Francine Zana from Port Elizabeth (PE) started being a cleaner at the age of 19 in 2004. When other kids were waking up in the morning to go to school or when they were watching movies on weekends, she was busy cleaning someone’s house or cleaning at a mall or hotel.
After matric, she could not proceed with her studies due to financial constraints. She then decided to look for work to help her family, and at that time, the only job she could get was to become a cleaner.
“I never thought I would ever be a cleaner in my life. We used to think being a domestic worker was for older women. And there I was, a young person amongst the elders, trying to survive,” the 36-year-old says. She got her big break in the hospitality industry when she was hired by Kelway Hotel, for her first permanent job in 2009.
With the money she made she was able to help at home and take care of her own personal needs. Because of her Charisma and the years she put into the cleaning industry, she got promotion after promotion at her workplace. “One would think getting a promotion was a big deal, but I was young, and the older women were not happy with my promotions because I came into the industry later than them, but I stayed on my feet,” says Francine.
Her first job paid her R1 500 per month, and she got promoted to managerial positions where she made around R7 000 a month. The hospitality industry requires you to pay attention to detail, especially in five-star hotels, and Francine excels in this area.
As a result, often when her employers needed to train housekeepers in Cape Town, they would ask her to facilitate the sessions over several days. “When I saw how the training was received, my love for training and consulting was born. I started reading up about consulting and drafting my company profile,” says Francine.
When she went back to PE after she had conducted a training session in Cape Town, she sat down with Mantis Collection (the hotel group she worked for) Managing Director, Adrian Gardiner, and told him about her idea to start her company, Exclusive Hospitality Concepts.
“He was amazed, but advised that I should continue working while I marketed the company instead of resigning immedietely. He was amazing and supported me in my journey. Exclusive Hospitality Concepts took off while I was still working there,” says Francine.
When she resigned in 2012, she says business was not as easy as she had imagined. “You start a business, and you are still undermined. I remember at first no one wanted to interact with me because no one wants to be associated with you because you are not at their level. So, I had to constantly prove myself,” she says.
She lost approximately R200 000, trying to start and market her business before she could proudly say she was making decent money. Now Exclusive Hospitality Concepts gets invited by prominent people and other hotels to train their staff. She makes around R11 000 whenever she provides training.
Years later, through Exclusive Hospitality Concepts, Francine decided to start hosting gala dinners and awards for domestic workers. “I want them to be recognized for their work, just like managers and CEOs are recognized. Each hotel nominates the best gardener, cleaner receptionist, and they get awards accordingly. We make sure they get the red carpet feel and a four course meal, and they get served too.”
She does all of this out of her pocket. She also trains unemployed youth free of charge and makes sure they are adequately placed so they too can change their lives.
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