Taken from She Caribbean magazine, Issue 66, 2015 – Page 66 – 67 – “Year of the Boss Lady”
YEAR OF THE BOSS LADY
A study released in January 2015 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers in the world; at 59.3%, Jamaica is way ahead of countries like the USA and UK. In fact, the Caribbean region featured strongly, with Saint Lucia coming 3rd at 52.3%, and Bahamas (9th), Barbados (13th), Trinidad and Tobago (14th) and Cayman (16th). The study entitled “Women in Business and Management, Gaining Momentum,” found that women are still under-represented at the top, although the number of women in senior and middle management positions has increased over the last 20 years. SHE is proud to profile two of the region’s top boss ladies as an inspiration to all women who are forging ahead with their careers in every field.
KAROLIN TROUBETZKOY – Jade Mountain’s First Lady
If Caribbean tourism even had a glass ceiling, Karolin Troubetzkoy shattered it a long time ago. This soft-spoken German woman, with a visible zeal for her craft and a self-confessed über-keen eye for detail, has risen to the top of her field after thirty years living in Saint Lucia. With an atrium full of accolades behind (and no doubt ahead of) her, Troubetzkoy exudes the optimistic enthusiasm you expect from a newbie to the realm of exceeding luxury travellers’ expectations, alongside a veteran’s grasp of what it takes to stay ahead of the pack, even when the pack seems leagues behind.
By Dee Lundy-Charles
Karolin Troubetzkoy is truly a multi-cultural woman. Born and raised in Bavaria, Germany, she is the daughter of a Turkish father and a German mother. Even though her father was in Germany as a medical student, Germans at the time viewed all Turks as ‘gastarbeiter’-a term meaning “guest workers”-an “invited” immigrant labour force not always welcome in the country of their repatriation. Settling in Erlangen, Karolin’s dental student father was Muslim and her beautician mother was Catholic. She admits to feeling misunderstood and different because of her Turkish heritage, but credits her exposure to different religions and cultures with being instrumental in shaping her world view.
When she was small her parents divorced and staying with her mother in Germany meant Troubetzkoy knew little of her heritage growing up. In her thirties she reconnected with her Turkish family, visiting them and calling the experience “an eye-opener”. Now, having developed strong relationships with her family and roots, she wishes she had known that part of her history earlier, but admits her upbringing is very much at the core of her self-identity as a citizen of the world.
That identity includes speaking four languages, an accomplishment that Karolin characteristically downplays as being requisite for the tourism industry, especially in Europe. She grew up with neighbouring France and Italy only a stone’s throw away, so it was natural and almost expected. She also helped at an aunt’s hotel from as early as age six, and credits her with “putting out the call, the beacon” that became Karolin’s life’s work.
Back in the 1970s, when Karolin Troubetzkoy started her career in hotel management in Munich, the hotel business was firmly in the hands of men. The profession was based on practical training. There was no university course in Germany until the end of the 70s and Karolin was on of the earliest participants.
“One of the professors walked into a class with 75% women and 25% men,” she recalls with a smile, “and he was quite brutal in telling us that the only way for women to have a career in the industry was to marry a hotelier. I was shocked that this was the reality and to this day it has made me work five times as hard to prove him wrong.”
Although times have changed, and nowadays there are many female executives of luxury properties all over the world, in reality the industry remains a male bastion.
While she was studying, a representative from the hotel management company Steigenberger walked into her university classroom and asked for volunteers to teach German in Saint Lucia as part of a practical semester. At the time Troubetzkoy knew nothing of the Caribbean, far less the tiny island on which she would land in 1980, just days after Hurricane Allen had caused widespread damage and the closure of all but one hotel. At age twenty, she and two fellow graduates found themselves in the midst of the resulting chaos, with no reachable contacts and nowhere to stay when they arrived from Germany via Barbados, “traumatised and practically broke.”
Luckily they met some helpful locals of influence and were directed to a hotel executive who knew about the arrangement; they spent the next six months working on the island, which was a “fantastic experience” for Karolin.
“I felt immediately at home,” she recalls. “It made me understand I was a citizen of the world, and realise I was meant for this work, so I embraced it.”
She left Saint Lucia in 1981 to “explore other places in the world,” not anticipating a return to the tiny island in the southern Caribbean. But only three months later, Karolin met Nick Troubetzkoy, owner of Anse Chastanet. Their paths had never crossed in Saint Lucia. It was a courtship conducted long distance over four years, difficult, she admits, partly because Karolin was determined to travel the world. She also did not want her destiny to be precisely what the professor had predicted–marrying a hotelier.
“I went everywhere I could think of, Polynesia, the Seychelles. I was somewhat reluctant to follow my heart, and I was independent-minded,” she reminisces. “It was a challenge, and I was determined not to become the wife walking the beach with a floppy hat. At the end of the day, love won out–but so did independence.”
The interesting work dynamic which developed between herself and her husband has been one of the reasons for the property’s success, Karolin says.
“We are far from being the harmonious hotelier couple. As a matter of fact, many times we start off by not agreeing at all on the way forward but then continue our discussions until we find a common ground from which we can move forward. I can say for certain that it has never been boring.”