In the new economy, the success of an enterprise ultimately lies with the quality of the people it hires. When you are a nation’s top foreign exchange earner, you need an individual not only qualified but also ambitious and passionate enough to cope with the challenges and a comprehensive vision for you. And this is how 33 year old Jean Byamugisha became the CEO of Uganda Hotel Owners Association. Her illustrious resume includes a stint at the UN and now CEO UHOA.
Jean is one of those fiercely intelligent girls whom everyone predicted would become a lawyer or journalist at worst. She however, opted for tourism which shocked everyone but launched her into an amazing career. ‘People disregard tourism. It is a course associated with academic failures. But I didn’t care what others thought about it; for me it was passion.’ Says the vibrant and sunny Jean of her radical choice to pursue tourism.
The association registered back in May 2000, gives voice to business in the hospitality industry on issues ranging from new industry guidelines to legislation. Representing approximately 400 hotels across Uganda, UHOA has been the principal advocate promoting the best interest of the hospitality industry. It is among the strongest of industry associations in Uganda.
SheSpell: Who is Jean?
JB: I am the eldest of five children. My mother is Goreth and my father is Francis Byamugisha a seasoned lawyer in town. I am one of those fortunate people that had a childhood dream that became a reality. Just like all children, my first dream was to become a lawyer like my father but that changed as I matured and became brave enough to want something different from what my parents and everyone expected me to do. So I ended up here.
SheSpell: How difficult was it to change lanes?
JB: This was something that would change the rest of my life, obviously it was difficult. There were moments of doubt when butterflies took over my stomach but the pros outweighed the cons by far because I loved hotels. Plus there was that little problem about the general disregard against tourism as a course; as a young girl I had the inherent desire to do popular stuff. But as they say all is well that ends well. . .right? I am glad I followed my passion.
SheSpell: How important is it for people to follow their passion?
JB: I say this with all consideration that in this day and age, jobs are scarce and any job is better than nothing at all. But I also know that there is nothing worse than having to wake up every morning to go to a job you don’t even care about. When people choose their careers, they are sometimes blinded by money. The thing to remember is that while its true money is a very powerful thing, it builds empires and breaks down kingdoms, it allows for dreams to come true and it takes others away, but no amount of money can buy time. Time is our most valuable asset and it is something, that while on this earth, we should spend most wisely. It is best we search for something we are passionate about and give it all we have which will most definitely bring us success and prosperity.
SheSpell: What is the importance of role models for young people?
JB: I think the question should be who should be a role model. A good role model can transform an individual just as much as bad one can ruin you. My career has not been typical but it’s been my journey and I am proud of it but it would have been different if I hadn’t had good role models to look up to. Not every successful person has a worthwhile life story or moral standards. Apart from my mother and father there have been others who have guided me by living their lives positively. One of them is our chairlady maama Susan Muwhezi. Her sheer business genius, grace and poise inspire me to make my own life better everyday.
SheSpell: What’s your advice for young people interested in the tourism industry?
JB: Tourism has so many opportunities. It is the one industry that has something for every individual. It is also a robust industry. Last year, tourism took over as Uganda’s number one foreign exchange income earner beating powerful sectors like agriculture tourism plus oil and gas. It is also an industry that favors the young; 77% of the employees are the youth of which 57% are female.
SheSpell: What is the biggest misconception about the hotel industry?
JB: People assume that a beautiful face is all you need. It’s not about the pretty faces but sharp brains are a must. A pretty face can only get you through the door. But what do you once you get inside? Hotel business is a service industry, so we are selling a product as well as selling ourselves. That is why every woman should get up to go to work looking and feeling beautiful. Nothing is more beautiful than brilliance in a woman.
SheSpell: How is your day like?
JB: I wake up by 6 AM and prepare myself for work. I am usually at my desk by 7.30 AM to catch up with my correspondences before starting meetings. I hold lots of meetings with stake holders like the Uganda tourism board, the ministry of tourism and hotel owners themselves. I also visit various hotels to ensure that nothing goes lax. I leave work at around 6PM and go to the gym or catch up with family and friends.
SheSpell: What’s your life’s philosophy?
JB: Well, a wise person once told me that if I found and followed my passion I would never need to work another day in my life. So this is the criteria I use to choose everything in my life. I also know that we need to be open to learn, grow and best ourselves all the time. That is why I will go for activities such as boxing. I might never box for a living but I am not afraid to try.
SheSpell: Last words
JB: It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.