Most of us have learned in life that good things don’t last forever, but when something comes to an end a new chapter begins. This month, we are bidding farewell to Blessed Chalibamba, who has not only been managing our eco-lodge Elephant’s Eye, Hwange for the past 4 years but has literally built it to what it is today. (He was on site when every single screw was put into the decking and the big Gum poles sunk into the ground).
Today, Blessed proudly announced that he is passing on the baton and legacy of managing this unique lodge and the Elephant’s Eye, Hwange family to Milton Mpuche who uses the following three words to describe himself: “Integrity, Passion & Leadership”. Milton has gained his vast experience at places such as &Beyond Matetsi, Stanley & Livingstone, and Shamwari among others and describes his way of creating exclusive guest experiences with: “It’s really all about how I make guests feel”.
Hideaways co-owner and CEO Katja Quasdorf welcomed Milton personally on his first day at the new job and was able to give us more insight into Milton’s passion and views on conservation and why he loves working with people…
KQ: What are you passionate about?
MM: People. Because I am in the ecotourism and service industry I am truly passionate about people. I love people, I love to meet them, interact with them and learn from them. I also love my work, wildlife, and nature in general.
KQ: Where did you grow up and what is something special about the place you grew up? How did your upbringing shape you to be who you are today?
MM: I grew up in a small town west of Harare, called Norton, in between the two lakes (Kariba and Chivero). An amazing town to grow up in and a great place to be nurtured to be the way I am today. In particular, by my lovely folks, especially my father who was in eco-tourism working in the first private game reserve in Zimbabwe. He worked successfully for the Cresta hotel group and was moved from the Cresta Jameson to Cresta Palms in 1985. I was even sent to school by Cresta, so I grew up in that world and am very comfortable in it.
KQ: What is something you hope your guests remember or “take away” from their trip in Africa?
MM: For me, it is really about how I can make them feel. I won’t do things by the book, there is no cookie-cutter approach to guest satisfaction because every guest is different. When they come I want to find out why they are here, and what they are hoping to get while they are in Africa and I will try to give that to them. I want them to feel that personal attention and that their happiness is my ultimate goal.
KQ: In your past experience is there something that you notice most people are looking for? Or is every guest different?
MM: I would definitely say that every guest is different, they are all interested in different things. Sometimes it’s not just about Africa’s animals, it can be about people, about why and how they smile. Everything comes back to how I can make them feel and how I can give them what they are looking for.
KQ: What have you learned on your travels through Africa?
MM: I’ve spent a lot of time working outside Zimbabwe and thus being seen as a foreigner in the country I am staying in. If you are a foreigner you need to be very careful about adjusting to different cultures and customs, so this has helped me greatly to learn to respect people, to learn from people, and to not be resistant to change or things that are new.
KQ: Is there one lesson that stands out?
MM: Southern Africa and East Africa are very different, even in Southern Africa there are so many different cultures, so that comes back to understanding that everyone is different. I’ve been taught good lessons, sometimes that lesson comes from observing situations that could have been managed better and improving on that.
KQ: Why did you decide to work in hospitality?
MM: My upbringing played a huge role. I grew up in a nature park. Being nurtured by my parents who were working in the industry. Seeing people in tourism and hospitality, smiling and being polite with the guests, sharing stories with guests. I always loved being with the people and sharing stories with them. Listening to what they bring in and what they take back. I was learning from my parents but am also passionate about it myself, if my parents were electricians I wouldn’t automatically become an electrician.
KQ: What event (or events) in your life has most prepared you for this role?
MM: Being put in charge of operations led me to be very aware of a lot of things like budgeting etc. This is incredibly important for running an establishment. Being a guide for many years and learning from my guests has led me to be competent and capable in my role today.
KQ: What do you consider the most important aspect of your new job?
MM: To be firm. And to lead by example.
KQ: You also have extensive guiding experience, what aspects of guiding are helpful in lodge management and vice versa?
MM: Communication. Without effective communication nothing works. Today there are a lot of problems in the country and the world itself, even in big organizations because there is no proper communication. It might not only be verbal. Communication is an integral part of guiding and makes a big difference in management.
KQ: Why is conservation important to you?
MM: There are a lot of natural resources of the earth, some are tangible and others not tangible but they are all very important, even essential to our lives. For me, conservation is the practice of caring for those things and how you care is the key.
KQ: How do you care personally?
MM: By behaving ethically and not robbing from the natural resources. For instance, something like using a plastic bag when I know it takes a million years to biodegrade, why would I do that?
KQ: Which African animal do you most identify with and why?
MM: I would have to say an eagle, a migratory one. Because it has the opportunity to go to different places which is what I’ve done in my guiding and management career. And then I bring back what I’ve learnt. I can be tough on my subordinates, but I also care. I care about my kids and co-workers, but I’m not soft. I fly high like an eagle.
KQ: Ah, so you like to have an eagle’s eye view – a good leader needs to be aware of everything from the top and be able to zoom in on the important things with a dedicated focus. I think an eagle is a fine choice.
Welcome to the team Milton!