Laura Smith

From hospitality trainee to Diamond Team Member of the Year

Sunday, April 29, 2018

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SOMEONE once said don't let your past define, destroy or defeat you, but rather, let it strengthen you. This is especially true of Sandals South Coast's newly minted Diamond Team Member of the Year Laura Smith.

Smith, a 24-year-old Club Sandals concierge, was recently selected from over 600 team members for the luxury-included resort's top accolade during the 2017 Prestige Awards.

“We are so absolutely proud of Smith,” said resort General Manager Adrian Whitehead. “She has literally transformed in front of our eyes.”

Following her prolific rise over the course of a year and six months, from timid hospitality trainee to now departmental trainer within the resort's Elite Services Department, it is not hard to see that there is something special about Smith, perhaps driven by her unwavering passion for hospitality and determination to escape a life of poverty.

Smith's love affair with hospitality goes back to career days at Black River High School in St Elizabeth when, as a student, she became obsessed with the idea of working in the hospitality industry.

“Ironically enough, it was a team from Sandals visiting my school one career day that caught my attention,” she said.

“As I listened to them speak about the hotel and the services they offered, an idea was planted in my mind. I could imagine myself working in the industry and wearing that uniform.”

A job in the hospitality industry became Smith's goal, but accomplishing it would not be easy.

“While I was a student at Black River High, my mother worked in a supermarket and my father was a street cleaner. They both tried their best to provide for me and my younger siblings, but money was often scarce,” said Smith.

She realised at a very early stage that nothing would come easy; that if she wanted something, including a college education, she would have to go out and work for it.

“And that's what I did,” said Smith. “I went out and got my first job at a supermarket while I was still a student at Black River High. I was 16 and working to pay for college.”

“During that time I was on the morning shift, so I would go to school from 7:00 in the morning to 12 noon, then go home, change, and go to work from 2:00 until seven at night,” said Smith.

Despite having to juggle work and school from such an early age, Smith still managed to remain at the top of her class, so much so that four of her seven CXC exams were paid for by scholarships.

“My parents didn't have the money to pay for the other three subjects. I remember sitting up the night before the deadline for payment and I cried. The dreams I had of sitting all my CXC exams, going on to college and eventually landing my dream job in the hospitality industry seemed so close yet so far away,” she shared.

Three good Samaritans —her two aunts and a cousin — eventually came to Smith's rescue, paying for the additional subjects. Smith admits that those were some of her darkest moments, but rather than allow those moments to break her, she made them the gasoline that set her resilient soul on fire.

“And as for my CXCs, I passed all seven,” she said.

Smith actually went on to put herself through Bethlehem Moravian College where she pursued an associate degree in hospitality.

After completing her degree, Smith was hopeful of doing her internship at Sandals South Coast.

“But I couldn't do it without a letter from my school, which they refused to provide as I still had outstanding fees,” Smith noted.

Determined to get into the hotel one way or the other, she applied for the resort's Hospitality Training Programme (HTP) in July 2016.

The HTP didn't guarantee a job at the end of six weeks, but for the bright-eyed girl from Lover's Lane in Black River, it was a foot in the door.

Two months later, Smith was sitting in the human resources office of Sandals South Coast trying to get a job in Club Sandals.

“I did well on my six-week training in Club Sandals,” Smith said. “But somehow the [then] human resources manager just wasn't convinced that I had what it takes to be a Club Sandals agent, much less an outstanding one.”

Smith admitted that she felt so defeated, that she actually left the resort and went back home, only to receive a call from Ava Gardener, the Club Sandals manager, informing her that the interview process was not complete.

“I went back to Sandals South Coast and I sat with Miss Ava and somehow, despite my quiet, reserved disposition, she decided to take a chance on me.”

A year and six months later, Smith is once again juggling her responsibilities as a Club Sandals agent as well as assisting Miss Ava with additional responsibilities in the absence of a supervisor — from ordering goods for her department to makings shifts and doing the payroll. As a departmental trainer, she is also responsible for imparting knowledge of the operation to all hospitality trainees assigned to Club Sandals, as well as hosting exclusive events for Club Sandals and butler guests.

“Smith has the potential and tenacity to get very far in this industry,” said Elite Services Manager Ava Gardener. “She's not afraid to step forward and handle guest queries and lead her team, and she does it all with remarkable grace and an admirable level of professionalism.”

The young professional Smith has become today, she said, is the influence of people who have aided her development in one way or the other.

These include her aunts Kerryan Whyne and Sharon Farquharson, who never allowed her to give up and consistently pushed her; her manager Ava Gardener; as well as Resort Sales Manager Simone Grey, who never allowed her to doubt herself or her potential.

“These are all strong career women whom I emulate and turn to for advice. It would be remiss of me to not mention Opal Whyne, my mother, who, despite not having much to give me financially, has always been my biggest fan,” she said.

And, of course, true to form, Whyne was right there next to Smith in her brightest moment yet as she accepted the Diamond Team Member of the Year Award.

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