce back.
Even if the destination has opened, airlines are flying, and our operators are back into operation, planning has been challenging. The situation globally is still very volatile, with fear of quarantine for visitors and a restricted list of countries.
Maybe now is the right time to ask you, What are your hopes for the tourism Industry in Seychelles? 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 can earn a livelihood from the industry, just like I have had the privilege and opportunity.
What do you feel has been your greatest achievement so far on a personal and professional level? Having my little family! Being a mum and passing on my legacy to them. Second, 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? I want to be always there for my family, grow with them, devote more of my time to them, travel to places together, and make more memories together.
Wherever the path leads me professionally, I wish to 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 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 to 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. So focus on your job and remember people’s emotions are not your responsibility, ensure you are as fair as possible. So the day I finally came to terms with that, it felt like a relief.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the tourism industry? Regardless of which position you end up in, working within the tourism industry 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. Also, working for small island tourism, like Seychelles, where resources are scarce, you need 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 that you live by every day? Carpe diem. Seize the day.
Finally, happiness is…Self-made.