December 10, 2013
Rebeca Selley, general manager, Four Seasons BASaturday, August 31, 2013
The second coming
From: Mexico City, Mexico
Profession: General manager, Four Seasons BA
Education: Business administration at Universidad Panamericana
Last book read: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Last film seen: Saber perder
Following her first contract with Four Seasons Buenos Aires in 2002, Mexican hotelier Rebeca Selley returned for round two nine years later to oversee the hotel’s vast refurbishment.
While working in the Czech Republic as the millenium rang in, Mexican hotelier Rebeca Selley was given the opportunity to move to Argentina — and it was a move she took by the horns. And when opportunity knocked a second time several years later, she took it again.
The Four Seasons’ general manager says: “The first time I came to Buenos Aires was in 2002. Toward the end of 2001, I was working in Prague as the director of food and beverages at the Four Seasons, and they offered me the chance to come and work in Buenos Aires.”
IT TAKES TWO
“At that time, I had done two hotel openings, and I told my general manager and mentor that I would like to do something different. And he said, ‘Well, what about a takeover?’ That means that a hotel managed by one company is taken over by another company. And I said I’d love to do that — and so Buenos Aires was coming into the picture with regard to this takeover and I arrived in February, 2002, not long after everything that happened at the end of 2001 here.”
Undeterred by the political and economic chaos that had unravelled at that time, Rebeca maintains that Buenos Aires “is a fascinating city” and that point was proven when she then returned in 2011 with a new title of general manager and the plans of overhauling the grande dame hotel known for its historical mansion to the tune of US$49 million.
“I’ve lived in Buenos Aires twice! And it’s also an interesting time now, in 2013! I’ve always strongly maintained that it’s a fascinating city and this country has great passion — Argentines have great passion for everything.”
“To come back was an easy decision to make, as I’ve always been interested by this city. It was also great in the sense of the professional challenge because I knew that this hotel was in a moment that needed a change, so that was amazing. I know I will leave again but I have the great satisfaction to have been general manager at this property when all these renovations took place, and no-one can take that away from me. I’m a person who loves change and challenge, and it’s in my DNA. When I start to feel too stable, then I start to feel bored and want to move on.”
These past two years have certainly kept boredom at bay, given the huge renovation her hotel has undertaken, certainly the most expensive the city has witnessed.
“The biggest challenge for me has been the massive renovation. Last Friday, for example, an employee who had left in 2002 came back, after working around the world, and she said to me ‘I’m at a different hotel.’
“To have done this, without closing the hotel, and having guests and employees on site, in the timeframe we had, has been fascinating. It’s a daily challenge! But the perfect place in the world doesn’t exist, and every place has its assets and for sure, as in all Latin countries — and I can say it as I’m from Mexico — we aren’t very diligent if there isn’t someone behind you checking up on you. So has it been a challenge? Yes! But I would do it again? Definitely!”
More than a decade ago, work was a priority for the Mexican hôtelière, but over time that has changed as her home location of choice shows.
“Back in 2002 I lived right opposite the hotel in Recoleta, but second time round I live in on the eastern side of Palermo. I love where I live now as at this time of my life, it’s very important to connect on other levels beside work. To have friends who aren’t related to the hotel business gives a very good balance, and I exercise with a personal trainer twice a week, then I walk every Sunday. I love the fact that I’m surrounded by greenery, in fact it’s one of the things I love about this city that there’s lot of passion to enjoy outdoor activities. I’ve lived in Prague and Chicago and compared to those winters, this is heaven! It’s such a pleasure and joy!”
Having had the opportunity to live Buenos Aires twice for extended periods of time, Rebeca’s perspective on the city and its people is valid. “It’s a great city, but I also think it’s also a complex city, very lively, and Argentines like to do everything and express themselves the whole nine yards, in arts, politics, soccer. I see it in the personalities here in the hotel — there’s a lot of heart, passion and drive.”
Between 2005 and 2011, differences were obvious in the city, Rebeca adds.
“As with anywhere and with people there was a lot of evolution. Argentines are very proud of their country but the biggest change right now is that people seem unmotivated in a certain way, and it’s becoming complex. A lot of outside issues can affect people, so the wonderful challenge of life, wherever you live — in Europe, or my country Mexico — depends on how you adjust yourself and face those challenges.”
VALUES AND VISION
Much like Buenos Aires, Rebeca’s needs have changed with regard to her friends and her free time. She says: “At one point, I wanted to connect with people from the same country as me but as I’ve got older, I like to connect with people with the same values and vision of life, and it doesn’t matter where they are from. I don’t have a large number of friends, which I am fine with, but the ones I’ve connected with, the ones I have now agree on how we view life about joy, that happiness is the balance is between what you do, what you say and what you think. Positive people who are always striving to make a positive impression on others and leaving a positive mark in the world are the people I like, and my friends are a mixture of Argentines and expats. I’ve decided not to share my life with people who are negative or view their life as a victim, not in my personal life nor at work.”
Although the temptation to eat at the hotel’s restaurants, Elena and Pony Line, is on tap, Rebeca says that she likes to leave the Four Seasons behind at the end of the day.
“I guess I’m a different sort of hôtelière but this is my work, and I’m very clear that when I dine it’s because I’m usually tasting something or socializing with clients. I’m not that executive who comes here on her days off — I don’t enjoy that.
“And when I travel, I try to force myself not to stay at our hotels! Because if not, you become trapped and only see the same things, and I prefer to look at something different. One day I might have lunch at Mirasol or BASA — however, I’m also not interested in going to other hotels’ restaurants.”
STRIKING A BALANCE
Given the enormous project Rebeca has overseen means travelling has been ruled out since her second coming.
“The first time I lived here I was fortunate to travel more but this time, due to the renovation, it’s taken a lot of my time and energy. But I’ve been to Bariloche, Salta, Mendoza and Perito Moreno. At weekends usually I work either Saturday or Sunday at the hotel. There are moments in your life when you have to understand that to have balance is not to have balance, and to deal with it and enjoy it happily! In this case, because of this wonderful project, I am enjoying it. So when I have a day off, I go to the theatre, have dinner with friends, go to the cinema. I’m in a very happy moment of my life,” she says.
And keeping late hours Argentine style have also worked out in her favour: “Since living here, I need less sleep as everything takes place very late. And thanks to that, my sleeping habits have changed so I go to bed at midnight and wake up at 6am and still am fresh for work.”
And living abroad for such length of time has led the hotelier to have a different philosophy about life. Rebeca says: “I’m a true believer in enjoying what you have and not missing what you know you can’t have. Once in a while, I do miss something spicy, so I might go for a Thai meal, because I haven’t found a very good Mexican restaurant yet.”
Joking that perhaps that she should open a Mexican place once the hotel’s renovation is over, in order to fill her time, on a more serious note, Rebeca adds: “Every year I try to do something different on a personal and academic level and this year I’m doing a post-grad in strategic management. Every third Saturday I go to university, and I like to be with people from other industries — I’m the only hôtelière. Although it’s not easy, with assignments and all that, it’s amazing — to challenge myself in different things.
“I’ve also taken tango classes and I had a great teacher. As you know, the man leads in tango, and my teacher guided me excellently. I did it for a month, and I was able to tick it off my list! Visiting all the New Wonders of the world and skydiving are also on that list...”