After a long career in the Romanian hospitality industry, Gabriela has found her peace in Canada, where she blends her beautiful passion for horses with the duties of a General Manager at Cavalia Sutton Stables. Apart for achieving the business goals, she is also responsible with the well-being of 60 horses and about 20 people. About her amazing story, her love for horses and Romania, the challenges of turning around a business and motivating Canadian people in today's interview.
Name: Gabriela Rotariu
Hometown: Constanta, Romania
Abroad since: 2011
Living in: Bromont, Québec, Canada
Current position & company: General Manager – Cavalia Sutton Stables
TGR: Gabriela, first of all, congratulations for your impressive career in hospitality! Which is the accomplishment you’re mostly proud of?
GR: There were many instances in my career which left me with a deep sense of accomplishment. It is hard to choose exactly one moment, but there is indeed one event which changed my professional life. This is when I became the first Romanian Woman to manage the Sales and Marketing department of Sofitel Bucharest (which is now Hotel Pullman). It is in the process of obtaining this position that I sharpened my management and negotiation skills; I have learned how to obtain the best results by encouraging the collaboration of team members, rather than using authority. I have applied these management principles all my professional life ever since, and the teams that I lead were equally motivated and productive.
You have had so many different experiences in the past, surely fulfilling in terms of personal growth and development. What were the qualities that helped you succeed?
I put “having dreams and have the courage to realize them” on the first place. I always knew where I want to be next. I was very determined to obtain what I wanted and most of the time my life conspired for the accomplishment of these dreams. I surely knew I wanted to be the Sales and Marketing Director of Sofitel when I got hired (in January 2002) and I was determined to become the General Manager of a Hotel (which happened in 2009) when I became the Sales and Marketing Director of Sofitel (in 2006). And this applies to my present professional life too: I knew since we left Romania that this may be the perfect opportunity to switch careers and start working with horses.
I suppose moving to Canada was a big step ahead. Who do you have to thank for this opportunity?
If I must answer directly your question I will be perceived in Europe as “a North American totally lacking modesty” as I would straight forward say “I have to thank myself”. Coming to Canada was a long decision process, which started with my total refusal to come to such a “silly country”. I met my husband in 1996 and we are now together for 20 years. He is a French Canadian who lived in Romania for 17 years and obtained the Romanian citizenship. Another simple answer to your question is “I have to thank my husband – which I surely do”. But again, it requires a longer explanation. We started to travel to Canada in 1998, and I “tamed this country” ever since. All these years I have learned to understand, accept, and finally love the people (French Canadians) and Québec. This long adaptation process contributed to my immediate integration in the Canadian Society. The changes in the Romanian Society after 2006 were also a factor – I felt I was inadequate, a stranger in my own country. The values I strongly believe in were better illustrated here in Canada. And I was not wrong, I am now very happy in my adoption land.
A big shift after all these years of adding value to the hotel industry. How does an expert in hospitality end up working closely with such noble animals?
Shortly: by following a childhood dream. I spent all my childhood and young age in Constanta (not far of Mangalia though) dreaming about horses. You may know, Mangalia was renowned in communist times for their Arabian horses breeding facilities.
In general I love animals, and all my life I had pets and I took care of abandoned animals (we know what this means in Romania). As I said before, my life conspired once more, and I grabbed the General Manager job at Cavalia in February 2014. Now the clients I am taking care of have 4 legs, are highly sensitive and delicate, and do not loudly protest if you happen to do a mistake. I use a lot of the skills I have learned in Hotel Industry to make the life of my four legged friends better: among these learned skills – the attention to details, the obsession to cleanliness, patience, understanding the point of view of the other (in this case, another species).
Obviously you couldn't have succeeded without being passionate about horses! What improvements has Cavalia seen during your tenure as General Manager?
When I joined Cavalia in 2014 the turnover in the team was at least 90%. I have managed to stabilize the team, and bring this turnover to almost zero during the first 6 months. This is essential for the quality of work and welfare of horses – employees have now the time to learn and to enjoy being in company of these animals.
