Leanne Harwood Shares Her Tips for Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

The Managing Director of IHG Australasia and Japan talks to Robb Report about her career and the future of IHG.

By Terry Christodoulou 22/07/2019

Leanne Harwood is the current Managing Director for Intercontinental Hotel Group’s Australasia and Japan region. With 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry and 14 years of operational and marketing expertise with IHG, Leanne was appointed Managing Director in January of 2018. We sat down to talk all things career, hospitality and what’s next for the hotel industry. RR: You started your career behind the bar, how did you progress to where you are now? LH: There’s a fair few years in between, thirty-odd. I started in Queenstown New Zealand behind the bar, fell in love with bartending and the hospitality industry, thought I was going to be the skiing queen, but my passion for bartending and skiing was overtaken by my passion for hospitality industry. It’s this passion that’s carried me around 14 cities and seven countries over my career. I ran restaurants and bars, before moving into IHG’s operations and into marketing where I opened a hotel in Tahiti, opened a sales office in India and plenty of other really exciting things. RR: During those 14 years at IHG what would you say is your crowning glory? LH: Coming home after 10 years to sit in the Managing Director role for Australasia and Japan I would have to say is my crowning glory, it’s a pretty awesome way to return to Australia, not to say I’m tired of the travelling – what an amazing industry to be in, I start to worry if I’m not spending time on a plane – but I’m very proud to be in the role. RR: You have had 14 years at IHG, how has it changed and how has it stayed the same? LH: The biggest change has been the shift in diversity, it is now an industry of inclusion, when I started in the industry, I was told I wasn’t going to make it as a female because I had to go off and have children, thank god the glass ceilings of the olden days are gone and it is now a diverse business. I’d like to think that I played a part in championing that change over the years. What has stayed the same is that at the core it is about the people, we are a business about hospitality, it’s the people that brings this industry to life. RR: What challenges do you think IHG need to overcome in the future? LH: It’s the same thing that excites me, it’s the people, we are engaged in a war on talent and we need to entice and excite the next generation of hospitality professionals. The big challenge is how do we ensure that we identify the next generations of leaders that is going to sustain them? We are up against other companies who are all trying to do the same. RR: In your mind, how is luxury travel provided and catered to by IHG and what do you think the luxury traveller is looking for? LH: We recently opened Intercontinental by Hayman Island, which is a shining example of the new era of luxury, we have had the amazing opportunity to undergo an $135 million rebuild and we are really looking at a fully immersive experience, where all elements of your luxury experience are catered to. Particularly for us at IHG, we are looking at sustainability component of travel. Luxury travellers are looking for an experience that offers for not only the best there is on offer, but they also want to know that the hotel that they are staying in is doing the right thing by the locals and the environment through a sustainable approach. RR: How do you deal with stress and how do you stay organised, what is your secret? LH: Stress isn’t a bad thing if you can harness it, we are often at our peaks when under stress, the key I think is having a restorative approach to it. It’s about balance, after you have a period of high stress you need to take time out to relax and replenish to make sure your personal energy levels are in check. I try to be as present as possible while I’m at work, and when I go home, I’m the same, I’m 100% present with my family and my friends. I don’t think work, life balance exists anymore and in hospitality we are a 24-hour industry, but you have to make sure you take that downtime as well. RR: You referred to the changing landscape for women within hospitality, what would your advice be to women, or anyone looking to leadership positions? LH: Take that leap, have faith in yourself, get comfortable being uncomfortable and embrace it, it might not be the opportunity you saw yourself taking, but if it is presented in front of you take it with both hands.
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