Sam Pillay, Sales Operations Director of First Group Hotels and Resorts

Sam Pillay, Sales Operations Director of First Group Hotels and Resorts, was born into a humble and broken home, and started off on what many would say ‘the back foot’. She could have allowed this to limit her success, but instead Sam said that it drove her, “In fact, my journey has been all the sweeter because of my bitter beginnings,” she says.

So, what did Sam do differently from her colleagues and friends? How did this young, ordinary woman, with nothing more than a matric, work her way up the corporate ladder and become the success she is today?

She shares her recipe for success:

Ingredient 1: An appetite for excellence

About 20 years ago, Sam worked for a spa owned by Rioma Cominelli (who is also a Director at First Group). Between Sam proving herself and Rioma recognising her potential, the magic started to happen. Sam performed every task to the highest standard and continues that way today. “It didn’t matter how menial the job, I would strive to do it better than it had ever been done before.” And, for Sam, it was also pleasurable – being able to excel and given the space to shine, inspired her to discover who she was and how much she was capable of.

Ingredient 2: Always hungry for more

Rioma then guided Sam through a series of roles as opportunities arose and before she knew it, she found her way into First Group as a clerk and then on through Administration, to Creditors and ended up in a managerial role in the Finance Department. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, Sam said she grabbed it with both hands. She soon found herself fully immersed in special projects that had a profound impact on the business’ success and suddenly the question was being asked, did this little (physically, Sam is very small) woman have what it takes to cross the chasm into executive leadership?

Ingredient 3: Resilience and commitment

Some people stand out in a room, like the larger-than-life Sales Director who commands attention the minute he enters the building; the aura and power are innate (the 1,8m height, barrel belly and bald head help too). How can a petite woman of colour possibly compete? “It is only through persistence, resilience and Rioma’s belief in me that I was given the opportunity to prove that I am a worthy leader. But I am a servant leader which is somewhat different to the more traditional leader.”

Ingredient 4: A mentor who believes in you

Sam has been able to remain true to her unique style of servant leadership because of the inspirational mentor who first believed in her. “Some days can be hard and I am sure it’s natural to sometimes wonder if you’re investing yourself in the right place, but I’ve never had to wonder. Rioma has always believed in me and I am hopeful that I can continue that legacy and be the reason other people discover the best version of themselves, through my belief in them.”

Ingredient 5: A great reason WHY

At the end of every 16-hour work day, there has to be a ‘why’ in every committed leader’s heart. In true ‘Sam-style’ there’s more than one in hers;

  1. Her family – Sam is married to an amazingly supportive husband, Keshan and they have two gorgeous daughters; Tamia (16 years old) and Emma (2 years old). They are the number one motivation for this committed wife and mom to keep growing.
  2. Her team – Sam wants to leave a legacy through leadership excellence; she wants to inspire other young people to rise above their circumstances; be it privilege or poverty.
  3. Her God – Sam is a committed Christian who shines her light brightly for the kingdom.

Method: Mix an appetite for excellence and a hunger for more, together with resilience, commitment and someone who believes in you and you are almost there. Add your ‘why’ – your reason to get up in the morning – and you are set for success!

“First Group has been an exceptional incubator for my career.  I have been set up for success from Day One and I am excited and ready to navigate the company through any challenge we might face in the 2020’s,” Sam concludes.