Shakira Johnson

Shakira Johnson
“Hospitality gave me the skills set: I just needed to learn about the logisitics industry.”
Shakira Johnson
Hospitality Management alumnus

It’s often said that one of the characteristics of a hotello is agility. Hospitality Management alumni Shakira Johnson fully agrees and is convinced of the hotello’s ability to handle pressure juggling numerous things at a time, and work hard in a team putting their differences aside for the greater good. Shakira's taken her hotello mindset and agility into a field quite different to hospitality, namely logistics.

“Deciding to study hospitality management was one of the best decisions of my life – but was also incredibly spontaneous. I didn’t look into other universities or make a plan B, and neither did my parents. We just went with the flow because it felt so right. I’ve always been encouraged to explore: by my mum through her introspective nature, encouraging me to really look at myself and understand who I am in the belief that then we can help make a better world. And by my dad through him pushing me to be better, to challenge myself, be independent and strong. I’m lucky that I’ve always been surrounded by incredible people who have put trust in me and let me do what I wanted. My parents, my sister, but also teachers, coaches, friends and managers. They’ve given me the confidence to take on challenges and opportunities that have then led me to new things in my life.”

Learning through doing

“I loved my time in Leeuwarden. It felt very liberating. I needed to have a job for financial reasons and I was lucky enough to work as a host coordinator for the programme and got to organise some great events, like the Study Start Week. It was a huge team to lead and the aim is to work together to create a really good atmosphere to welcome new students. It was great practice for my career: I still bring people together and work on making everyone feel comfortable in their role. It’s a skill everyone actually gets to practice during their studies at NHL Stenden thanks to the project work using design-based research. One of the key aspects is taking on a different role in each project you do. It means you get expertise and skills in everything, you learn where your strengths and weaknesses are, and I think it empowers people by giving them responsibility, helping them learn different ways of working with each other. It’s so ingrained in me now, I still use it, applying it in my work when I’m training people by pushing them to do things themselves. For instance, if I’m presenting a particular reporting tool, I get a volunteer who knows and uses the tool to do the presentation. It empowers people to have them do things on their own, but I’m there as support. And it means the tool is truly presented through the user’s perspective.”

“The interesting thing is that I like being in control, so you’d think that I would want to be the one doing all the presentations and taking the lead. But I’ve learnt that the more I let go, the more options then seem to appear. And the more often you experience this, the more often you let go because each time till then it’s all worked out ok. Time and again, that’s how things have developed in my life. It worked out when I chose to study at the hotel school, it worked out when I decided to move away from the hospitality sector and it works out pretty much every day in the work I do now.”

Going with the flow

“Just because you have an idea or a plan, doesn’t mean it can’t change as you develop. On the contrary, I really think that me first thinking I wanted to become a chef and going through that study, exposed me to other possibilities. So I went on to the broader field of hospitality, really liked room division management and set my sights on being a manager, did my internship for Hilton and then found that the innovation and collaboration I wanted in my work wasn’t something I could get in the establishment I was working in. I ended up quitting my job, having no money and sleeping on friends’ couches until one friend suggested I start over… in customer services. I basically sold myself by saying that if I can handle services for guests in a five-star hotel, I can do customer services anywhere, in this case supply chain and logistics and transportation. I figured I had the services skillset in place, I just needed to learn about logistics from the company. It was a really good step. I got the job and felt it was definitely a move in the right direction. I really liked projects and event management and I'm still a hugely passionate advocate for the hospitality industry and what we can offer guests. I now apply that mindset in project management for logistics, bringing experts together and helping people be better at their jobs. My career move made sense.”

“Although I knew enough about the project management side of things, I had a lot to learn at a corporate level. My manager took an incredible chance on me and I got to work with a really fantastic team. Everyone treated each other as an equal and supported and helped me. They would say what was needed, explain the rules of play and let me fill in the rest how I wanted. Each time I proved myself, I was given more and more responsibility and developed further. This trust is something I want to pass on to others. I have a coach to help me and I coach others at Cargill too. What I try to do is just what my coach and my lecturers did."

To find out more about the programme, check out the Hospitality Management programme page or request the programme brochure