Challenges are stepping stones to successFor over 17 years, Rachana Thapa has been running the Silver Mountain College of Hotel Management, one of Kathmandu’s premier institutions when it comes to producing hotel and hospitality managers.
For over 17 years, Rachana Thapa has been running the Silver Mountain College of Hotel Management, one of Kathmandu’s premier institutions when it comes to producing hotel and hospitality managers. Thapa co-founded the college in 2001 with four other like-minded hospitality graduates. When it first started, the college only had eight students. Now, classes are packed, and Silver Mountain has established a reputation for itself as a first-rate institution. In this interview with the Post’s Saurav R Pandey, Thapa speaks about her journey of taking the college through times of political instability, how her team focuses on curriculum development, and how they managed to get to where they currently are. Excerpts:
Can you walk us through your professional journey?
I had always dreamed of doing something on my own. We always had this thought that Nepal has a lot of prospect for hotels and tourism, being a tourism-oriented country that is rich in culture and heritage. We felt that Nepal lacked a proper hotel management school where we could prepare our own people to be in the decision-making positions. Though I had experience working in hotels, I felt that there was still so much I could do in education.
My corporate journey has involved a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately, we were young when we started and thus, we had the vigour and passion to do something creative. We were the first foreign-affiliated hotel management school in the country and the first to be licensed by the Ministry of Education. For the first 10 years, we mostly focused on curriculum and teacher development.
What are the challenges you have faced in the past and those you continue to tackle regularly?
In 2001, Nepal was going through an armed insurgency. A week after our college’s establishment, the royal massacre occurred. The environment was quite unsafe, but it was our responsibility to provide proper security to our students. So, it wasn’t a very fertile time to flourish.
Secondly, Nepal is a male-dominated society. The public thinks that only men can take up positions as directors and principals. Such opinions in fact motivated me to show the world that women are equally capable as men. It’s all got to do with the right attitude and mindset.
Then, in 2015, one of our buildings, which was 30 odd years old, cracked and bearing in mind everyone’s safety, we had to shift to a partially-completed building. We really had a tough time then as well. In addition, some of the equipment we use require electricity. However, due to periodic loadshedding, we had to alter our schedule and classes.
But, I take these challenges as stepping stones to success. Hindrances shape us into matured and patient persons.
What was the first year of Silver Mountain like?
I was quite young at that time. That first year involved a lot of planning, nurturing and preparing for the days to come as our journey had only begun. As clichéd as it may sound, giving back to young adults interested in hotel management was our objective. The environment back then was not ideal for an institution to step into, but we were very hands-on people. All the co-owners were on the job, all the time. We also did not have many students or faculty back then. I myself used to teach and train our students. Thus, I had to do a lot of running around, from planning to teaching students. Still, I really cherish those difficult moments as they are responsible for making me who I am today.
What are some of your methods for managing an educational institution like Silver Mountain?
Silver Mountain College is all about the people who are working here. Our cleaning lady, our personnel at the door, our chefs—they are all our teachers and they shape our college. It is not just a single person’s vision to take Silver Mountain to its peak. We, as a unit, have to work together. Everyone has an equal contribution and works equally hard. All the teachers who bring in their experience and nurture the students as their own children are our biggest strength.
There is cut-throat competition between colleges to provide world-class hospitality management courses. How does Silver Mountain stay ahead of the curve?
Every member of our institution is very down to earth. We never feel that we are the best or we are always leading the competition. Whatever we do, we always give it our all. We have an internationally recognised curriculum and we were the first college in Nepal to start ‘training hotels’, where we provided our students with the opportunity to interact and intern with the people who visit our hotels. We have always felt that Nepali people are charming and hardworking, but quite shy. We also have a coffee school from University del caffe, which is a world-class coffee school from Italy. We are the 28th branch of this university. We are adding a bartending school in a few months, which will also be a state-of-the-art school. We have a wine lab, the first in Nepal, for our students to learn about wine, its multitude of flavours, and wine culture. Most importantly, around 35 international hotels and brands come to our college, interview our students and offer them attractive jobs. So, our job placements are excellent.
Hotel management is not easy to prepare for. How do you ensure that your students are well prepared before heading out into the professional world?
More than 50 percent of our students are from outside the Kathmandu Valley. Many have never even stepped into hotels. When we ask them why they want to study hospitality management, we get answers like “to become a chef”. But hospitality management is not just limited to cooking or housekeeping. So, by opening their eyes, building up their confidence, letting them speak in public, facilitating interactions with skilled teachers in state-of-the-art kitchens, we try to make sure that our students become who they want to be. Our students’ placements confirm this point. I recently met one of our first graduates who is currently working as a sales director at Radisson Hotel. We’ve got alumni in Australia, working as hotel managers. One is a chef at the Sydney Opera House. Our graduates are working all around the world, from the Maldives to Oman. Many of them are also entrepreneurs. A few have even opened their own schools.
Finally, what are some characteristics that a leader must possess?
A leader must always have vision. They are like ship captains, who anchor or navigate in the right direction. A leader is someone who takes care of not only his or her own personal growth but of the entire team. Above all, patience, determination, passion and the ability to react positively to criticism or failure are some of the qualities that a leader must have.