With the help of one of my mentors (Alexandra Kurland who is a world known animal behaviorist specialized in horses’ behavior) we founded a “Positive Reinforcement Horse School” attended by horse owners worldwide. This completed (and to use a specific term in animal care “enriched my activity”) as General Manager with a Project Manager role. Founding this school brought me back to my well-known grounds of organizing events (sales, marketing, operating) and gave me an amazing opportunity to learn about behavior modification (including humans) through Applied Behavior Analysis and Positive Reinforcement. To make all this more motivating, the school activities brought significant income to the Stables in 2015 and 2016.
How's like working and living in Canada?
During my first 2 years of working in Canada I had some difficulties in accepting the lack of attachment of the employees to their work place. They come, go and change jobs with seemingly no direction to their career. It is hard to hire qualified professionals (I am speaking mostly about the tourism industry) and even harder to motivate the personnel. But in Cavalia I had a free hand from the owner (of course the decision was motivated by the first months’ success to stop the turnover) in doing whatever I thought necessary to stabilize and motivate my people. I have a wonderful team proving high dedication and love for the horses.
We live in one of the best rated ski resorts in North America and where equestrian competitions were held during the 1976 Olympics. The Eastern Townships are renowned for their natural beauty. In the last 5 years, I admire the morning sky when heading to work, and I am constantly mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape and the ever-changing colors. So – it is not that hard to live here.
I guess after all these years you can call yourself at home. Is there anything disappointing though?
I would dare say no. There are no disappointments, just the everyday joy of knowing we took the right decision. But of course, we are presently worried about our Southern Friends presidential choice. We do not know how this will affect Canada, but chances are that US economic and foreign affairs decisions will impact Canada too.
What do you mostly miss about Romania?
My friends and the team I left behind in Golden Tulip Victoria. Even if I am still in contact with some of my friends, in the every-day life I still would like to go out to dinner with them and pursue our traditions.
How often do you travel to Romania?
We have not returned to Romania. My busy professional life combined with the beauty of Québec (which makes holidays here very appealing) contributed to our decision to spend our few holidays in Canada.
Do you see yourself moving back? Maybe to run some stables here?
Moving back to live in Romania – presently I am saying no. Running some stables in Romania in the future – may be. But I should meet the right partner for this, as there is a huge gap between mentalities. The way of treating our horses, the way we handle and take care of them is very different even from regular stables in Canada. The Positive Reinforcement training is a pioneering method, facing a lot of resistance in the horse world in general.
I was pleasantly impressed when I found out that one Romanian teenager is training her horse our way, and I hope to stay as close to her as possible and help her overcome the obstacles she will face by being “against the current” and challenging the old mentalities.
Please tell me something particular about Romania that you would usually say to a foreign friend.
That my country of origin is a country of astonishing beauty, amazing history, and smart and beautiful people. I always encourage them to find out more about Romania, and I suggest them to visit if they are going to Europe. One place to which I am very attached is my home town, Constanta, and Dobrogea (with its ancient Greek Cities, Histria being my favorite wild, alien place to visit and never forget).
What is your biggest dream?
To continue working with horses for the rest of my life, and to be able to change the mentalities in the animal world. For now, I still consider that the public has not all the insight of the complexity of the emotional life and the intelligence of other species. I dream to reduce the ignorance surrounding the learning capacities, the sensitivity and the intelligence of our friends who happen not to speak “human”. Learning to communicate with the members of other species is like learning a foreign language.
Well, I can only hope you will teach that beautiful foreign language to as many people as possible! Any final remarks regarding our home country?
Romania is the country I love most, and it will always be the source of who I really am. My values, my way of being have been modeled by living and being educated in Romania. I will miss the stormy waves of the Black Sea, the tranquil beauty of Bucovina and the majesty of Brasov and Sighisoara for the rest of my days. I will always be grateful to my husband who shaped my love for Romania, by proving me how you can genuinely fall in love with a country and never let go.
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