Swiss-American Carla Petzold-Beck is managing director and co-owner of Epic, an expert travel designer that specialises in custom itineraries in Morocco, Portugal and islands such as Azores, Madeira and Sao Tome & Principe. The international hotelier and self-described “action woman” spent 17 years in Asia and has worked throughout the world, with her most recent post being general manager at Nihi Sumba, an iconic resort on Nihiwatu beach on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Petzold-Beck is keen to share the many wonders of Morocco, where she is now based after travelling extensively in Africa. “Morocco can feel very alien when you first arrive, so I help take the fear factor out of it,” says the intrepid Petzold-Beck, who has – among other adventures – paraglided extensively and cycled 500km from Marrakech to Agadir, near Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. “I think having lived here, guests often look at me and think, ‘oh ok, she can do it, so can I!”
I’m an afternoon or evening person now. I used to be a real night owl in my 20s, then turned into a morning lark when I started as a general manager in Nicaragua in my 30s, which continued through my Asia years. Now that I’ve crossed over to the “agency side”, I prefer to get up between 730 to 830am. I get some exercise in before starting my day as I’m most productive in the afternoon.
I go to sleep between 10 to 12pm depending on Netflix and knitting, which I like to do before bedtime to relax. If I’ve dropped too many stitches, I hit the pillow.
Different people have inspired me greatly throughout my life. In my early teens, it was my grandfather, who was the dean at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. In my late teens, it was my father, who worked in the hotel industry and roamed the world for his work. In my 20s, when I started working with Kempinski Hotels, my first general managers inspired me. Later on, I’ve been greatly influenced by my Cornell schoolmate Hans Pfister. He founded Cayuga Hospitality in Costa Rica and hired me as an opening general manager for Cayuga’s Nicaragua property at Morgan’s Rock.
Training my deputies to become general managers has brought me the greatest satisfaction in my career. Every hotel in which I arrived as a general manager, I’ve left with either my assistant taking over, or becoming a general manager in other properties.
Best career advice I’ve received? If you saw a decision you made printed on the front page of the newspaper, would you be proud of it or cower in shame? That’s what I consider when making important decisions in work and life. Also, always sleep on emails that are emotionally charged. Vent at your computer if you’re upset but don’t hit “send” on your reply until the next day.
My “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach has helped me garner respect from my colleagues in what can be a very male-dominated world. It’s also given that extra touch of sensitivity that honestly, men rarely show. And when I trip up, I get up, rearrange my crown and move on. I rarely make the same mistake twice.
My No.1 tools for keeping myself organised are my phone alarm and notebook. I’m not a very “techie” person and prefer the old-school method of scratching out my to-do list, line by line. And my phone alarm helps to snap me back to reality when I’ve dived deep into a project.
I do deep mental work during a swim, walk or when I’m on a plane. It’s a meditative time and knowing I can’t be interrupted by a phone call really helps.
My go-to technique for de-stressing at work is to follow Mr Miyagi’s mantra in The Karate Kid – “Wash on, wash off”. Deep inhale, deep exhale. Then I call my business partner and get a second perspective. I listen to a lot of classical music too, which is calming in stressful situations.
Work-life balance was a foreign concept to me in my 20s and 30s. Now that I’m in my 40s, I’ve come to understand how important this balance is. I burned the candle at both ends over the last few decades. Now that I’m more mature and in need of balance (I’m a Libra, after all) it’s become a key focus in my life. I’ve prioritised family time since becoming an aunt five years ago. Being part of my nephews’ lives is very important to me.
I inspire my staff through leading by example. I don’t shy away from getting my hands dirty and show them that I do things outside of the “boss’ box”. I find team-building workshops extremely important too as they encourage my staff to think beyond work and share the values and things that they’re passionate about.
My best practice for managing staff? God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Letting someone share a worry can divide the problem in half. I’ve been the “go-to” person in many of my previous roles because I take the time to listen and then share my advice in a very clear, unbiased and honest manner.
A decade ago, I’d have said the glass ceiling is a reality, but now I find it’s slowly becoming a myth. Too many positive changes have occurred across all industries that prove women and minorities can seize the world and make a difference.
I wish we were all born as millionaires and then died as paupers. That would be such a healthy way of living and eliminate 90% of the world’s issues with mental health, greed, ego, competition and so on.
Equal pay is a must for creating more equitable workplaces for women. So is extending more generous maternity leave and incorporating paternity leave as an obligation, not a choice. Offering daycare at workplaces would also offer considerable financial relief to new families.
I wish we were all born as millionaires and then died as paupers. That would be such a healthy way of living and eliminate 90% of the world’s issues with mental health, greed and ego.
– Carla Petzold-Beck
I do “spot checks” of my email (with a few quick replies) over the weekend as it reduces the manic Monday mornings of a swamped inbox.
I disconnect from my day at work by shutting the door to my office and then preparing a meal, going on an evening walk or meeting a friend for a drink.
I was a former competitive swimmer so exercise is hugely important for my mental and physical health. I’ve found a pool here in Morocco where I swim three to four times a week (about 10-12km in total). I also walk, cycle and hike a lot. If I don’t exercise on a weekly basis, I become unnerved, antsy and overly curt. Epic is all about active experiences so we spend a lot of time outdoors – we have to practice what we preach!
Travelling For Work
My secret to beating jet lag is melatonin, verbena tea and a Stilnox if there’s a time difference of over six hours.
Lisbon is my favourite city to travel to for work. Old street cars going up and down the city, sea views, lots of people having long, leisurely lunches at cafes and wine bars, oodles of fresh produce, open-air markets, cobblestones, loads of majestic churches with lovely facades – Lisbon has such a great holiday atmosphere. I always head to Second Home, an amazing, plant-filled co-working community right on the water at Mercado da Ribeira. And after work, Black Sheep is a must for the best natural wines.
My least favourite city to travel to for work – when I travelled extensively during my sales years – was Minneapolis. I thought it was particularly terrible in winter as it was too cold and windy. I wasn’t a fan of Dallas either. I couldn’t walk anywhere and didn’t like the city’s sprawling layout.
My long-term goal is to become a certified life coach. During the pandemic, I took online classes on Neuro Linguistic Programming, which is a scientific approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy. You learn about thinking processes and how to reframe things using mental exercises. It’s really helped me understand why certain things bother me and why some people get along (or don’t!).
If I could do it all over again, I’d spend more time focusing on my relationships rather than chasing contracts.
I’ll know I’ve “made it” in life when I have time to knit or do puzzles at home before I’ve reached retirement age! Jokes aside (since I already do this), I don’t think we can ever consider ourselves as having “made it” in life because there’s always something left to discover, no matter how many countries you’ve visited, how many people you’ve helped or the number in your bank account. I’m not steered by wealth – I don’t need a million in my account to prove myself. I’d much rather see a young person I’ve guided blossom into someone who’s happy and fulfilled.
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